Kat Jungnickel: “Bikes and Bloomers: Victorian Women Inventors and their […]” | | Talks at Google

Kat Jungnickel: “Bikes and Bloomers: Victorian Women Inventors and their […]” | | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] KAT JUNGNICKEL:
Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here. So thank you for the invitation. As [INAUDIBLE] was saying, I’m
a sociologist at Goldsmiths. I’m interested in citizenship,
and gender, and technology, and invention, which is very
much what this book is all about. So I’m going to tell you a
little bit about the research project that underpins
this new publication. And it’s ostensibly about
Victorian engineering, the history of patenting and
radical feminist cultures of invention. But I’m here to do
what pretty much is a bit of cycling, sewing,
and suffrage storytelling. So my research tells
the story of inventors, who helped to shape the
landscape in which women could move in new ways
independently, unchaperoned in public space, who embraced
a plethora of new technologies, such as the bicycle, the
sewing machine, new waterproof and woolen fabrics, and
a range of new media, and who pushed at the
parameters of established forms of gendered citizenship. And all of this, I believe– and I will argue– can be
told through the history of cyclewear. But first of all, why am
I looking at cyclewear in the first place? Why does cyclewear matter? Can I find out who
is a cyclist here? Ooh, OK, quite a lot
of you– terrific. So initially, the idea for this
came from an amazing post-doc that I’ve been doing,
where I was studying contemporary cycling research. And it was about the
cultures of cycling. I was looking at four different
field sites around the UK with Rachel Oldroyd and her
great project exploring, in some cases, why cycle
rates in some places in the UK were much higher than others. It involved a whole mixed
methods approach of ethnography and a lot of interviews. But I was really struck by how
unprovoked cyclists would often talk about what they would wear
to cycle and the effect this had on other users. In some circumstances,
looking like a proper cyclist enabled people to carve out
cycling identities and kind of legitimizes
space on the road. And in others– and women were
particularly articulate about this– being visibly
identifiable as a cyclists sometimes resulted in
unwelcome responses from other road users. And people also seemed to
identify with the struggle to find appropriate clothing
that fitted on the bike and also for when you
arrive at your destination. And female cyclists also
lamented the limited range of cyclewear available
to them in relation to what was available
for men, more broadly. They talked about having to hack
or adapt their own clothing, buy men’s wear, and do things
with that, because they felt there was a limited kind
of high-tech range for them. And at the time,
also, the media was starting to identify
a particular type of dressed cyclist,
the Lycra lout. And here with
seemingly appropriate technical materiality
for cycling, Lycra was becoming shorthand
for kind of an anti-social form of mobility. So clearly, what
cyclists wore mattered. And it mattered a lot. So I began to ask, why
does cyclewear matter? Where do these
anxieties come from? And what can we learn about
what we wear to cycle today from learning more about
what we’ve worn in the past? So my research focuses
on a very small period of history, 1895 to 1899. It was a radical intersection
of new technology and social and cultural change. And it was when the bicycle
boom swept through this country, and it was also a
time of dress reform. And emancipation activities
were gaining traction advocating for more women’s
rights and freedoms. There was a growth
of new printed media, particularly around
cycling periodicals, and an influx of new ideas
from travelers from abroad. So I’ve been
looking particularly at what early cyclists
wore to ride bikes. And cyclewear really
provides an interesting lens, I think, into society. So as a sociologist,
I consider clothing as a device that reflects and
also produces social, cultural, and political worlds. And clothing is
not just something that covers or protects
bodies but thinking of it as a technology that
enables and constrains different forms of mobility. And in the 1890s, clothing was
a critical means through which bodies are made to fit,
both physically and also ideologically, with changing
ideas about being in and moving through public
space and attaching to all these new and
exciting technologies. And some bodies
fitted much easier with these new technologies. And some bodies had
to be made to fit. So I’ve been
focusing particularly on middle-and-upper-class
women, because they were at the cutting edge of fashion. They had money to
embrace new technology, as well as the leisure
time to enjoy it. They had exposure
to media and ideas from around the world and the
social and cultural capital to push back against
conventional social codes and norms. So what was happening
in the 1890s? I’m going to set the scene
a little bit with a letter. It was written in 1897 by Kitty
J. Buckman to a friend of hers about her cycling experiences. And she writes this. She says, “Minnie says, Oxford
