ENGLISH MIDDLE-CLASS WOMEN'S PARTICIPATION IN SPORT: DRESS AND GENDER RELATIONS, C.1851-1875
Speaker: Ya-Lei Yen (Royal Holloway, University of London)
In recent literature on the history of women in sport, dress historians have documented changes in materials, structure and styles of sportswear, but have generally left its social and cultural meaning unexamined. Social and sports historians, on the other hand, have failed to accord sufficient recognition to sportswear, which was an important factor capable of improving or hampering women’s mobility when they played sport. This paper therefore investigates how mid-Victorian middle-class women performed in sports, how sports influenced gender relations, and what sportswear expressed about cultural shifts reading the female body and female activities.
This paper is divided into three sections. The first argues that bathing improved the physical and mental health as well as the moral and corporeal beauty of middle-class women. By the 1860s, there were more women who did not limit themselves to passively soaking their bodies in the water, but actively swam, leading to the development of more functional clothes for water activities. The second section, on the other hand, is concerned with how middle-class women negotiated gender tension when practising male-identified sports such as horse riding, hunting and shooting, and what the development in clothes design for these activities reveals about the social and cultural values surrounding women’s participation in them. The final section examines how gender relations were built up in mixed-gender sports such as archery, croquet and skating, which were considered to be a new form of social vehicle through which middle-class women could interact with men, and how women used their dresses and manners to attract potential admirers. The sources for this paper are based on 22 sporting manuals and 185 articles published in contemporary periods. Other sources include diaries, novels, cartoons, paintings, fashion plates, photographs, and surviving dresses.
Ya-Lei Yen is a PhD candidate in History at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her thesis explores clothes culture among middle-class women in mid-Victorian England, and is based on a broad range of sources, including a survey of prescriptive literature and women’s magazines, novels, letters, diaries, account books, clothing bills, the notebooks of a tailor and a dressmaker, cartoons, fashion plates, photographs, paintings, advertisements, inventories and surviving objects. With a BA degree in Fashion Design and a MA degree in Museum & Galleries, Ya-Lei knows not only how to make historical dress, but how to deal with historical objects.
Time and Date: 5:15 PM, Monday, 20th May.
Location: Bloomsbury Room (Room G35), Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.
All are welcome. For more information, please contact Raf Nicholson, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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