Science of Dress/Chapter XIII
SUITABLE DRESS FOR EXERCISE AND SPORTS. 
THE question of suitable exercises and games for women, and more especially for growing girls, is one well worthy of consideration, for it is of the greatest importance not only to individuals, but also to the State, that we should develop a healthy race of women. That our girls are badly in need of physical education is certain, and at the present time, when mental overwork is the rule, not the exception, a strong feeling prevails in favour of the necessity of muscular exercise.
People judge rightly that it is injurious to exercise the brain inordinately to the neglect of the rest of the body; but then they straightway rush to the other extreme, and prescribe cures so violent that the patients would be better without them. At the Healtheries during the summer of 1884 I several times witnessed exhibitions of the Ling system of gymnastics as practised by girls in some Board Schools. Many of these exercises are practised on apparatus, and climbing plays a great part in them. Some of the girls twisted themselves in and out of ladders made for the purpose, ascending to an almost dizzy height, and letting themselves down very rapidly. I cannot now describe these evolutions, but doubtless many of my readers have witnessed them.
The point to be emphasized in this connection is that the rough gymnastics generally practised on apparatus, the climbing and swinging from the hands and feet, the vaulting and parallel bars exercises, though they may be highly fitted for athletes or sailors, and may even not be injurious to the stronger individuals among Board School girls, are most unsuitable for the weaker individuals and for young ladies whose inherited constitutions are not fitted for very rough work of any kind. Further, I wish to insist that, before violent exercise of any kind is undertaken with a view to promoting health, a thorough medical examination should be undergone, as, without the patient being aware of the fact, organic disease, or a tendency to such, may exist which would render such exercise injurious, or perhaps fatal.
Two typical cases in illustration of this have come under my observation recently. I was giving a course of simple lectures on physiology and hygiene at a club for working girls, which boasted much of its gymnastic classes and apparatus. After the lecture the girls often consulted me as to various symptoms from which they were suffering. One girl, sixteen years of age, I found to have heart disease, and a woman aged twenty- eight had an aneurism. I asked both if they went in for gymnastics. The girl said, "Yes; I enjoy them very much." The woman said, "I haven't been doing much in it, for I'm not very strong; but I think I must go in for it more, and that will do me good." Both were extremely surprised when I absolutely forbade them to take any violent exercise whatever.
I could not explain to them that if the woman at any time gave a sudden jump or a venturesome swing her aneurism would probably rupture, an accident which would be followed by almost instant death, or that, if the girl took an unusual amount of exercise, or excited herself extraordinarily, her heart would suddenly stop action, never to beat again.
It is not long since a young lady, previously considered healthy, died suddenly in the gymnasium of one of our best girls' colleges. A young lady friend of mine, who was present, tells me her schoolfellow dropped dead from the ladder on which she had been exercising, and this is exactly the result I should have expected in my pupil had I allowed her to continue her gymnastic operations. If the young lady's parents had had her properly examined by their medical man, her life would not have been sacrificed in the attempt to preserve health.
While thus commenting upon the abuse of gymnastics, it must not be thought that I underrate their value, for especially in London, where playgrounds are small and few, a good gymnasium is a great advantage, but it ought to be used with due precautions.
Excess is the fashion of the day, and there is a very marked tendency to carry everything to extremes. In accordance with this, being once possessed of the idea that muscular exercise is beneficial, the majority firmly support the old but extremely fallacious proposition, that "You can't have too much of a good thing." For example, lawn-tennis is one of the best, safest, and most healthy games ever invented, but not a summer passes without my seeing a number of girls who have made themselves ill by playing it, simply because they insisted on playing all day and every day.
Men carry healthy games to equally unhealthy extremes, and many are the victims of over-addiction to cricket, boating, race-running, and football.
Sir William Gull once said, in his report on the physical health of the candidates for the Indian Civil Service: "The men who have been rejected have not failed through mere weakness of constitution, but (with only a solitary exception or two) from a mechanical defect in the valves of the heart in otherwise strong men, and for the most part traceable to over-muscular exercises."
Again, people unaccustomed to much exercise will perhaps make up their minds that a long walk will do them good; but unusual exertion will, in reality, do them harm. I have known young men who have led a sedentary life for months, perhaps preparing for an examination, begin the vacation with a walking tour, in which they have marched twenty miles or so in the day, and which has resulted in a serious illness, directly traceable to the sudden strain upon the system.