is the most bigoted place in the kingdom. It certainly cannot be worse to
ride in Oxford than in London, especially London suburbs. It’s awful. One wants nerves of iron. The shouts and the yells
of children deafen one. The women shriek with
laughter or groan and hiss. And all sorts of remarks are
shouted, occasionally some not fit for publication. One needs to be very
brave to stand all that. And it makes one feel mad. And one’s idea of
humanity at large sink to a very low standard.” So Kitty clearly loves cycling. And there’s lots of letters
between her and her friends about how much they loved it. But the fact that she says it
took nerves of iron to ride, it clearly wasn’t always
a relaxing or safe pastime in late 19th century Britain. Rather, as evoked
by these letters, it was fraught with verbal
and sometimes even physical assault from general
public in some places. So why was this? Why did mobile women
get treated in this way? What were they doing and wearing
to elicit such social violence? And how and in what
ways did they respond? So both men and women
really enthusiastically took to cycling. But they both had very different
experiences in the 1890s. It was considerably
easier for upper-class men initially, because their bodies
and society’s understandings about masculine mobility
and their clothing meant they fitted with the
bicycle much more easily. And as Jennifer
Hargreaves writes, sports constituted a unique
form of cultural life. There were
overwhelmingly symbols of masculinity and
chauvinism, embodying aggressive displays of physical
power and competitiveness. In the 19th century
there’s no question that sports were the
natural domain of men and to be good at them
was essentially masculine. And the popularity of cycling– and cycling racing,
in particular– really helped to shape men’s
attachment to cycling, as well as their cyclewear, reinforcing
its masculine appeal. And cutting-edge
designs for racing bikes also trickled down into
the consumer market. So men were much
more easily to adopt the confident, high-tech cycling
consumer right from the start. And a slew of popular
periodicals, such as these, “The Hub” and “The
Wheeler,” were very quick to respond to
this popular interest. And they regularly published
details of all the racing events and showcased the winners
in collectible commemorative posters like this. So you can see the
discourse of heroism were embedded in these
accounts that powerfully linked masculinity and cycling. We see language such
as speed, and agility, and performance, champion,
professional, and skill. And you can see, also, men’s
clothing wasn’t terribly much of an issue here, either. They were much more easily
able to discard things that were seen as kind of
problematic on a bicycle to the point where there’s
not much even happening there. And to the left, you
can see almost a prelude to cycling skin suits even
happening over 110 years ago. So women in cycling– women, too, found cycling
incredibly exciting. And we can probably
barely imagine the unparalleled sense of
excitement, and freedom, and independence that would
have come from cycling at that time for them. However, their
bodies, and dress, and mobile engagement
public space were much more complicated. Up until the mid 1880s,
middle-and-upper-class women’s bodies in Victorian
society were defined by the moral responsibility of
reproduction and deeply rooted in one place, being the home. Exercise was deemed
unnecessary, unhealthy even, and even detrimental to
her matrimonial duties, given her main purpose was the
caring and bearing of children. And fashions may
not have been always as complicated as this
French visiting dress. But they ostensibly reinforced
many of these beliefs about women’s role in society. They comprised up to 7
pounds of heavy petticoats, long, floor-length skirts,
tightly laced corsets, blouses, jackets, veils,
hats, gloves, and much more. And together, these
restrictions on women’s bodies produced kind of a
largely immobile citizen, incapable, it was seen,
as being able to do much physical or indeed
mental, economical kind of political movement. However, close to
the 19th century, things were really changing. Women’s rights activists
were continuing to agitate for women’s freedom
of movement out of the home into education and business. Public debates
about the importance of exercise for women
was actually changing. And doctors who’d previously
been very negative about it were suddenly coming out and
cautiously recommending it. And dress reform was emerging
in the UK for both sexes. And the UK’S Rational
Dress Society had been around since the 1880s. And they were campaigning for
what they called rational dress over irrational fashion. And rational dress
comprised of a whole range of different garments. But they’re
ostensibly recognized as a looser corset,
or no corset at all, and a pair of bifurcated
trousers such as bloomers and knickerbockers, and no
skirt, or a shorter skirt. So shocking was this change
in dress in public space that it really
divided the nation. Dress reform was
incredibly controversial, with many arguing that
the public’s distaste for this radical form of
masculinized clothing for women damaged women’s
freedom of movement. And it really split women
