That Queenly Young Creature, the Automobile Girl: 1899, 1903

Motoring post card, Raphael Tuck, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Motoring post card, Raphael Tuck, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

THE AUTOMOBILE GIRL

She Has Come to Stay, For Her Fad Is Ultra Fashionable.

The automobile girl is here. Hers is the very swellest of fads, the most exclusive of sports. Almost anyone may bicycle or golf, but it takes a long, fat purse to indulge in an automobile.

Thus early in its career fashion has claimed the automobile for its very own. The American automobile girl is prompt to appear in the field. Only her Parisian sisters were before her. In London it is still considered bad taste for a woman to ride unaccompanied by a gentleman in a motor carriage, and no English woman of standing has yet been bold enough to defy public sentiment on this point.

But the American girl long ago—that is, months ago—adopted the automobile cab for shopping and calling purposes. Now she has dispensed with the liveried driver and taken the steering lever into her own hands. In her park phaeton or cute little dog cart, propelled either by electricity or gasoline, she glides fearlessly along the avenue and boulevards, very much at ease and looking sweet and happy and altogether charming. The bicycle girl, with her hot, flushed face; the golf girl, with her short skirts and dusty boots, and the yachting girl with her stringy front hair, suffer sadly when compared with this queenly young creature who leans gracefully back against the thick cushions in all the finery of morning attire and sweeps noiselessly past.

It is the ability to wear the finest of gowns while indulging in this sport that has decided fashion in favor of the automobile. It is a fad which a woman may pursue and at the same time look her prettiest. So it has come to stay.

Newport is just now the principal habitat of the automobile girl. The smooth shaded boulevards of that fashionable seaport are fairly alive with horseless vehicles of every sort. Stand at any point on Bellevue avenue in the afternoon and you can count them by the dozens.

They may also be seen along the ocean boulevard which connects Long Branch with Elberon, Seabright and Asbury Park on the populous Jersey coast. Chicago heiresses have gladly welcomed them, and Prairie avenue glistens with the nickel and varnish of the self-propelled carriages.

This season the automobile girl is a novelty; next year she will be an established fact, surprising only to people from the remote ruralities.

Her conveyance is a light and graceful carriage, with wire spoked wheels and pneumatic rubber tires. It moves to the right or to the left at the slightest touch of the nickel plated lever.

Sometimes the fair owner commits the guiding of the machine to her groom or to her escort, but that is not very often. She can drive the automobile herself, and she has a just contempt for all bicycles, trucks and ice wagons. The pressure of her toe upon a pin sets the gong to ringing, and a twist of the lever stops the carriage. She need not worry lest her carriage runs away with her, and she has no fear of iron shod heels suddenly appearing over the dashboard.

The horsewoman, the bicyclist, and all the rest of them must take a back seat, for the girl with the automobile has come to stay.

She goes shopping in the morning hours and permits the machine to stand in front of the shops without having the slightest fear of finding it tearing down the street when she returns. She travels in state to make calls in the afternoon, and if she will she can take a spin into the country. She can load her carriage with golf sticks and with her companions hurry out to the clubhouse and spend the afternoon on the links. She has no horses to worry with the thought that they are hot and uncomfortable.

The automobile needs neither feeding nor watering. If the battery is strong enough it will easily carry her a score of miles and bring her back again without additional charges of electricity.

It will not be many years before there will be little stations all along the principal highways where automobiles can be charged with motive power and sent whizzing on their way.

Evening News [San Jose, CA] 26 July 1899: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is amused at the advantages stated for the automobile’s adoption by ladies: that one need not worry about the horses being restive or hot; that one may whisk out to the links for a quick game; that one may  don one’s prettiest gown for a stately and leisurely round of calls… The latter is, at best, disingenuous. Given the shocking state of roads even in 1903, and the warnings about “motor-car face,” there were other authorities who were less blithe about protective garments for the automobile girl:

What She May Wear

Since lovely woman has mastered the vagaries of the steering wheel, taken the control lever in hand and put her dainty foot down on the humble pedal, the question of automobile costume may no longer be sidetracked as of no consequence. On this all-important subject an authority in the Queen writes:

“The Spring fashions are hardly out in motor garments, though I hear of marvels being prepared for the coming season. Indeed, all observers must have been struck with what strides have already been made in the direction of combining smartness and becomingness with practical utility.

“It always astounds me to hear people remark that a special garb is not needed for motoring. This can only be said truly of the merest ‘pottering.’ When taken seriously, there is no sport for which specially devised habiliments are more absolutely essential. Never shall I forget my own literally bitter experience when I was foolish enough to ride one freezing day last Winter without a windproof coat. And another occasion will last equally long in my memory when, on returning from my first run over the white roads in the Summer, and having worn only ordinary headgear, I found my hair thick and gritty with dust, and felt more horribly dirty than ever in my life before.

“The conclusion one comes to is that the two chief necessaries are a windproof coat and a dustproof hood or veil of some sort.

“Most of the coats are now seen in cloth, either dark gray whipcord or Scotch or Irish tweed. These are lined with silk and interlined with various patented windproof materials. The sleeves are cut with the fashionable wide cuff, in order to give a smart appearance, but for practical purposes there is always an inner sleeve tight to the wrist, which prevents the air from blowing up. A storm collar is invariable, and the revers are made so that they may button over and the coat be fastened closely up to the neck in cold weather…

“A coat has already been finished to wear at the automobile race in Ireland. It is of the national tweed in the national color, a very dark shade of green being chosen. The revers and cuffs are of dark green leather, and the metal buttons show a design of the Napier car in relief.

Woman's motoring cap, c. 1905 http://collections.lacma.org/node/248247

Woman’s motoring cap, c. 1905 http://collections.lacma.org/node/248247

“For headgear the peaked hat is still a universal favorite…A good design for a cap has a hood kept buttoned up on to the brim at the back; in rainy weather this just unbuttons and draws down over the hair. Or the hood is sometimes made as a separate thing, and secured, when needed, with patent fasteners. But for fine days the prettiest form of hood is that consisting of white or colored silk or crepe de chine. It is really like a long scarf, with a special arrangement for the part which goes over the crown of the hat, where the fullness is gathered up around a wire ring to make it set properly. The ends of the scarf are wound around the neck, and fasten in a bow in front. In white this wrap has a charmingly becoming effect, especially if worn over a hat of the tricorn shape.” 

Automobile Topics, Volume 6, 1903

Other suggestions for motoring attire may be found 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

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

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