Mme. Grand’s Christmas Bicycle Costume: 1897

The Christmas Bicycle Costume.

The Christmas Bicycle Costume.

Startling Bicycle Costume

Sarah Grand Thought It Out After Studying Rosalind in “As You Like It.”

How It Looks on Mme. Grand

Of White Fur, with Cloak and Knickers, Following Closely the Shakespearean.

Calls It Christmas Costume

Very Pretty on Slender Women, but Some Had Better Fight Shy of It.

It’s Sure to Come to America.

Women Awheel Wearing the Sarah Grand Rosalind Dress Will Cause a Sensation in the Streets.

Special to the Globe.

London, Dec. 11. By a judicious combination of ideas based on Shakespeare and common sense, Mme. Sarah Grand, the world-famous authoress of “The Heavenly Twins,” has evolved a bicycle costume for women that is a startler. And, as Mme. Grand’s admirers point out, the subject of the correct bicycle costume for women has been for so long a favorite one with cranks and reformers of all classes that it is not an every-day occurrence for anything startling to be successfully launched on the trouble sea of woman’s apparel. To the novelty of the costume Mme. Sarah Grand has added the novelty of a name. She calls her new cycle dress for women her “Christmas bicycle costume,” and considers that in devising it she has given additional cause for rejoicing among women during the coming holiday season.

To begin to explain Mme. Grand’s costume it is necessary to take the Rosalind of act 2 in “As You Like It,” and, using her as a lay figure for the explanation, to build the Mme. Grand costume around her. Mme. Grand is an enthusiastic admirer of Shakespeare, and the more she studied the free and easy grace of Rosalind of the russet doublet and hose, the more she became convinced that had bicycles been in use during the Shakespearean era, the doublet and hose would have been the costume that level-headed women would have adopted. It was even an improvement on the male bicycling costume, argued Mme. Grand, for even the emancipated man who discarded his voluminous trousers for wide knee breeches and stockings when he mounted the fascinating wheel, occasionally complained that the revolving spokes caught in the “knicker” cloth and made trouble. But the hose of Rosalind would prevent even the possibility of a spill from the wardrobe and the wheel becoming on terms of too close intimacy during a ride.

So Mme. Grand proceeded to think out her Rosalind bicycle costume, discarding one by one the nineteenth century articles of dress that fettered the sex when awheeling.

“No waist for me,” said Mme. Grand, at the beginning of her studies, “a waist on a cycle is absurd. I can never bear to ride in anything tight, especially corsets, and I like to feel free and comfortable.”

And away went the corsets and after them the waist, then the skirt and the bloomers, until Rosalind, the lay figure, was deprived of everything that pertained to modern costuming and stood ready to be habilitated in the Shakespearian reform dress that Madame Grand had in mind. The creation that is the outcome of her efforts is declared by all who have seen it, set off on the famous novelist’s graceful figure, to be a great success. It combines the rare qualities of prettiness and comfort, and it is sure to find its way to America, where such a combination in qualities in women’s costume is fully appreciated and eagerly attached.

The costume is made for winter wear, although it can be fashioned readily enough into an attractive summer rig for the athletic girl. It is made of white fur and follows the Rosalind idea very closely. Over the shoulder is thrown the natty cloak of the Rosalind era, which can be discarded as the option for the bicyclist, but certainly adds to the smartness of the wearer’s appearance. The hose and doublet are modified into tight-fitting knickerbockers of white fur, and on a slender woman look extremely well. The accompanying illustration showing Madame Grand clad in the costume she has evolved gives a good idea of how the novel bicycle dress will look on women of attractive build. Of course the way the costume will look depends altogether on the figure and general appearance of the wearer. It isn’t everyone who makes a good looking Rosalind, and some women do well to cling to the skirt or the bloomers for the sake of the disguise they afford. A well-formed woman, however, will have in the new Sarah Grand costume a dress that will make her free from restraining drapery, and of attractive appearance when awheel.

It remains to be seen how many women will have the courage to indorse Sarah Grand’s idea by adopting it. It is such a startling long step, even from the bloomer costume, that most women will probably be a little shy about appearing in public until bolder spirits have taken the rough edge off the sensation such a costume will cause. Rosalind on the stage is one thing. Rosalind on a bicycle in Hyde park or Central park is another, although the distinction is a fine one when simmered down.

Madame Grand does not believe that she is entitled to be roughly criticized on account of her new costume.

“Nothing is unfeminine for a woman,” she said when asked about this point, “unless she chooses to make it so. I think we are beginning to show nowadays that we can do many things which used to be thought ‘unfeminine’ and yet be womanly, nevertheless. Bicycling is one of them, and the wearing of a rational bicycle costume goes with it. The skirt is evidently not the thing. I have had two bad accidents from mine catching and it is made by an excellent tailor. This is what led me to devote a good deal of thought to the subject, and made me come to the conclusion that an easy and pretty costume might be modeled from Rosalind’s dress.”

The women of America can judge for themselves and criticize the authoress of “The Heavenly Twins,” as they consider she deserves. She assumes the entire responsibility for the Rosalind bicycle costume, and, being accustomed to criticism, is disposed to regard philosophically the abuse of those who treat her original ideas irreverently.

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe  12 December 1897: p. 20

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has nothing against healthful exercise for ladies awheel, but thinks that the Christmas bicycle costume is less Rosalind than Robinson Crusoe panto Principal Boy.

Sarah Grand [1854-1943] was a feminist author and creator of the term “New Woman.” She railed against the traditional sexual double-standard and wrote about “original” subjects like syphilis and the failure of marriage in her controversial novel The Heavenly Twins. She knew whereof she wrote. Grand was married at 16 to a much older widowed Army surgeon, David Chambers McFall, who had an extensive practice in venereal diseases. Grand (who was born Frances Clarke) changed her name when she separated from her husband and began her writing career. She was a strong advocate for the victims of venereal disease (She once wrote that she hoped that some day the marriage of certain [diseased] men would be a crime.) and for the sexual education of young women. Mrs Daffodil found  the adventures of the eponymous twins, Angelina and Diavolo, to be both hectic and tedious, although she sees how the book became a sensation for its frank treatment of miserable marriages and the effects of tertiary syphilis. Critical reviews for The Heavenly Twins were mixed. Mr Mark Twain wrote in the margin of his copy of the book, “A cat could do better literature than this.”

Rosalind, the witty and intelligent heroine of As You Like It, who disguises herself as a boy, was something of a “New Woman” prototype, being feminine, clever, and “rationally” dressed.

Miss Lily Langtree as Rosalind in As You Like It.

Miss Lily Langtree as Rosalind in As You Like It.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a costly cycling suit for a millionairess here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

2 thoughts on “Mme. Grand’s Christmas Bicycle Costume: 1897


    Forget the Lycra, this is what every girl should be cycling in. And the fur cape adds such a festive touch. But maybe Mrs. Grand is right and most girls might be shy about appearing in public in it. I’m not sure I can get away with tight-fitting, fur knickerbockers, especially without corsets.But nevertheless it is very dashing.


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Mrs Daffodil also likes the dashing fur hussar cape. Fur is practical: it is warm, breathes, and one can shake off the damps with little difficulty. However, Mrs Daffodil fears that some ladies with less panache than Madam Grand would have difficulty carrying it off without looking like a Wildman awheel. One can see the headlines: “Mystery Sasquatch Cyclists Startle Central Park” or “Hyde Park Walkers Worried by Wheeled Woodwoses.”



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