cyclists and dress reformers alike. And it was also,
of course, a time of expanding popular media,
especially fueled, as I said, by the popularity of cycling. And lots of publications
really targeted women as these new
consumers of cycling. And “The Lady Cyclist” was one
such publication, very popular at the time. It was launched in 1896. And it was edited by man, but
it had lots of contributions from women. And it put forward this really
powerful, new visual language and technological imaginary
that placed women firmly in cycling’s fashionable set
and carving a space for them in what had been pretty much
a masculine cycling world. So it was really important. And it gave many the permission
to continue the sport or provide incentive
for the tentative. However, these
publications also provide an awful lot of
advice and suggestions for the lady cyclist, and
what they should do or not do, what they should dress
and not dress in, and a regular
column such as “Why A Lady Cyclist Should Always
Dress Well,” cycling fashions. And there are illustrations
of the ideal lady cyclist from the point of view
of our various artists, as well as my favorite,
“Array Yourself Becomingly.” And overall, it was really
imperative that the lady cyclist appear
feminine while mobile, with emphasis on being graceful,
and neat, and sensible, and becoming, charming,
dignified, modest, and more. So you note how this discourse
is quite different from men and cycling’s discourse. But ostensibly, they
were firmly discouraged not to show any effort or
strain while cycling, in order to maintain this kind of
feminine form of mobility. So it’s quite a lot
of pressure, then, to be a lady cyclist,
for any of us who know what it’s like to cycle. So another thing, bike
portraits were really popular in the 1890s. It’s kind of the equivalent
of the selfie now, I imagine. Having access to all
these new technologies, such as the bicycle, a new
cycling garment, and a camera illustrated great
cultural cachet. And you’ve got to admit, Mrs.
H.H. Timberlake here of Wigan is looking pretty elegant,
and dignified, and modest, and charming, and
very feminine there. But she’s also wearing
an awful lot of clothes. And she’s not moving. Because the reality is that it
was actually quite difficult to look graceful, and
elegant, and modest, and graceful on a moving
bicycle, especially when you’re wearing that many clothes. Because that many clothes can
make you fall off your bike. And it did. Because the reality of
cycling in what was called ordinary dress was
very difficult. Skirts and petticoats caught in
chain rings, as you’d imagine. Material wrapped around
petals, flew into spokes. It even blew–
because in some cases, dresses were quite wide– it would even blew into
wheels, and blew up, and even obscured cyclists view as
some of the newspaper reports would indicate. And newspapers also
regularly noted with kind of gruesome
detail accounts of women dying or becoming disfigured
as a result of cycling crashes, often due to their clothing. And this discourse
reinforced the idea that many had that women
weren’t natural cyclists, and they were kind of not
very confident, and a bit technologically incompetent. However, it is very
difficult to cycle wearing this many
clothes, especially when it keeps making you fall off. But the choice to cycle in
more appropriate cyclewear, such as more rational
dress at the time, wasn’t necessarily
socially safer. Because cycling in
more rational dress, such as bloomers or
removing your skirt, would expose you to the
potential spectrum of responses from all classes of society. And it could result in verbal
and even physical assault. Cyclists were
harassed in streets. They were subjected
to rocks, and sticks, and incredibly rude remarks. They were denied
entry into places. And they were gossiped about. I can’t imagine
just how difficult that would have been
to kind of get out there and cycle when
you knew that was going to happen in different places. So one of the reasons that
women cyclists in cyclewear elicited such
responses is that they were seen by some
to be encroaching in what had
previously been men’s lifestyles and privileges. Society feared women
getting out alone, unchaperoned, moving at speed. And in some cases,
even smoking– the fact that it
would lead women into these potentially kind
of bad behaviors and pursuits. And lady cyclists were a
favorite topic for discussion and debate in the media. And lots of poems, and
diatribes, and cartoons really use this in order to generate
discussion, and debate, and audiences. And I particularly
love this image, because she really doesn’t look
like she cares at all about it. She’s overdressed. Look at that brooch on her head. She’s not clearly
particularly good at cycling. She had just run
someone off the road. She’s unchaperoned. She’s smoking. And she’s clearly
a danger to others. But she’s just keep
on going with it. And clearly, this
cartoon is kind of mocking a lot of these fears. But most threatening to
some parts of society was the fact that
women were out there. They were carving out new
feminine modes and mobility. They are unchaperoned. They’re moving at speed,
at different times, and in different places