In respect to long walks, girls try to emulate their brothers, with disastrous effects, forgetting that the difference in their constitution and education renders it impossible for them to perform with ease and advantage feats such as the boys or young men can perform. In short, failing to recognize that excess in any direction is bad, we fly from one evil to another.
It seems a well-established physiological fact that the same effect may arise equally from the absence of certain conditions and from their presence in too great a degree; for example, we may become anaemic from over-exercise or from want of exercise, and from this fact the golden lesson may be drawn—distribute your conditions equally, and you will get a well-balanced result. Now, this is exactly what is wanted, and we may take the "well-balanced result" to mean, in the case under consideration, that "consummation devoutly to be wished"—a healthy mind in a healthy body. If any one should say, "The mind is what makes the man; therefore let us consider the mind only," he is wrong, for it is impossible to have a healthy mind without a healthy body. Disease or weakness is sure to creep out somewhere, and at some time, though it may be well and long concealed. On the other hand, if any one should hold that "the body makes the mind: let us, therefore, attend only to the body," he is equally wrong. For by so doing might be produced a very fine animal, but yet one deficient in those characteristics which constitute the superiority of man over those animals nearest him in the scale of evolution.
In either case the balance of power would be lost, and whether the scale dips on one side or on the other, it matters little, for evil results in either case.
Body and mind should always be considered in relation to one another; and, as far as it is in our power, we ought to counteract the tendency which each has to over-balance the other.
Gymnastics are doubtless of great service in aiding the development of young girls, provided that proper precautions are taken. Of dresses suitable to gymnastic exercise I need say nothing here, as I have already given the necessary particulars on pp. 101 and 172. But, desirable as gymnastic exercises may be, they should never be allowed to supplant out-door games, if these are possible.
Fresh air and sunlight are the best medicines, and the pleasure of a good game is in itself an agent in promoting health, to the position of which no system of gymnastics can attain. If care is taken to avoid over-exertion and fatigue and not to indulge in them when unwell, all the sports I mentioned above may be beneficially enjoyed by girls and women as well as by boys and men. From this statement I must, however, except the game of football, which, as at present played, is not only unfit for girls, but also for young men unless they aspire to the profession of prize-fighters, and take no account of such trifles as broken arms and legs, injured spines, and the chance of sudden death from a blow on the head or a kick in the stomach.
LAWN-TENNIS is perhaps the best game for girls, but the left arm should be exercised in it as well as the right. This requires some practice; but it is quite possible to play equally well with both arms. For this and other games which require the player to run easily, divided skirts are very comfortable. Provided the sleeves are made as I have described (page 190) so as to allow free movements of the arms, no special dress is required for this game; but jerseys are very comfortable to play in, and on the whole the prettiest tennis-dresses are those made of white flannel with loose sailor bodices, or like those shown in Figs. 15 and 17 in the illustration on page 185. The expanding dress described on page 188 is the best dress for lawn-tennis of which I know. It is charming in white cashmere or flannel.
CRICKET is also a very good game for girls, and the same remarks as to dress apply to this as to lawn-tennis. It is necessary, however, that girls who play cricket should have a protective pad to be worn over their bosoms, in order to prevent any harm which might possibly arise from a chance blow from a cricket-ball. A loose, well-wadded pad can be placed between the dress-body and the underclothes; it may be kept in place by two bands on either side, one passing above and one beneath each arm, and fastening at the back. This plan will, I think, be preferable to having the bodice of the dress, the under-bodice, or the stays wadded, as if the pad is loose it can be removed when the game is not being played. It should not, however, be removed immediately after playing, as this might cause the player to take cold on the chest.
