Woman Sports Etiquette From A 110 Years Ago

by Claire Valenty on November 5, 2010

in Etiquette From The Past

Women Tennis Etiquette 110 Years Ago

Do you appreciate your workout clothes, or do you complain about the cost and style.  Let us consider the women of 1898 who had no Nike store but were under pressure to participate and remain ‘lady-like’. In the July 1898 article from The Woman’s Home Companion entitled Costumes for Outdoor Sports, Mary Katharine Howard she guides her reader in the correct attire and behavior of the day. This piece is inspired by her article. Let’s take a look at the manners that were in vogue 110 years ago then let us know what sporty manners you follow today:

“When the sun shines brightly in the summer skies and zinnias bloom in the garden it is time to enjoy days at the beach and bicycle rides in the woods.  The modern woman should indeed engage in a wide variety of outdoor sports, but extra effort must be taken to dress and behave in a modest and refined manner.  Physical fitness should never be at the expense of one’s personal decorum.”

The 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was still 22 years away, but women were stepping up and trying many new things.  More and more women began to participate in sports, but society expected them to remain attractive and modest.  Cycling offered extra challenges when it came to fashion.

“Cycling is ever increasing in popularity and naturally many questions arise as to the proper riding costume.  There has arisen a controversy around the correct length of skirt. The majority of women affect foolish modesty choosing a shoe top length skirt which is ugly and ungraceful when wheeling.  This length is also unseasonably warm and therefore can only be worn with a short boot or Oxford tie shoe.  The short boot defeats the purpose of the long skirt since it still allows the stocking to be shown and the Oxford should only be worn by men, boys, and very young girls.   I however do not advocate an immodest abbreviated skirt, but instead recommend a mid-calf skirt that will not flap in the breeze.”

The skirt and boots presented many problems, but appearances needed to be maintained.  A heated discussion about undergarments arose.  Some women insisted on wearing corsets and others bravely went where no (genteel) woman had gone before.

“There are some differing opinions regarding the wearing of a corset for bicycling and other outdoor sports.  Perspiration is never pretty, so care should be taken to choose underwear made of light-weight material and woven in a manner to readily absorb moisture. If the rider is most comfortable in a corset, she should choose a short, well-fitting one.”

No polite woman would consider going out in public with a bare head, however women were advised to choose hats that coordinated with the dress and could endure the activity.  Although women at the end of the 1800’s were totally focused on appearances, they were often abrupt and harsh in their language. (Note the line about alpine hats.)

“It is essential to dress one’s head as well as one’s body, but care should be taken to choose simple headwear; free of flowers, feathers, or fluffy trim. An alpine styled hat is a lovely choice for cyclists, but only those with young and pretty faces.  A tennis girl can obtain protection from the sun without abandoning style.  A wide brimmed flat hat does nicely.”

You might be a bit amazed that golfing and boating wear hasn’t changed all that much in over 100 years.  The long skirts are gone, but the colors and styles remain the same.

Yachting Etiquette

Yachting required proper attire. You might not be able to paddle but at least you looked good.

“Yachting and golf allows the modern woman to partake in healthful outdoor activities while wearing feminine and fashionable attire. The golfer should look for loose fitting sleeves and a tailored jacket or vest.  A Scottish design is highly desired and the outfit should be completed with heavy boots and a tam-o’-shanter.  Of course yachting clothing must have a nautical air and should be made of cloth that does not shrink.  One should stay modest and attractive even if moistened by a spray of salty water.  Blue and white with a gold trim is especially desirable in sailing garb.

In closing, please remember the importance of your appearance and demeanor at all times.  Although moderate activity is beneficial, a lady should avoid over exerting herself to the point of becoming breathless and saturated with perspiration.”

I suppose when women got the right to vote, they also got the right to sweat.  Why not put on your running shoes and a nice absorbent t-shirt.  Perspire with pride.


Read more about past etiquette rules in our 3 part series on the History of Etiquette

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

LF November 8, 2010 at 12:50 am

Hi Rivka! I live in an extremely diverse neighborhood where traditional dress from the country of origin is very popular. Indian women wear a Sari, Arabic women wear Burka’s – right outside my door every day – when a few years ago that seemed like something I would never see in person! Russian women dress to the nines, and Orthodox Jewish women are wearing long skirts, long sleeves, a wig and a hat even in August. I’ve thought a lot about how much things have changed – and how much they haven’t changed at all. It boils down to your personal statement, no matter where you are from, or what age you live in.

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