than ever before. And cycling,
therefore, for some, was emblematic of women
rejecting their natural roles at home, caring and bearing
of children, the caring and bearing of others. And their actions potentially
threatened the very contiguity of humanity. This is how intense the
conversation was going. What’s going to happen if women
are out there cycling and not helping to produce
healthy offspring? So it really polarized society. A female body on
a bicycle, how it moved, how it was
dressed swiftly became a site of
intense, public debate about the broader role
of women in society. And as a result, you had to
be quite brave in some places to get out there and go riding. However, fortunately,
nothing was going to stop quite
a lot of women from cycling after
that experience, the unparalleled
excitement of it. And there are many
ways that women responded to what had become
known as the dress problem. Some braved ordinary
fashion on their bicycles and just suffered whatever
kind of crashes might happen. Some wore rational dress,
like Kitty and her friends, and braved the social response. Some elicited
site-specific strategies, which involved wearing one
garment for city riding and then changing
into something more appropriate for proper riding
when nobody could really see you. And others responded inventively
through the dress itself. And this is what I’ve been
particularly interested in. And I don’t know if anyone knows
of Rozsika Parker’s great book, “The Subversive Stitch.” It relates to women’s engagement
in the art of embroidery. But I think it really
relates to sewing, as well. Because she says,
“The art of embroidery has been the means of educating
women into the feminine ideal and of proving
they’ve attained it. But it has also provided
a weapon of resistance to the constraints
of femininity.” So what I discovered
in doing quite a lot of archival research
about this period of time is that quite a number
of these pioneering women who really wanted
to cycle and wanted to respond through
the dress itself used all the tools, and the
skills, and the networks at their disposal to redefine
the parameters of femininity through their clothing. So these challenges to
women’s freedom of movement created the conditions
ripe for invention. And it turns out, some
of these pioneering women not only imagined,
designed, made, and wore radical new
forms of cyclewear, but they also patented
their designs, which is terrific for us. The mid-1890s is marked not
only by a boom in cycling but a boom in
patenting, as well. I haven’t got time to tell you
about all the kind of things that come together. But handily, it’s in the book. But there was a long
history of patent reform that slightly coincides with the
reform to the Married Women’s Property Act that
actually enabled them to have more control
and power over their ideas. But it was a remarkable time
for inventiveness, especially for and by women. Because cycling’s dress problem
was so immobilizing for women that cyclewear inventions
became a primary vehicle for women’s entry into
the world of patenting. That became statistically
relevant for the first time, so they get talked
about in new ways. So what are patents? Have many of you
done patent research? No. Me either, until
this project, too. What are patents? A patent is a temporary
monopoly on the economic benefit that can be derived
from an invention. As such, a patent turns an
idea into a form of property. The person who has a new
idea, a patent asserts, can own it in the same
way that he or she can own land or money. OK. But why are patents interesting
to sociologists and to you? Well, patents provide an
incredible material history of invention. As Ruth Schwartz-Cowan
writes, “If there were no such thing
as a patent, we would not know very
much about inventors.” And patents, I think, are
fascinating design objects. Because inventors describe
in detail the problem they’re attempting to solve,
and in doing so, provide us with a glimpse
of the sociocultural context at the time. The inventor tells us about
themselves, their name, address, self-identified
vocation, their married status– mostly for women. They identify the problem. Then they tell us how
they’ve solved it. And they go into great
detail about who it’s for, what materials,
what technologies, how it relates to
past inventions, and the many ways that
it can be put to use. Patents were also
particularly good record of women’s inventiveness. As [INAUDIBLE]
says, patent records are inherently useful
in this regard, because they provide
a continuous source of information about
market-related activities of women. So they’re an amazing resource
of first-hand accounts of women from this period. They give voice to a group
that were very often silenced by history. We don’t often hear
much about them. And they’re also
continuous, valuable record. They provide evidence of women
as being creative inventors and continually contributing
to cycling’s history. When we often look at
more conventional records, women tend to pop
up in the account. This shows us that there’s an
evolving and connected history of their contributions. And they present
a range of voices, not just in a triumphal,
loud, or more traditionally, heroic kind of stories that