The following remarks made by the Lancet on this subject will be read with interest not only for the soundness of the principles involved, but also as showing that that valuable journal is more tolerant on the subject of "female emancipation" than might have been supposed from the passages quoted on page 181:—
"The announcement of a cricket match between an eleven of ladies and an eleven from a girls' school has caused an apprehension in the minds of some of the risk to which feminine players are exposed. One correspondent points out the consequences likely to ensue from a blow received on the breast from a cricket-ball, either delivered from the bowler's hand or struck by the bat. Doubtless a severe blow on the breast might lead to serious consequences in fully developed women by excitation of any latent tendency to cancer, and in young girls by arresting the development of the mammary gland. Still, we think, the risk might be reduced to a minimum if the feminine players wore a well-padded corset both in the field and at the wicket. We should regret that a game, really well suited as an exercise for girls, should be discouraged simply on account of a risk that could be guarded against. We have repeatedly in our columns advocated the advantages to be gained, in the physical education of girls, in the introduction of a well-regulated and moderate athleticism—by allowing them to join in pastimes at present mostly limited to boys, such as swimming, rowing (not boat races), and cricket. The thorough development of the female frame which such exercises would induce, would, we are sure, do much to diminish the tendency towards the special diseases which so many women suffer from in after life. One positive advantage would be gained, by the abolition of tight stays and high-heeled boots, which would be impossibilities for young ladies who wished to enjoy athletic pursuits even in moderation."
Almost all athletic sports and games can be enjoyed without making any great change in dress, if the system of clothing I have sketched in the preceding pages be adopted; but I would impress upon those who indulge in out-door games, rowing &c., that when they are warm and sit down to rest after exertion they must throw some warm wrap round them, or they will most probably take cold.
RIDING.—Many improvements have taken place of late in ladies' dress for horse exercise. The long habits formerly worn were alike objectionable and dangerous: for they became soiled and splashed when riding on wet roads or across country; and by catching against chance objects frequently led to the rider's being thrown or injured. In case of accidents, also, they were very much in the way, entangling the rider's limbs, and embarrassing the horse's movements if it fell.
The skirt should not be longer than just to cover the feet, and the material chosen should be as light as possible. From angola, tweed, or serge, much more comfortable habits can be made than from heavier cloths, and the waist is thus saved from the drag of a heavy skirt. For the same reason the upper portion of the skirt and trousers should be well shaped to the figure, as shown in the shaded portion of Plate 5, E, F.
There is perhaps no exercise more agreeable and health-giving than riding, especially if it is possible to quit the dust and stones of the road, and the monotony of the "Ladies' Mile" for a canter over breezy downs, or a turn across country with the hounds. In the open country, however, where the ground is uneven, and there is frequently some obstacle in the shape of a fence or ditch to be cleared, an exceptional strain is put upon the abdominal muscles and internal organs of the body.
This fact is so far recognized by physicians that many of them recommend that growing girls should abstain from equestrian exercise from the time that they enter upon their "teens" until they have attained their full growth.
An hour's continuous lesson in riding will make many ladies feel "saddle-sick," and this is especially the case after trotting for any length of time upon a horse whose paces are at all rough. When this feeling is induced the rider should at once dismount and rest: all painful sensations, as I have before remarked, are danger-signals. Others suffer from the exterior of the body being chafed while trotting, and care should be taken to avoid or remedy this, as the irritation caused thereby sometimes considerably affects the health.
Owing to the strain on the internal fibres, of which I have spoken above, it is very desirable that the abdomen should be supported during horse-exercise. A number of belts intended to supply this support have been devised by corset-makers and others; but the majority are unsuited to the purpose for which they are intended, being stiffened with steel and whalebone, and merely encircling, and perhaps compressing the body without supporting the abdomen. The position of a lady on horseback also tends to push them up towards the waist.
Very much may be done to give comfort and safety in riding by the judicious shaping of the upper part of the trousers, which should follow the contour of the body sufficiently to give the upward support which is needed. As I have remarked,2 ordinary corsets press the abdominal organs downwards instead of supporting them, and hence they are particularly unsuitable for equestrian wear. Very good abdominal belts for riding may be shaped to the figure out of flannel, which should be doubled and bound at the edge with silk ribbon; they can be fastened like the baby's binder, described on p. 53; they may have a broad strip of elastic inserted throughout the whole depth on each side, and this will enable them to be fastened firmly round the body. A shaped band may also be knitted or crocheted out of coarse Berlin wool, as mentioned in the same place; and the elasticity of this will also permit it to fit closely, and make a firm, yet pliable support. These belts may be worn with or without corsets.
The best belt I have seen for riding is, however, that shown in the figure below. It is made by Mr. Bourne, of silk elastic loosely woven so that there is proper allowance for transpiration, and has but three whalebones in front, which may be removed if desired; the bones at the back should be retained, as they give support just where it is wanted in riding.
