Sporting Fashion at the Cummer Museum

Exhibit Poster

Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960

The Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, is featuring its newest and most exhilarating exhibit yet - Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960. The curators of this exhibit have taken art to a whole new level by providing a historical collection of women’s athletic and sporting attire. The attire itself is a combination of fashion and feminism. More specifically, “Sporting Fashion explores the evolving social customs, innovative technologies, and shifting notions of style and functionality.” Thus, more opportunities opened up for women to take on physical activities.

According to the Cummer Museum excerpt, from 1800 to the 1960s, women’s outdoor sports attire was altered, allowing “more freedom of movement.” By allowing more freedom in their clothing, women felt free to participate in outdoor activities and still feel feminine. The purpose behind their changeable outfits through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was to enable equality for women. We just need the outfits to do so! Nevertheless, having more options in clothing and sports didn’t minimize femininity. Rather, femininity increased!

Fencing; image by Rosella Parra
Fencing; image by Rosella Parra

To begin, during the 1800’s, stepping outdoors for women meant leaving the house essentially. Thus, the earliest outdoor activities women partook in were gardening and picnicking. So, as a result, women became equipped with wearing “wide-brimmed” bonnets, slightly raised skirt hems, and sturdy boots.” However, over the course of the 1800s, women gradually had the chance to do more than just gardening and picnicking. Through their long dresses, they took on traditional masculine sports such as fencing, archery, mountaineering, and hunting. 

1810 to 1830

Ice Skating; image by Rosella Parra
Ice Skating; image by Rosella Parra

The earliest outdoor sports outfit featured at the exhibit was a dress for ice skating from 1810. Given the circumstances of chilly weather and the concern of falling through the ice, women wore dresses consisting of “high-necked pelisse- a fully enveloping coast closed at the bosom - is outlined with rabbit fur for protection against the cold.” Outdoor women could enjoy ice skating with another layer of warmth and protection. The fashion for ice skating has been reinvented consistently throughout the years to come. However, as time went on, into 1830, women had the chance to take on various other sports such as fencing, archery, and winter walking. Believe it or not, women competed in competitions featuring medieval activities such as archery and fencing. For example, the museum featured an 1820s archery outfit, “Lightweight dresses had ample sleeve allowance and a sleeveless version of a Spencer jacket…permitted the archer to raise her bow to eye level and release the arrow in a smooth motion.” Thus, through the miraculous stylization of the dresses for ice skating and archery, women successfully performed and participated in those activities. Nonetheless, traditional feminine activities such as ice skating and gardening were still practiced. 

1840 to 1860

Summer Traveling, Mountaineering, Safari, and Hunting 2
Summer Traveling, Mountaineering, Safari, and Hunting; image by Rosella Parra

By the 1840s, women’s fashion progressed; their styles catered to many more sports, which were physically active, and to traveling outdoors with various weather conditions. As women, we needed to be prepared and equipped for anything. Starting with hunting , all outdoor activities were considered a “manly sport,” but in the 1840s, some women stepped up and attempted hunting while wearing a camouflage dress. The exhibit featured a “brown dress and outdoorsman’s cap-borrowed from the male wardrobe- blended their wearer into the forest surroundings.” In addition to the camouflage dress, women carried a red handkerchief, alerting other hunters of their presence. Fast forward to the 1860s, during the summers, women attended horse races. Women were known for watching with shaded spectacles and field glasses in hand. Women wore a full-layered dress with gloves on their hands and a bonnet on their heads. Women could enjoy watching the sport without the sun beating on them. The heat wasn’t the only weather condition women had to worry about. Women still had to be mindful of the rain. So, ensuring they didn’t get wet, women had an umbrella and full head-to-toe, oiled-like capes. The exhibit featured an oiled-like cape and umbrella titled Rain Walking. Nonetheless, looking stylish and practicing “manly sport” was common, but women’s fashion was also compensated for traveling. For example, during the 1870s, riding a train was one of many forms of public transportation for summer traveling. Unfortunately, train rides were messy because passengers endured smoke and soot from the running engines and dirt and mud at deports. This was no means of travel for a lady. So, women wore “linen outfits camouflage grime” for dresses. 


Tobogganing; image by Rosella Parra
Tobogganing; image by Rosella Parra

The nineteenth century wrapped up with women participating in more outdoor sports that became popular. For example, in the 1880s, tobogganing became popular in Canada and the United States. In a way, it was just sledding, but then you rode down a toboggan slide. For women, this was a perfect sport to take on. According to a magazine in Puck’s Library from 1889, “If you have the right kind of girl, the walk up the toboggan slide is just as exciting as the ride down.” So, women eagerly participated wearing “long woolen mantle lined with 180 squirrel pelts.” Like in earlier sports, women had to stay warm once more. In spite of that, by summer, when women tried yachting, their outfits drastically changed. The Cummer Museum acknowledged how women’s yachting outfits were modeled after sailor suits from the British Royal Navy. The museum further mentioned how “the oceangoing outfit” had design details such as “marine insignia and nautical stripes were adapted to women’s yachting clothes.” In addition, the outfit was colorful with dark blue, white, and red, which is by far the most colorful outfit Cummer had. 


Inline Skating and Cycling; image by Rosella Parra
Inline Skating and Cycling; image by Rosella Parra

The 1890s introduced a more limitless time for women, which started with them tackling mountaineering, often referred to as mountain climbing in today’s context. Shockingly, women still had to wear skirts solely because it was part of their “climbing costume.” The skirts were made of heavy cotton duck, and the center-front flap concealed the division between both legs. It can be folded over and buttoned along the left side. Thus, women can climb mountains. In the mid-1890s, a new fashion for women called “road skates” arose. This form of fashion required women to wear two very high, narrow wheels underneath each foot. Today, this would be considered roller skating, but at the time, it was called “inline skating.” In the 1890s, cycling was a huge outdoor activity for women. Mainly because cycling “was a marvel of independence, a venture into the world for as far as they chose to go.” Despite the value and pleasure of cycling, unfortunately, women face some heavy danger due to their outfits. Sometimes if they weren’t careful, their long skirts would get tangled within the wheels below. So, the fashion industry quickly adapted to “knee-length designs.” 