are conventionally successful. Patent databases record
the work of all the ideas that go into the
archive, regardless of whether or not they’ve
actually been successfully taken out and produced
into something. So they’re still an incredible,
useful body of data, because it shows what
people were thinking about and how they were drawing on
the past to claim the present and imagine different futures. And they speak to
future makers and users. They provide detailed
instructions for somebody else. And they provide all that
detail for somebody else to remake the invention–
so a little bit more on that in a second. And they’re not boring. To be honest, I
was a bit concerned during this much patent
research and hauling away in archives for a number
of years, it turned out. Because I’m more
of an ethnographer. I would spend time
with people actually going and living with
different communities, doing lots of field work, and
interviewing people, hanging out with people,
building things. It was quite lively and dynamic
hanging around with people who are alive. So I was a little
bit concerned doing all of this as to whether it
would be as interesting as it turned out to be. But it turns out the story
of Victorian inventors and patentees is far from the
kind of dry and dull account relegated to the dusty
corners of archives. Combined with
genealogical research, the race to patent ideas at
the turn of the last century is full of drama and excitement. And successful inventors were–
as Ruth Schwartz-Cowan talks about– they were celebrated in
print, and from the pulpit, household names either
in their own right or because of the names of
the companies they founded. Newspapers quoted them. Popular magazines
recounted their exploits. And huge crowds turned
out to hear about them. It really was, I
think in the 1890s, the equivalent of
the early dot com boom of the turn of
the last century. Lots of people were so
excited by this potential of an idea that could
radically change your future. It could really propel your
social mobility in ways that other kind of jobs or
opportunities couldn’t. And also, look at the books
I get to hang out with. They’re enormous. I should have had my
hand in there for scale. But they really were huge. And invariably, they’re filled
with all the dust of the 1890s. I would leave kind of wearing
and bodied with materiality and I fear probably leaving
some of myself in it, as well. That’s another talk. But I’ve been
particularly influenced by a feminist turn
in the archives to see not only what is
present in the archives, but also what is
absent, and critically consider the politics
that shape collections. So as Ann Stoler
has written, this involves a move from
the archive as a source to archive as a subject. And she talks about
archiving as a process and thinking about
it as a thing. And likewise, Kate
Eichhorn’s work is really interesting about
archives, because she says, it’s not so much a turn to
the past but another way to understand the present. So I began to see these
kind of spaces and materials as opportunities to find, to
piece together these stories. Because they’re
certainly not sitting there waiting to just read
them, particularly women’s stories in the past. They’re kind of everywhere. They’re fragmented. It’s a way of trying to
piece these pieces together but also trying to resist
making it a smooth narrative. Because I don’t know for sure. So I’m trying to
piece them together but still maintain an
opportunity for other people to interpret this material. So, what were they inventing? Looking across these patents,
a central aim becomes clear. And it’s quite ambitious. They aim to create garments that
did two things, that operated as a successful
form of cyclewear while still giving
the appearance of an ordinary skirt. So they’re trying
to make something that does both things. And you can see, this
is just a few cut-outs for a number of
different patterns. It will have the appearance
of an ordinary walking skirt. My invention relates
to improvements to lady’s skirts
that would render them equally
adaptable for cyclists and be indistinguishable. They’re trying to
really ambitiously do two things in one. And there are a number of
ways that they did this. And I’ve identified five themes. Inventive solution number one,
attach women to their clothing. Inventors used a whole array
of straps, and buckles, and even metal belts, and a
whole range of chains, as well, to prevent a skirt from
flapping and flying about, which was the problem. And funny enough,
more male inventors thought this was a better idea
than the female inventors. Women were more about taking
this stuff away, rather than adding more things on there. Inventive solution number
two, tailor the skirt to fit the bike. So this cut some of
the bulk of the skirt and the layers of petticoats
which were flapping around. And the aim was to fit
the skirt over both sides of the back wheel without
going into it, which is what this image is showing there. But when you moved
away from your bicycle, it was indiscernible that
you were wearing cyclewear. So it limited some of the
potential for crashes. But the skirt was still flapping
quite close to that back wheel. And there were a lot of critics