For riding, as for other exercises, the body should be clothed entirely in wool. The habit should invariably be lined with flannel, and this plan is successfully adopted by my own tailor, to whose work I shall presently refer. The trousers as well as the jacket may be thus lined throughout, and when this is done, all the underclothing that is required is woollen combinations, with perhaps the belt as described, or the belt and stays in the case of those inclined to embonpoint.
The conventional "chimney-pot" hat answers no profitable purpose, and catches the breeze when
one rides fast; if worn, however, it should invariably be ventilated and lined on the principles described (pp. 199, 200). To my mind hats of the shapes shown in Figs. 19 and 20 are much more becoming and prettier than the conventional riding-hat. Mrs. White makes both these shapes in soft elastic felt, and they are therefore exceedingly comfortable and healthy. They look well in black, but are charming in light grey or dove-colour, to match habits of the same hue. Of course light-coloured habits are healthier than dark ones, in accordance with the facts mentioned in Chapter VIII., but whatever colour be chosen for the habits, these hats can be made in felt to match. The brim should be wide enough to shield the temples and nape of the neck from the sun, and when the sun is very strong a "puggaree" should be added to serve the same purpose. Indeed, in all out-door exercise when it is impossible to hold up an umbrella or parasol this rule should be observed, for the sun's rays beating down upon the nape of the neck are very apt to cause sunstroke, a dangerous affection of the brain resembling apoplexy, and which is generally followed by serious aftereffects.
TRICYCLING.—The tricycle affords both healthy and delightful exercise for women, for whom it is especially suited by the absence of jolting, and the manner in which the body is supported, which two characteristics render it more healthful for our sex than horse-riding. There are certain times, however, when both horse-riding, tricycle-riding, and other exercises should be avoided by women, but their own sensations and common sense should guide them in this respect. Similarly beginners should only ride for short spells, say half an hour at a time; but after some practice rides may be extended, until in a few weeks the tricyclist will be able to accomplish twenty miles at a stretch with less fatigue than she would feel from walking a quarter that distance.
In tricycling the weight of the body is supported lightly upon a saddle, which is mounted on easy springs; the legs are thus freed from its weight, and at liberty to exert their motor power on the treadles. The muscles of the upper part of the body are called into play in the work of guiding the machine by the handles, and in pulling on these in going up hill the body is steadied, and the legs have additional force put into them. Thus much for the muscular exercise; but the mental advantage is equally great. The attention required to steer the machine is sufficient to distract the mind from wearisome thoughts. The rapidity of the motion not only causes a pleasant breeze to play about the face and fill the lungs, but brings about a rapid change of place and sights, and consequently of ideas. The motion can be rapid or slow, and can be instantly changed, which gives the rider a pleasant sense of power. In short, all these and other advantages combine to make tricycling healthful alike to body and mind. Nor is it injurious even to delicate persons if proper precautions are observed. It benefits many chronic complaints, and, according to eminent authorities, may be practised with advantage even by ladies who are far advanced in pregnancy, during which period many are apt to be too sedentary.
For those who have a tendency to grow unduly fat, especially in middle life, the tricycle is invaluable. Many people who "live well" are apt to suffer from indigestion really induced from overeating, and these are greatly benefited by tricycling. The reason for this is simple. As previously explained, in exercise muscular work is done and tissue used up, hence room is left for new material, and food is properly utilized. Tricycling, like other exercises, should not be undertaken within an hour before or after eating, and this for a simple physiological reason. I have said whatever part of the body is in action receives an extra supply of blood to replace the waste of tissue that is going on. Hence when the stomach is engaged in the work of digesting a meal it requires a continuous and liberal allowance of the vital fluid; but muscular or severe mental exertion draws the blood from the internal organs to the muscles or brain, ergo, rest should be indulged in both before, after, and during meals.
Tricycling has become quite fashionable for men, and there is every reason to hope and believe that it will soon become so for women, for whom, as I have shown, it is a particularly suitable means of exercise, if only a sufficient number of ladies living in towns will cast off the fear of being stared at, and bravely mount the iron steed in public. Ladies in the country already largely patronize the tricycle. The ladies of the Royal Family have set a good example to the women of England in this matter. The Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck, took the initiative; then the Queen presented two machines to her young grand-daughters, the Princesses of Hesse; the Princess of Wales next gave her eldest daughter one for a birthday present; and the Princess Louise rides one herself. I believe that in Manchester it is quite the usual thing for a lady to do her marketing on a tricycle, or to use one when making a round of visits, and I cannot see why the same thing should not be done in London and other great towns.
