Collections Spotlight: 1910s Women's Sportswear

At the dawn of the 20th century, suffragettes were fighting for women to receive the right to vote. As women were fighting for the right to vote, their quest for equality could be found in other arenas, including growing participation in sport. This collections spotlight focuses on examples of women’s sports clothing from the 1910s in the MSU Museum’s collection.

Athletic activity called for clothing that allowed for the freedom of movement needed to perform. Yet, women were also restricted by norms of the day. The early years of women’s sportswear saw discernable differences in accepted dress for sports done outdoors with participation by both sexes and those done in female-only spaces.

1910s Sports Dress

Sports such as tennis, golf, and croquet were acceptable for mixed company in part because the clothing required only subtle changes to fashionable dress.

Dress for sports such as tennis, 1910s, MSUM #2018:11.384

Illustration from 1915 Michigan Agricultural College yearbook

Michigan Athletic College tennis team, Michigan Agricultural College yearbook, 1915

The Gym Suit

The gym suit, used in colleges for female athletic activities, was a direct descendant of the 19th century dress reform movement. In 1851, Elizabeth Smith Miller adopted an outfit of loose trousers gathered around the ankles, topped with a short dress or skirt and waistcoat. This look was adopted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton who introduced it to Amelia Bloomer, editor of The Lily. Bloomer wore the costume and promoted it in her magazine. Wearers were subjected to ridicule and the outfit temporarily disappeared, but returned as a women’s athletic costume in the 1890s. The style remained popular, with slight variations, for women’s indoor athletic activities through the 1910s.

Physical education Michigan Agricultural College yearbook, 1915

MAC Gym Suit, 1909-1910, MSUM #5171.144

MAC Gymnasium Costume, 1911, MSUM #1833HM

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