of this particular invention. Inventive solution
number three is what I call built-in bifurcation. So you might love your bloomers. You might be very keen on them. But maybe you didn’t want
anyone else to see them. So perhaps you are committed
to rational dress and women’s suffrage, but you weren’t
so keen in having things thrown at you in public. So you wore them, but you
kept them hidden by a skirt. So there are a number
of different ideas that had bloomers sewn into
them, replacing the petticoat. So it removed a lot
of those layers. And if your skirt did
fly out, then you’re still kind of covered. Inventive solution number
four is what I technically call the really big bloomers. They look like a skirt they’re
so big, as you can see. They kind of hid
the fact that you’ve got bifurcation going
on there and hid your independently-moving
legs to a degree, but still freed
your legs to peddle, and kept the loose
material in check. And I really like these. And I’ve made a number
of pairs of these. And they’re
phenomenal for snacks. And cyclists really
like their snacks. You can get a lot of pockets
happening in there with a lot of food without anyone knowing. Inventive solution number
five, convertible costumes– now these garments
really ambitiously aimed for both respectable
fashion, urban street wear, and cyclewear. So the inventors engineered
deliberately-concealed technological systems
into their skirts– into their skirts–
using pulley systems, and gathering devices, and
cords, and buttons, and loops, and other mechanisms
into the seams, and hems, and
waistbands that enabled wearers to secretly switch
from modal identities, from perambulate walking to
cycling when they needed. And this is the theme we
became very struck by. And more women than men
really took to this. And this is the biggest
theme out of all of those. So, what do we do next? I really want to see
these things in action. How do they work? How were they made? How were they repaired? Did they work at all? So I’ve been around so many
of the museums and galleries in the UK looking at
Victorian sportswear. And I don’t know if anyone’s
done this, but it’s amazing. You go into museums
and galleries. And they have such
an amazing collection of Victorian garments,
as well as other things. And curators are really
keen to bring them up out of the archive, because
they’re not all on show, and to provide them to you
to explore and engage with. And there’s lots. For me, there was
yachting, and horse riding, and gymnastics, and swimming,
and golfing, and walking, and all sorts of things, but
no convertible cycle outfits. So I haven’t found yet
any evidence of these, even though I will
show an example to show very clearly that quite
a number of them were made, were successful,
and distributed, and worn by people. So why aren’t they
available, considering lots of other things are? Well, you talk to curators
and think about this for awhile, cyclewear
gets worn out. I don’t know how many of you
think about your old cycling knicks and think the
National Gallery needs them. Probably not. So inventions also were
hidden in plain sight. One of the purposes of
them was that no one knew about it unless you
were transforming them. So they were designed
not to be seen. And quite possibly,
if you don’t know what you’re looking for when you
just get one of these skirts, you may not know that these
things are built into them. And of course, women’s
invention in the past not necessarily recognized
or highly valued for what it is, and as per
gender conventions of the time, either ignored or
slightly written out of history, as well. And even if they were
available, these garments are really made for mobility. They’re live, dynamic,
transformable, convertible objects. It’s really hard to
gain insights from them. Even though it’s
amazing when you go in, this is kind of what you. You get the object. You get these tools
of investigation, being a tape measure, a pencil,
some paper, a magnifying glass. And that’s how you
interview costumes. And it’s interesting. They’re kind as recalcitrant
as human interviewees. They’ll tell you some
things and keep other things to themselves. But even if I had
these costumes, as I came to understand,
a lot of these really only make sense
on and with the body. They’re hard to
understand off the body. And understandably,
the curators probably wouldn’t have let me put
them on, convert them, and go for a bike ride. And frankly, these are so small. This body was not
going to fit into them. And I’m committed
to this project. But I haven’t been
wearing a corset for it. So after doing a
lot of this research and finding no evidence
of the material garments, we figured we had the
instructions in the patents. We have the step-by-step,
detailed provisions by the inventors themselves. We should make some. So I’ve been working
with a team of a patent cutter, a weaver, and
an artist to remake a collection of these. And I’ve been calling this
Making Things To Make Sense Of Things along the way. And it builds on a long
history, as you probably know, in science and the history
of technology for reproductions and replications, where you
explore through practice. Other forms are kind of
sensory and bodily knowledge and ask, what can you