1900 - 1920

Piloting; image by Rosella Parra
Piloting; image by Rosella Parra

By the year 1900, a new century called for a change in style. Women started to wear fewer layers in their dresses and had the chance to wear pants. Like summer train traveling in the 1910s, summer motoring, or what we know as car rides, was a new form of transportation. Once more, women’s clothing adapted, protecting them from dust and debris for motor touring. So, women wore goggles, along with a hat, a coat, gloves, and boots. Jumping into the 1920s, the fashion of “snowshoeing” rose to fame. Interestingly, this focused on footwear specifically and started in the Appalachian Mountain Club in New Hampshire. The style of snowshoeing was long, rangy shoes for traveling and racing. Believe it or not, snowshoeing was developed by Native Americans over multiple generations. The Indigenous background and influence come from “the oversized footwear of bent wood and animal sinew.” Later in the 1920s, when women went touring, they were tasked with wearing long dresses. Rather, women could wear a less layered dress with heels, a coat, and sunglasses. For example, the museum featured a mannequin wearing a detailed silk coat with embroidery of falcons, lotus blossoms, and an Egyptian sphinx. Clearly, the woman who wore this coat was a world traveler with all the Egyptian imagery. 


Rodeoing and Ranching; image by Rosella Parra
Rodeoing and Ranching; image by Rosella Parra

The 1930s was a golden decade full of a variety of sports and outdoor activities for women. There was more opportunity for women. Women could do so many outdoor activities such as ranching, yachting, skiing, promenading, piloting, and motorcycling. To be specific, ranching, piloting, and motorcycling were by far the most nostalgic of outdoor activities. During the 1930s, “female western wear” was considered a masculine dress for women out west for ranching. Like men, women had a uniform that they purchased at a trading post shop. Their uniform consisted of using men's clothing, such as hats, rawhide jackets, and leather boots. The main goal behind this uniform was to protect women from the sun. Astronomically in 1935, the Cummer Museum mentioned 359 women were licensed pilots. However, at the time for women pilots they had to keep track of their flight training and hours, they had to attend a school that accepted female students. The museum showcased a piloting outfit consisting of wool and suede “with leather and leopard fur skullcap and mittens.” The outfit was designed for piloting specifically. Next, apart t from the costume on display, the museum mentioned two women who were the first motorcyclists: Clara Wagnlaer from 1908, who was the first rider and daughter of a motorcyclist, and Bessie Stringfield in 1930, who was the first African American woman motorcyclist. The outfits they wore were basically uniforms developed from menswear, consisting of leather riding pants, protective kidney belts, and reflectors varying in different colors. 

1940s- 1950s

Roller Derby; image by Rosella Parra
Roller Derby; image by Rosella Parra

The exhibit concluded with sporting outfits from the 1940s and 1950s. By then, contemporary sports, part of our culture today, became open to women, such as rodeo, roller derby, and cheerleading. Women still had the chance to do feminine activities such as week ending and shopping, but they could also switch gears with sports. In the 1940s, women took up rodeoing out in the Wild West. According to the Cummer Museum, “cow-by girls risked life and limb in the saddle.” Yet, cowgirls and bronco riders were festive and celebrated, appearing in the Rodeo magazine in 1940. The museum featured a rodeo outfit embroidered with a stylized Native American hunter and buffalo and a felt hat, turquoise belt, and inlaid leather boots. Like the snowshoeing boots, the designers took inspiration from Native Americans. Next, although introduced in 1936 as “Roller Skate Speedsters,” roller derby became popular in the 1940s. This was an upgrade from traditional roller skating and ice skating. Women competed in this “rough-and-tumble nature,” revealing “flashing legs and whirling wheels.” No dress was required in this sport. Kneel pads, short-sleeved jerseys, and pants were worn instead. 


Cheerleading; image by Rosella Parra
Cheerleading; image by Rosella Parra

In the 1950s, women were free and feminine in their style. Having already conquered male sports, women now had a feminine style of their own for sports like cheerleading and errands like shopping catered for them specifically. Cheerleading developed after World War II. They showed off support and spirit at high schools and colleges in a team effort. For the 1950s, cheerleaders wore their school colors, along with varsity jackets, matching dresses, and petticoats underneath their large skirts. What cheerleaders stand for today is relevancy, the same as it has been since the 1950s. Only their outfits became more athletic and revealed more skin.

Nevertheless, shopping never goes out of style for women. Shopping is still an essential hobby. The museum featured a versatile cotton sateen sundress. This is a dress to die for with its pastel colors, strips, and asymmetrical look, tied on the mannequin's left side. The style of dress is equivalent to today’s wrap dress, which is perfect for afternoon and daytime shopping. By now, in the 50s, women lived a life where they believed they could dress “casually, spiritedly, easily with our new-found freedom in clothes.” 

Yachting; image by Rosella Parra
Yachting; image by Rosella Parra

Through this breathtaking exhibit, the Cummer Museum has to offer. We can see what women wore before us. According to the Cummer Museum, “Fashion, feminism, and the history of female athletes unit this extraordinary exhibition of women’s sporting attire.” We’re able to see the evolution of fashion in sports and outdoor clothing. More importantly, the museum’s exhibit reminds us that, as women, we can do anything. We can conquer and partake in any given sport! 

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