The Lady Fencer’s Costume: 1902

The [London Ladies’ Fencing] club uniform consists of a short silk-lined black alpaca skirt with the regulation brass-buttoned white linen fencing coat. Silk linings ensure “slipperiness” and ease of movement, while the lightness of alpaca adds to the agility and ease wherewith the player makes successful lunges against her adversary. The skirts are cut somewhat after the fashion of the cycling skirt, and most of the members wear black or white shoes. A few elect to don brown shoes with scarlet trimmings, which look very smart. The stockings are either of silk or wool: the silken hose is distinctly to be recommended for daintiness and finish. A white glove with a black or scarlet gauntlet is drawn over the right hand.

lady fencers

Fencing develops the muscles of the right arm, and tends to cause the size of glove taken to increase by a size or two. Some one or two among the members adopt a kilted skirt. There are a few enthusiastic devotees who wish to abolish the wearing of any outward or visible sign of femininity in the shape of skirts, and who prescribe the undisguised satin knickerbockers. But one of the stringent rules of the club sternly decrees that no member may fence save in a skirt.

En Guard lady fencer

It must be confessed that from an aesthetic standpoint the ideal fencing dress for a woman has yet to be invented. And could not a more becoming mask be invented? The motorina’s mica mask is a joy and thing of beauty compared with that worn by the woman fencer.

Accordion-pleated silk, satin, or alpaca skirts have been tried, but on submission to feminine verdict have been rejected and despised. These skirts would doubtless prove lovely and becoming were the pleats graduated increasingly from the hips downward. With the width of the lower hem disposed around the hips, the accordion-pleated skirt is by no means a success. Black silk or satin knickerbockers are worn beneath the silklined skirt, so that no clinging draperies hamper the ease and dexterity of movement so essential to a display of good fencing form…

the salute lady fencers

But to return to the all-important question for a woman fencer: “What shall I wear, and wherewithal shall I clothe myself so as to present a beautiful translation of the fencing art to all beholders?”

Lady Colin Campbell, champion lady fencer.

Lady Colin Campbell, champion lady fencer.

One very skilful and graceful woman fencer deprecates—as does Lady Colin Campbell—the wearing of a skirt. She is assured by long practice that full knickerbockers of black satin or vicuna allow unfettered and more graceful play for the limbs. She wears a narrow corset belt with one bone only at back and front, and over this a loose silk shirt. A cunningly cut coat of scientifically padded soft grey or dull black suede is slipped over the silk shirt. The daintiest black silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes complete her most fascinating fencing kit. There is no denying that the linen coat can never be made to look shapely, and it undoubtedly bears too close a resemblance to that coat of many splotches worn by the common or spring house-painter.

To many conventional fencers the thought of a corset, though this be merely a waistband boasting but two bones, is anathema; and with a shapely suede tailor built coat its absence would scarcely be noticed.

Reverse of 1904 fencing jacket. Metropolitan Museum Collection

Reverse of 1904 fencing jacket. Metropolitan Museum Collection

Feminine Fencers and Their Clubs, Annesley Kenealy. Lady’s Realm: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine: 1902, pp 767-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Captain Alfred Hutton, an expert gentleman fencer quoted in the 1902 article above, remarked that he did not think “masculine” weapons such as the épée or sabre were appropriate for ladies, who should confine themselves to the dainty foil. Mrs Daffodil notes that to-day’s Olympic lady fencers use whatever weapon they dashed well please. She further suggests that in watching the international teams of lady fencers, who bound and leap, lunge and feint in their electrified knickerbocker suits, one rather doubts that their first thought was “wherewithal shall I clothe myself so as to present a beautiful translation of the fencing art to all beholders?”

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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4 thoughts on “The Lady Fencer’s Costume: 1902

  1. Pingback: The Lady Fencer’s Costume: 1902 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses | First Night History

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