Corsets and bicyles 1899

I’ve found a very interesting  YouTube video.  You can find it  here .  It shows many ladies on bicycles in Catford, a suburb of London in June 1899.  It looks like a ladies’ bicycle club outing.  There’s just so much social history to be seen here, but we will concentrate on waists and corsets.

Here’s a still clip of a well corseted lady  at 00:30.


I really can’t resist a few non corset comments.

First, just look at those hats!  Just imagine going for a bike ride today with a large and difficult to manage hat….that’s why they used long hatpins.  I can’t find one person in the video who is not wearing a hat.  When did you last wear a hat in the 21st century?

Second, right at the beginning, the procession of around 100 ladies is led by a man….of course, women could not be trusted to find the way themselves, could they?

And… did these ladies avoid getting their long skirts tangled in the rear wheel?  The easy answer is that they were well used to controlling their ankle hiding skirts, so they just did it automatically.

Also, look at the young children in the left foreground, they are all dressed in loose, easy clothes…..both women and children were beginning to have more freedom as the Victorian era was ending….Queen Victoria died 2 years later in 1901.  Compare with the 1740 young girl described here .

The best way to look at the corseted waists is to look in the right bottom of the video as they move off camara.  The focus and clarity are much better.

If you stop the video at the following times you can see some well corseted waists.


And here is the ideal hat for a cycle ride at 00:52!



Two well waisted ladies at 01:02

At 01:02

These ladies are not extremely wasp waisted, this is 1899 and not 1880 when waists were really tight.  However,  if there was an evening dinner after this day time event I expect that these well dressed cycling ladies would have been several inches smaller in their evening dresses.

I’ve worn corsets for reenactment type events.  My feeling is that I could just about manage a strenuous bike ride in a corset, I’m not so sure I would be happy doing so in along skirt that might get caught in the back wheel, and when wearing such a big hat!  Also note that many of the ladies appear (but it’s not clear) to be wearing gloves…well of course, they were well brought up ladies.

Please tell me if you agree with my interpretation, or you think that I’ve got it all wrong.

I’ve got this video as a file on my computer, send me an email if you want a copy.

You can comment here




Author: corsetpicdiscussion

I've always been interested in social history and clothing, so why not a discussion on corsets?

14 thoughts on “Corsets and bicyles 1899”

  1. I just love the hats and long skirts! You know I thought about buying some new clothes for my bike trips, but perhaps not the big hats in the video, just something a little smaller?

    Actually I think most of the ladies are not tightlaced at all..except 1 or 2. But sure, they have those nice trim waists. I’m sure you are right that they loosened their corsets for the bike and then would have cinched more tightly to appear in normal dress. Sports bras take on a new meaning in this video.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love it! I always wondered why the “girls” bike had a dipped middle pole. Now I see it was to accommodate a long skirt. I agree the perils of a long skirt supersede a corset. I made a Regency gown with a bit of a train to go along with my first book and I can tell you maneuvering that train (delicate lace) took up most of my brain power! Also, wearing gloves is a trial!


  3. Thank you Betty and Jess for your comments. I’m sure the ladies in the movie were happier managing long skirts (well, long for us, not for them, they were at normal length in their experience) than the risks of wearing a shorter skirt. With a short skirt you might reveal your ankles to men, or even worse you might hint at having calves. The only place you find women with thighs (** shock, horror ***) is in Victorian pornography.



  4. Lovely video….just wish I was there in 1899. Some of these gals have normal sized waist, others are getting to wasp waist proportions. I agree with the comment that the corset strings would have been loosened for an energetic bike ride and pulled in for the evening event. How lovely to imagine how they felt being loosened for the rise and then tightened later. Or is that how I feel when I take off my uplift bra when I go to the gym?

    As for the feminist apsects…..oooh lovely! Poor helpless females led by a man on a bicycle in sensible clothing while the women have corsets, hats, gloves and long skirts.


  5. How very interesting, what a find on YouTube. These ladies seem to be quite happy in their tight restricting clothes, but as someone pointed out that was normal for them. On a costume forum I have seen the idea put forward that a Victorian woman would be more uncomfortable on a beach in a bikini than a woman today in a Victorian tight corset, gloves and big hat (as so evident in the film).

    As someone here pointed out the Victorian waist was a very variable feature. Even the fashionable woman wore a looser waist with her morning dress, a bit tighter for afternoon visits and would go to the limit for evening or best wear. I’ve just reread this sentence and I wonder what is the limit to lacing a corset? I think our idea of tight today is not the same as the ladies in this video. Can any experts here help?


  6. Regarding skirts catching in bicycle chains, I remember my mother had an old ladies’ bicycle (probably from the 1930s or 1940s) with a fully enclosed chain similar to the one shown here:


    1. Note also the mesh screen over the one quarter of the wheel where the skirt might have snagged in it. I’ve seen such screens in other photos of bicycles.


      1. I’ve paused the video near the end, where the women are seen individually turning from going across the screen to away from it. In the three shots I froze, the chain seemed to be fully enclosed. At 0:54 in a video about “Victorian Secrets” author Sarah Chrisman, the chain of a 19th century woman’s bike can be seen to be fully enclosed, at

        Chrisman is also the author of a series of 6 books partly about women’s bicycling in 19th century Port Townsend, Washington, on Amazon at


  7. I’ve read, in a book about Victorian life, that hats were mostly worn because the air was so full of soot and dust that hair would be dirtied unless they were worn.


    1. Sorry, Roger, no hats were not a Victorian anti pollution device. For centuries hats have been a part of W Europe language of clothes. Look at the paintings of Brugel 1525?–1530? – 9 September 1569. Nearly everybody wears a hat.


      1. “Brugel 1525?–1530? – 9 September 1569. Nearly everybody wears a hat.”

        I’ll concede that I shouldn’t have said that “hats were MOSTLY worn because the air was so full of soot and dust ….” But probably it was A factor, especially for women, for whom clean hair was more important. (Previously there had been religious pressures for them to do so.) How about this: The great width of women’s hats was meant to more fully protect their hair and complections from soot. (?)

        I suspect the hat width was also an unconscious way of communicating, “I want more space.” I suspect that the same message was partly communicated by extra-wide crinolines and huge bustles.


  8. “Second, right at the beginning, the procession of around 100 ladies is led by a man….of course, women could not be trusted to find the way themselves, could they?”

    He was likely there, IMO, to warn off and deal with any bounders and mashers.


  9. Thank you Roger for your two comments – very interesting.

    Yes of course these frail women would have been guided by a man – both the women and the man would hjave been happy with the idea. It’s not directly connected to the corset theme of this blog, but I could write about how women’s inferior place in the world was institutionalized in the 19 century. Perhaps I will one day, as long as I can duck the inevitiable feminist comments. Suffice to say that in the 19 century men were brought up to be the wage earner, “masterful” and to protect frail women. In turn these women were brought up to be obediant and to show humility in front of men.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: