Dressed to Play: Sporting Clothes, 1870 - 1900

07/1/11– 12/15/11


During the late 19th century, the upper and middle classes of American society were introduced to leisurely pursuits such as tennis, hiking, bicycling and golf. Activity-specific sport clothing emerged to meet the physical demands of these new activities. While far less formal than ordinary attire, these garments still followed the accepted rules of fashion. Ensembles worn for croquet and ice-skating were constructed with elaborate drapes over bustle cages during the 1870s and 1880s, while giant, puffed “gigot” sleeves adorned cycling shirtwaists and jackets during the mid-1890s. Despite newfound social freedoms experienced through sporting activities, few concessions were made for the comfort of female players. Decency required women to wear corsets, even while swimming at the beach.

Alice Austen, one of America’s first and most prolific female photographers, not only captured these leisure activities on film, but also participated herself.  She was a master tennis player, sailor, hiker, and horsewoman. Her photographs of adults and children at play are the center of this exhibition. The two adjoining galleries also feature illustrations from magazines and mail order catalogs, all highlighting the relationship between casual sporting attire and social changes at the end of the 19th century. The exhibition culminates in a vignette featuring two fully-dressed mannequins, located in the parlor immediately across the hall.


  • Guests at the opening party for Dressed to Play