Besides the healthfulness of the exercise, women of business, would find a great deal of time saved in travelling distances which in London are so great, and which a tricycle can cover much more pleasantly than an omnibus or the underground railway, which last can certainly not be recommended for its health-giving qualities. Moreover, one has very often to go to places not reachable by the routes of the public conveyances.
To ladies who are not accustomed to go out alone the Sociable should prove a great boon. I have often seen husbands and wives bowling along on these double machines, and noticed how happy and comfortable they looked. The same sort of machine would be delightful for two ladies, and has this advantage over the single tricycle, that the riders can work it alternately, so that neither need become overtired, even on a long journey.
The other day I saw a tricycle made to work, not with the legs, but with the arms. It occurred to me that great advantage might accrue from machines being made to work either with the legs or arms, so that when the legs become fatigued, the arms, and with them the muscles of the chest, might be exercised—an end devoutly to be wished.
Tricycles are suitable for people in all stations of society. For those whom business takes very much into the streets they are desirable as a means of saving both labour and time, and for those whose occupations are sedentary they are a means of obtaining healthy exercise and fresh air.
On the dress of ladies the tricycle is likely also to have a salutary effect, for to ride it comfortably the dress must be light and easy in every part. Heavy skirts hanging from the waist would inevitably produce backache, and tight stays would be too painful to be borne.
Neat, dark cloth costumes, ulsters or jackets, with small felt or cloth hats to match, are suitable for tricycle wear, or dresses of those brownish materials which do not show the dust of the road. Until tricycle-riding has become more common for ladies in great towns, they would hardly care to go about in such bright and attractive costumes as one uses for carriage wear, as by so doing they would obtain more notice from passers-by than would be altogether agreeable. It is, however, not at all necessary to go to the expense of having special dresses for tricycling, though, of course, these may be had if one likes.
In the Dress Department of the International Health Exhibition were several dresses adapted for tricycle wear. Of special dresses which would be exceedingly comfortable and suitable I noticed one or two, but these could hardly be worn in towns unless the wearers were hardened to a considerable amount of staring and of comment from the younger and dirtier portion of the community as they passed along the streets. One of these dresses was intended for the Highlands, or for mountaineering purposes. It was made of a dark blue cloth, with gaiters, knickerbockers, a skirt reaching to the knees, and a very pretty short coat like a gentleman's shooting-jacket; the hat was made to match. This is a fair type of the kind of dress to which I am now referring, and of which other specimens were exhibited differing in unimportant detail.
This sort of dress saves the wearer from the friction and weight of long skirts, which form an impediment, and are the means of wasting a considerable amount of energy, whether in walking or propelling a machine, and for the same reason all sorts of divided skirts are suitable.
The dress worn by the members of the Ladies' Cyclist Touring Club is made of dark grey tweed, and consists of a Norfolk jacket, a long skirt covering knickerbockers, and a hat to match. This costume is made by my own tailor, Mr. T. W. Goodman, of 47, Albemarle Street, W., who is tailor to the club, and I believe the only person who has given much attention to the subject of cycling dress for ladies. Mr. Goodman has also invented no less than three different costumes intended to serve both for tricycling and walking, or travelling dresses, as it is inconvenient to have a dress which can only be worn on the tricycle. The first of these dresses obtained a medal at the Health Exhibition, and two medals at the National Health Society's Exhibition held the year before; the others would doubtless have been similarly distinguished had they been invented at the time.
