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Womens fashion 1919

June 5, 2016

The war changed sports for women in different ways. At the start of the war, in the summer of 1914 women who had always played tennis suddenly felt guilty about wafting about on tennis courts whilst men they knew were sent off to who-knew-what horrors, but on the other hand, what else could they do to occupy their time? It helped to keep busy, and to try and keep a semblance of normality. By the end of the war, “unladylike” sports like women’s football, hockey and car racing  had risen up and were, for just a moment, incredibly popular with the participants and spectators alike. Womens fashion 1919 was heavily influenced by these sporty ladies.

Womens fashion 1919 – traditional sporting gear

Besides riding, an acceptable sport for leisured ladies for a long time, women had been into several sports since the 1890s, cycling, rollerskating, doing gymnastics and also climbing mountains, skiing, and playing cricket and golf.


Vigorous and even competitive activity no longer raised eyebrows. All this was fine, as long as one looked like a Lady whilst doing it. Gymnastics excepted, this usually meant wearing exactly what one would normally wear, including corsets, petticoats, long skirts, long sleeved blouses and the little heeled shoes of the period.


For gymnastics you could wear short sleeves and knickerbockers, but still a corset, albeit a “sports corset”, made from a more breathable Aertex brand fabric or wool, but no less stiff or constraining. In fact, in some of the corsets advertised as for sports were merely more heavily reinforced with leather strips along the bones, which did protect you from a punctured lung if they snapped from the exertion.

1919 fashion photos , Gallery


Of course, long skirts were not that great for cycling, with a very real danger of them getting tangled in the wheels, and they weren’t easy to climb mountains in either. I’d like to say that by the time womens fashion 1919 rolled around all that had changed and women were emancipated from clothes that restricted them from their best performance. But despite several previous attempts at clothing reform, the answer is… not really.

Womens fashion 1919 – casual wear

What were at the time referred to as sporting fashions were actually in womens fashion 1919 intended for watching sports, not participating. Or for more relaxed circumstances, like strolling on the beach or in seaside resorts, but not actually swimming. So clothes made out of fine knitted jersey existed (it’s where Mme Chanel got her start in 1916 in the smart resort town of Deaville, France, with jersey separates of soft jackets and long skirts) and jumpers and cardigans were chic for casual wear too.  These could be knitted but were also made of woven fabrics.

Womens fashion 1919 – leather accessories

Some modifications were made to sporting wear, for example, for the newly fashionable archery a fashionable blouse came with leather wrist guards and your long skirt belted with a chatelaine of accessories.


Discreet detachable leather strips could also be added to the hem of skirts which were also just an inch or so shorter than the norm for potentially muddy activities like walking, when a hem that dragged in the dirt in a time when washing clothes was not so easy could easily mean an outfit ruined forever. If you think about it even now you don’t wear your best outfit for dog walking with any potentially filthy muddy mutts. These leather strips were taken off and wiped clean at home.

Womens fashion 1919 – golfing clothes

Golfing ladies had similar struggles. There was a potential for mud, they had to walk for miles so it would have been better to avoid dainty shoes, and in addition they needed to move their arms to get a good swing. In 1909 golfing championship contender Gladys Ravenscroft brought massive consternation when she tried playing a game with her sleeves rolled up.

Womens fashion 1919 – strict rules

Not that there weren’t mavericks who just didn’t care what people thought. You can tell because of the strict edits issued about dress. Some lady golfers had a habit of wearing outfits quite a lot like their brothers for golf – knee breeches, socks, and a tailored tweed jacket. But this style wasn’t seen in earnest until the 1920s got well underway, and in the meantime May Hazlet of the Ladies Golfing Union wrote in the guidelines that “anything that mades the wearer conspicuous is out of place on the links.


Outrageous or indifferent dressing raises remarks about the athletic woman.” and the athletic woman shouldn’t be seen as “a weird and terrible creature clad in the most extraordinary garments, striding along with a self-possessed walk”. Although these remarks seem really out of touch today – after all, why shouldn’t a women look self-possessed? – Ms Hazlet has a point.


The Suffragettes of 1913 were also urged to look neat, tidy and conventional as they broke windows or slashed artworks with an axe and female golfers wanted to prove they were good at their game, not be scrutinised for what they wore. Even now a focus on what a given woman is wearing as she, say, presents a speech to the United Nations can totally deflect attention from what the woman was actually saying. And the ridicule of a female celebrity’s fashion faux pas has as much currency in 2016 as it did in womens fashion 1919.

