One September day the 16-year-old Tessie Reynolds got on her bike. In a homemade suit, she pedalled from London to Brighton and back, in eight and a half hours. It was 1893.
The intrepid velocipedienne made the 190km journey in record time in an age of masculine heroics. But it was not her derring-do that scandalised the press into conniptions but her clothes: she was in short trousers. This was an era when women were shunned for egregious displays of ankle, meaning that Tessie’s dress was both revolutionary and overtly political. Behind the public tutting, her ‘rationals’ ignited women’s imaginations, showing a new way of moving and being in the world. She was inundated with pattern requests.
Cycling fever peaked in the 1890s.