The first of these dresses, Fig. 21, is a dark blue cloth Princess robe, with the ordinary drapery at the back and a scarf round the hips; at the right side of the skirt are some bows of ribbon, and these, when the wearer is walking, hide the secret of the dress. When she mounts her iron steed, all she has to do is to unfasten some buttons which are cunningly concealed beneath the bows, and at once she has a skirt perfectly adapted for tricycle-riding. It is constructed on the same principle as the riding-habit now worn, with room for the raised knee, so that the skirt does not draw up with the movements necessary to propel the machine. The part which is buttoned over is cut with a deep curve, so that when buttoned, the bows, which are seen on the right side of the accompanying en-
graving, are in the centre of the skirt. The part that was folded over gives extra width to it, and the curve which is now in the middle accommodates the knee as it rises. This, I think, must be easier to make, and more convenient, than the modification of dress suggested by Mrs. Fenwick Miller. But her suggestion is highly practical and not at all difficult to carry out; it is that a kind of false flounce should be put "upon the front and side breadths of an ordinary walking-dress, so that it can be buttoned up when walking, and let down to conceal the feet when tricycling." Both in this modification and that invented by Mr. Goodman, I should think that small hooks and loops would be preferable to buttons in fastening, as they would show much less when undone. This dress can also be made with a jacket body. The other costumes which serve the same purpose, are to my mind prettier and more artistically constructed than the first. In Fig. 22 there is a smart jacket body, the skirt being plain with a number of pleats inserted as a deep kilting in the front, partially concealed by a pointed apron. The pleats provide accommodation for the knee when it rises in working the machine, and they are utilized in the same way in the costume represented by Fig. 23. This dress is more like an ulster than a costume. The upper part of it is made like a Norfolk jacket to which a plain skirt is attached; a deep kilting is inserted the whole length of the skirt in front. There is something very chic about this dress, and it is suitable for rather cold or wet weather, when it may be used as a winter mantle, or to take the place of that valuable but ugly contrivance—the waterproof. Although so different in appearance, these dresses are all made with the same design, that of providing comfortable and healthy costumes for lady riders. This design has been excellently well carried out, and although in the pictures the bodies are represented as being rather confined in the waist, this fault is not to be found in the originals. Tight-lacing must be banished from the mind and body of the woman who would ride the iron steed; but since dresses for tricycling should be becoming as well as healthy and comfortable, although room must be allowed to give perfect freedom to every movement, a really accurate fit, such as can only be given by a good tailor or maker, is required.
Like the riding-habits mentioned on p. 215, these dresses are lined with flannel, and the ideal way of wearing them is with woollen combinations next the skin, a flannel body fitting closely to the figure to take the place of stays, and buttoned on to this a pair of knick-bockers or trousers of cloth to match the dress. Of course, these unmentionables do not show; but a lady clothed in this way is better able to face the risks of accident than one in petticoats, which are liable to hamper her movements. Moreover, this method of clothing gives a sense of lightness and freedom which can never be enjoyed by one dressed in the ordinary way. I venture to suggest myself that a sort of apron could very easily be made, with an accommodation for the knee in the middle, as in Mr. Goodman's invention.
This could be put on when the lady mounts and instantly thrown off when she dismounts. For instance, if she were going to pay a visit or do some shopping, she could wear any dress she chose; she would at starting put on the apron, which would protect the dress from dust and mud, and while going into the house or shop she would simply leave it outside on her tricycle, to which it might be fastened.
To hats for tricycling the same observations apply as to those for other purposes. The hats shown in Figs. 22 and 23 are made by Mrs. White to match the costumes by agreement with Mr. Goodman, and the soft felt hats shown in Figs. 19 and 20 are suitable for tricycling as well as for riding, walking tours, and travelling, for the last two of which purposes the dresses I have described are also admirably suited.
Boots or shoes for tricycling should be made to fit the shape of the foot, so as to be perfectly comfortable, not according to the present absurd fashion, which, instead of allowing that movement in the toes which should take place in walking, cramps them together into a mangled and deformed mass. The chief points to be observed in getting boots or shoes are that the toes should be broad, to allow full play to the toes of the foot; the heels, if any are worn, should be low and broad, and under the natural heel, instead of being a sort of peg pushed forward right into the middle of the foot, like the fashionable Wurtemburg heels. The waist of the boot, answering to the arch of the foot, should be, to a certain extent, elastic; and the boot, though it should not press in the slightest upon any part of the foot, should not be too large, or it will chafe both stocking and skin. On this subject, however, I need say no more here as the next chapter will be entirely devoted to it.
With proper care, and such protections against cold and wet as I have mentioned, tricycling may be rendered both possible and profitable in almost all weathers; and I hope that lady tricyclists will soon be as plentiful in our streets as they are now rare—at any rate, in London.
- July 4th, 1885.
- 2 pp. 165-6 et seq.