Womens fashion 1919 – harem pins and rubber bands

The only real (temporary) alterations to the standard fashions for golfing for most were to protect the women’s modesty – a “harem pin” was attached to the folds of the skirt to join the fabric from front to back between the legs, which stopped them from flapping about in windy weather; likewise the “Miss Higgins Elastic” was an elastic belt initially worn around the waist that could be rolled down over the thighs when breezy weather threatened for a similar effect.


Strong rubber bands were also employed to lash down the skirts when yachting, for which all white was worn with a skirt, jersey, cap and, for once, practical flat canvas rubber soled shoes, with cute little nautical details like sailor collars or embroidered anchors.

Womens fashion 1919 – tennis

Tennis was usually played in a standard costume, with blouse, long skirt and even a hat, but the overall colour was white. The only person who was so absolutely determined to win that she insisted on wearing a more comfortable outfit was the incredible Suzanne Lenglen, who first won Wimbledon in 1919 aged 19, dressed in a knee length pleated skirt, a top akin to a t shirt and a soft white brimmed hat whose main purpose was the peak which helped shade her eyes. But unlike her skirt, her knickers were quite long and the occasional flash was inevitable. She shocked the English crowds not only for her dress, when other layers were covered just about head to toe, but for her casual habit of sipping a brandy between sets.


The French press called her La Divine. Despite lifelong ill health, including asthma and whooping cough she went on to win 31 championship titles, before sadly dying very young at the age of 38 from leukaemia. Suzanne Lenglen was not a great beauty by any standards, and not photogenic at all but her power and grace on the tennis court was mesmerising, almost balletic, and her influence on womens fashion 1919 and beyond was tangible, a great part of the trend for looser shapes and shorter skirts that the 1920s are known for.

Womens fashion 1919 – football strip

The only women to throw a ladylike appearance to the winds en masse were the new all women football teams. Football had never been a female game, and it is surprising perhaps that the new munitions factories, with thir new female employees, turned to it as a way to keep their workforce exercised, committed to something and therefore out of trouble, and to foster work place pride and camaraderie.


Perhaps it was because this working class game had its origins in exactly the same circumstances in the 19th century, but for the male work force. Whatever the reason, factory teams of female footballers soon sprang up, and though some wore skirts or tunics usually they are seen dressed in exactly the same strip as the men – shorts, knee socks, a long sleeved jersey, football boots and a woolly hat in the team colours. Though some complained that the shorts were too short, and would offend decency even in a man, the women stuck with them and even shed their corsets.

Lily Parr

These football teams played charity matches and raised a great deal of money for various causes included wounded soldiers in local hospitals. Dick, Kerr Ladies FC of Preston raised more than £50,000 by 1921 (over 2 million pounds today). Some critics derided them as trying to make themselves into bad copies of men, and in the process losing their natural feminine talents, but Lily Parr, the striker for Dick, Kerr for one would certainly argue with that.


Once a professional male goalkeeper defied her to get a shot past him, announcing it was impossible that she could do it. Apparently, his next word were “Get me to the hospital as quick as you can, she’s gone and broken me flamin’ arm!” Lily scored that goal and scored in more than 900 matches too. She was (and still is) the most prolific goal scorer for England ever.


But in 1921, with women’s football still drawing huge crowds, the Football Association banned female teams from practicing or having matches on any of its grounds. Although a few teams still practiced and played on waste ground, it meant women’s football was now effectively over for 50 years, until the ban was lifted in 1971.



1919 magazine cover.

1919 Keds advert, featuring the boot above.

1919 magazine cover.

A fashionable sailing look.

An illustration of how a French magazine wished female golfers looked. (Le Sourire 1919)

Lily Parr.

Some 1919 cyclists.

Shorts very short.

Suzanna Lenglen, 1919

Chanel jersey outfits.

Jeanne Hebuterne in a Yellow Jumper, 1919 by Modigliani.

An illustration of how a French magazine wished female golfers looked. (Le Sourire

A sports coat.

A fashionable sailing look.

This is a canvas and rubber shoe for sport by Keds in the USA.

1919 Keds advert, featuring the boot above.

Suzanna Lenglen, 1919

Suzanne Lenglen, 1919

Shorts very short..

The Dick, Kerr team.