The development of female sporting fashion

Sporting fashion in the last two centuries has developed to allow women to don clothes designed to meet the technical demands of athletic play. As interest in female sporting competition increased, the hindrances of formal wear were brushed away.

Amelia Bloomer, nineteenth century women’s rights activist and advocate for reform in female dress, championed baggy knickerbockers (or ‘bloomers’) in the 1850s for use primarily in cycling. Wearers of these loose-fitting trousers were ridiculed by the media for their progressive stance, inciting early examples of the comedic phrase ‘she wears the trousers’.

XIR191430 Blanche d'Antigny (1840-74) and her Velocipede (oil on canvas) by Betinet, (19th century); Musee de l'Ile de France, Sceaux, France; French, out of copyright

Blanche d’Antigny (1840-74) and her Velocipede by Betinet, (19th century); Musee de l’Ile de France, Sceaux, France

Until the early twentieth century, female tennis players exclusively wore long skirts and restrictive clothing. Look at the outfit of Hélène Prévost, silver medal winner at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, and note her ankle-length skirt, tight-sleeved blouse and hat.

PVD1682936 Helene Provost won the silver medal of tennis women's singles at the Paris Olympic Games in 1900; ( Helene Provost, medaille d'argent de tennis en simple dames aux Jeux Olympiques de Paris en 1900 --- Helene Provost won the silver medal of tennis women's singles at the Paris Olympic Games in 1900); Photo © PVDE; PERMISSION REQUIRED FOR NON EDITORIAL USAGE; out of copyright PLEASE NOTE: Bridgeman Images works with the owner of this image to clear permission. If you wish to reproduce this image, please inform us so we can clear permission for you.

Hélene Prévost won the silver medal of tennis women’s singles at the Paris Olympic Games in 1900


In 1922, however, revolution came in Suzanne Lenglen’s short-skirted appearance at Wimbledon. Lenglen became one of the first international female sports celebrities, revered as La Divine by the French press.

DGC696924 Suzanne Lenglen, New York, 1926 (Sepia Photo); Private Collection; ( The famous French star Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938), practices outdoors before her first appearance at Madison Square Garden, New York, October, 1926.); Prismatic Pictures ; it is possible that some works by this artist may be protected by third party rights in some territories

Suzanne Lenglen, New York, 1926; Private Collection; Prismatic Pictures

The Goddess paved the way for a coup against impractical demands on female athletes to dress conservatively, and in 1932 American tennis player Alice Marble began to wear shorts in major championships.

3135221; out of copyright

Alice Marble

Trousers began to gain acceptance in female sports wear in the mid nineteen-thirties in sports such as golf, but not until the late sixties and early seventies was this progression in athletic wear mimicked in casual everyday dress. Short skirts and shorts were denied multi-purpose use in women’s style by a similar period of delay, and it seems that reform in female dress required practical justification before it could become acceptable.

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