Welcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to the bifurcated skirt, a cousin to the bloomer.
Bifurcated skirts were different from bloomers although they served the same purpose, allowing women more freedom of movement during athletic endeavors such as bicycling or horseback riding. While bloomers looked like baggy pants which ended typically below the knee, bifurcated skirts were pants constructed to maintain the illusion that they were still a skirt. The terms bifurcated skirt and bloomer were often used interchangeably, especially during the 1890s, when both became popular.
A rare cycling suit owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The front panel can be buttoned across the front to cover the leg split so the garment looks like a skirt, or it can be folded over and buttoned to allow the legs to be separated during cycling. The fullness in the back obscures the split between the legs.
Various patents were filed in the 1890s for bifurcated skirts. The illustrations below are a few among dozens. The patent holders were all women.
A cowgirl in Montana wears a bifurcated skirt while riding her horse.
In an April 1892 article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. H. Augustus Wilson recommended for his patients with lateral curvature of the spine to continue horseback riding as a form of exercise. Because his female patients were no longer able to ride side saddle, he instructed them to continue riding astride while wearing bifurcated skirts. The article can be found in volume 18, no. 14, p. 409-412.
In the article “She Rides Like A Man” from the Indianapolis News, dated 29 March 1890, Mabel Jenness fought for the abolishment of the side saddle. She proposed that women should ride astride while wearing bifurcated skirts. If you have access to Pinterest and Newspaper.com, I have clipped the article.
A women’s tailoring book from 1897, Superlative Systems of Cutting Ladies’ Garments by Charles J. Stone, included several patterns for riding and cycling skirts. The book can be found at Internet Archive and is available for download.
Cycling Suit, 1896-1898. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accession no.: 2009.300.532a–d
Various bifurcated skirt patent illustrations from the 1890s. These images came specifically from Ancestry.com’s database “U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Patents, 1790-1909.
Montana Girl, c1909. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. Reproduction no.: LC-USZ62-72483
©2015 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2015/10/18/fashion-moments-bifurcated-skirt/