learn from doing this that you wouldn’t
just get from doing textual analysis of a patent? And patents provide really
rich instruction for it. Because the nature
of patent is such that the language and
drawings must provide full clear and exact description
of inventions such as will enable others
skilled in the art which it pertains to make use of it. So in the case of
a clothing patent, anyone knowledgeable
in the art of sewing should be able to
reproduce these. And we also argue that
making these kind of credit a relationship with people
who’d lived 130 years before. We got into this dialogue
with the inventors through their inventions
and conducted an ethnography of making along the way. And it got incredibly messy,
because I’m a sociologist. So I don’t get a
lot of studio space. And this is quite a
big sociology office. But there was lot of
floor work going on here. So I stuck a camera to
the ceiling, a GoPro, and took photographs every 10
seconds for the last six weeks of the project– you can imagine
how much data I have from this– and made time-lapse films. So I don’t have wanted to show
you, but they’re on my website. And just the amount of
movement and dynamism captured from that perspective
became another form of data, as well as kind of
doing field notes. So we made a collection
of five of these garments. I said I would make five
skirts, but it really doesn’t make sense if you
don’t make the whole thing. So we ended up making about
27 pieces of clothing, as well as all the iterations. Because trying to work
out how to build things like pulley systems
into skirts, it turns out you need to do a few
iterations at different scales to even work out what that is. Because I don’t know
about you, but I’ve never seen a pulley system in
a skirt before this project. So I’m actually wearing one of
the convertible costumes now. I’m not normally
dressed like this. So I can introduce it to you. Good. I’m wearing a patented
convertible Victorian cycling costume that was designed by
Alice Bygrave, a dressmaker of Brixton in 1895. She was 35 years old
when she lodged her UK patent for improvements
in ladies cycling skirts. And the aim of the design– actually, one thing. If you’ve ever patented
or know about patenting, you’ll be amazed at
how quick this is. The complete
specification was left on the 1 of November, 1895. And it was accepted on
the 6 of December, 1895. I don’t think that
happens anymore. It’s quite exciting. The aim of her
design was to provide a skirt that was
proper for wear when either on or off the machine. So she’s trying to do
this ambitious thing, look like you’re in reputable
and respectable street wear and then converted
into a cyclewear and able to convert
it back again. So she clearly knew
she was onto something, because she went on to patent
it in three other countries. She patented it in Switzerland,
in Canada, and in the US. And a common difficulty
when doing patent studies is losing the trail
really quickly. Often, the inventor’s
name get lost when a commercial organization
picks up an idea, when they rename it, and distribute it. This didn’t happen
with Alice Bygrave. Jaeger, the British fashion
house, picked up this patent, clearly recognized
the value of it, and proceeded to
distribute the design under her name, the
Bygrave Convertible Skirt, which is obviously really
good for us in tracing this– and as an editorial in
popular cycling magazines, and newspapers, and
periodicals started to appear. The Bygrave
Convertible Skirt was quite a hit that captured
the nation’s imagination. It was regularly demonstrated
at all the big cycling shows. Lots of reviews were
written about it in not only the
cycling magazines but also in much bigger,
broader newspapers. And it started to be
distributed all around the UK. And this is an example of
one of Jaeger’s distributors that really drives
this forward– the new Bygrave Convertible
Skirt, suitable for cycling, et cetera. And it was written
about in US media. Because she traveled over there
in order to lodge a patent and do new deals. So here it is in “The
San Francisco Chronicle” and “The St. Louis Times.” And it even wound
its way to Australia. It was distributed by Jaeger. And it was sold in David Jones. If people know,
it’s a big retailer that’s still around today. And it was available in
Sydney and in Melbourne– and again, was
talked about in lots of newspapers around the place. So this is an example of not
all patents clearly leave the patent archive. But some of them did. And this very much did. So before I show you the
invention, a little bit more about her family’s influences
to kind of understand how she got to what she got to– her mother was a dressmaker. And so is Alice Bygrave. She self-identifies as one. Her parents had a
watch and clock-making shop in Chelsea, King’s Road. And her brother and
sister-in-law were professional cyclists– so watching clock-making,
a bit of sewing, cycling coming together. So, what did she design? This is one of her drawings. So she’s got to be wearing
a corset, don’t you think? The size of that waist
versus her shoulders– anyway, she seems to
be kind of holding on to her waist
in some formation. There’s something
going on there. So this is what you’d
