Resource

Exercise and Functional Fashion

Three outfits representative of the fashions designed to support women as they engaged in new forms of recreation, including bicycling and exercise classes.

A women’s brown cycling suit from the 1890s with a bifurcated skirt. The wide shorts have been made to look like a skirt with a buttoned-down cloth to cover the opening of the legs. The jacket covers the arms and chest, with additional buttons.
Cycling Suit

Cycling Suit, 1896–98. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Mr. and Mrs. Morton Sultzer, 1979. Image, Art Resource, NY.

A women’s golf outfit from the 1890s with a round tan hat, fitted red button-down jacket, and a long white skirt. A polka dot tie is tucked into the jacket. The mannequin holds a golf bag made of what appears to be wicker.
Jacket

F.X. Ledoux, Jacket, 1898–1899. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. William E. Dupree, 1955.

A gym suit from the 1890s with a baggy top in dark fabric and cropped pants that looks like a skirt and balloon out from the waist. The collar and cuffs, are red. A long piece of red fabric that looks like a sash is tied around the mannequin’s waist and has weighted balls on the end. These would have been used for exercise activities.
Gym Suit

Gym Suit, 1893–98. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Albert Ogden in memory of Sheldon Stewart, 1964.

Background

In the second half of the nineteenth century, scientific research led to widespread health reform. With greater knowledge of the human body and of the hazards of industrial and urban life, experts promoted nutrition and exercise. Traditionally, women were excluded from exercise. It was thought they were fragile and needed the protection of home. But new research proved all bodies