look like as you were walking along the street
and not looking like a cyclist. You get to your bicycle,
and then you do this to it. So you leave your bicycle,
you’d look like that. And you’d do this. So what she’s effectively done–
and I’ll move around the front now so you can see– she’s got, effectively, a
very simple A-line skirt that otherwise you wouldn’t
guess that I was a cyclist. But then hidden
that the waistband are a series of chords
that she has in buttonholes that don’t have any buttons
that’s just part of a system. And you would ruche up
the front like a curtain. We were starting to call
this a skirtain thing. And you would tie
it at the waist. She actually had a much
cleverer design, clearly, than what we’ve done with this. Because I’ve broken
this several times. It adds a new level of
potential malfunction to a talk when you
can ruin your dress, as well as your PowerPoint. And then, usefully, she has a
series of pulleys at the back, as well, that she’s– as you can
see, I’ve got different cords– that she’s lipped
through to the front. So you’re not
flapping at the back. You would grab this. And then you would ruche
up the back, as well, and tie this off. So then suddenly, you’ve
revealed some of your bloomers but not too much of them. And I actually
cycled here today, because I don’t
live very far away. And I wasn’t going to change. I thought it might be quicker. And it really does work. And you would tie them
off, and hide them. And then she talked
about how it was still kind of an attractive skirt– silk festoons, she called
it– over the hips, which, to be honest, I didn’t know
what that meant until I started to festoon over the hips– so incredibly useful. But the nice thing,
then, about it is that you would
then, once you got off your bike– it’s called the
Quick Change Convertible Skirt. You would undo your knots,
and then drop it straight back down again. And then it would just hide. And I think what
this research really highlights is the role of women
as engineers, and as designers, and as feminist inventors. These stories really add
new layers and textures to cycling history. They depict women as
critically-engaged, creative citizens actively driving
social and technical change. And this is really important. Because with few
exceptions, women are mostly framed as being
kind of passive or ornamental bystanders, caught up in
waves of technical change, symbols of social upheaval,
not catalysts of it. And so what this
research does, it sits in the context of
feminist reclamation projects. Because it brings to light
accounts of women’s engagement with cycling that
demonstrate they weren’t just located as bystanders
but actively engaged trying to make change. And they’re doing
this by putting their radically different clad
bodies out in public space. But also, claiming their
ideas through patenting was not only a practical way
of sharing and distributing the ideas, but it was
also a political act. Because they were carving
out new space on the road and also in legal
and economic worlds. They were being talked about
in this whole new world of invention. The annual patent
controller reports sounded a little bit
surprised every year when they would going to talk
about the statistics of women’s inventiveness, because
it was new in the 1890s. And also, cyclewear– I went into this project to
ask, how does cyclewear matter? It’s always mattered. It mattered right
from the beginning. And it kind of
still matters today. And although society has changed
dramatically over the last two centuries, many
of the issues that marginalized women and inhibited
their cycling uptake remain remarkably kind of familiar,
such as the assumption that physical exertion is
incompatible with femininity, and how women are still
disproportionately harassed in public space often
in relation to what they wear. These issues are not new. But women have always credibly
and critically responded to these challenges in order
to do the things that they want to do in spite of them. So why do we know so little
about these kind of inventions? Who else and what
else don’t we know about is the questions just
kept on coming out while I was doing this kind of stuff. How many other amazing
ideas are out there, either hidden, or undervalued,
or erased from our histories? How do we seek out
other ideas like this or listen to other kind
of silenced voices? What else could we know? And I just want to
leave with a question. If we learn more about a
wider range of inventors and inventions, might it change
how we think about and inhabit the present? And how would it help us imagine
and make different futures? And I’ll finish there. Thank you very much.

4 thoughts on “Kat Jungnickel: “Bikes and Bloomers: Victorian Women Inventors and their […]” | | Talks at Google

  1. What happens when you let people study the most idiotic subjects, because of leftist feminism… because cyclewear is also opressing women..what a load of bullshit. Again its men being evil, now about how to dress on a fucking bike. Stfu…

  2. It's amazing what clever things people came up with to solve the incompatibility of skirts and bicycles. I especially loved the demonstration she did with her own skirt!

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