Victorian era

Women and the Victorian-Era Tennis Dress

Tennis, anyone? It seems ridiculous to us today to look at fashion plates from the Victorian era and realize that some of those huge, voluminous dresses with full bustles and flounces were meant to be tennis dresses. In the modern era, tennis players look like this:


So how do you get to Serena's nearly complete domination of the women's game for the last decade in a totally functional tennis dress (or skirt and top) from these ladies?

"Tennis-Costumes." 1889. Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.


During the Victorian era an increasing number of women picked up a wooden racket and hit the courts (in full-length gowns of course). Women of the upper and middle classes began to take an interest in sport — croquet in the 1860s, tennis in the 1870s and 1880s, and the daring sport of cycling in the 1890s, according to Catroina M. Parratt in her article "Atheltic 'Womanhood:' Exploring Sources for Female Sport in Victorian and Edwardian England."

The growing popularity of sport among women came about during a time of hyper-masculinity among Victorian men.* But it was also a time when women's education reformers were pushing for healthful — although moderate — exercise for girls. They argued that girls could also learn lessons on the field much as boys did while playing cricket and rugby.

However, Parratt argues that womanhood and athletics were not necessarily compatible, and so sporting women had to find a way to reconcile those two things by "project[ing] an image of moderation and becoming femininity." While women who supported Victorian dress reform might have tried to argue that shorter skirts and bloomers would have been more rational uniforms for playing tennis, feminine modesty won out. Reformers couldn't rock the boat too much by putting girls in functional athletic clothing, so instead women continued to swathed themselves in the hyper-feminine dresses of the era while playing sport. As Parratt puts it, the sporting woman's experience was "at one and the same time, a liberating and constraining one."

"Lawn-Tennis Gowns, Swiss Belt, Yoke Jersey." 1888. Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.


"Toilette De Tennis." 1895. Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

"Woman And Girl With Tennis Rackets." 1895. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.


*The Victorians were remarkably preoccupied by masculinity, especially in relation to the empire. There's a ton of scholarship that's been done on this topic, particularly about male education and masculinity, that's worth tracking down if you're interested.

September Reading Wrap Up

What a month! A mild summer here in NYC doesn't mean that the fall is any less welcome. It's my favorite time of year. The cool, crisp weather makes me want to curl up with a cup of tea and take a deep dive into a great book. With that in mind, here are a few of the things I've enjoyed this past September:

Devil in Winter (Wallflowers #3)

by Lisa Kleypas


Amazon | B&N | iBooks

Excuse me for a moment while I drop the professional author guise and go all fangirl for a moment. OH MY GOD, THIS BOOK. I'm not sure what prompted me to pick it up -- perhaps it was all of the people telling me over the years that I would love Kleypas' historicals. I should listen to those people more often.

This is a marriage of convenience story (which just happens to be one of my favorite tropes). Sebastian, Viscount St. Vincent, is the perfect alpha hero. His alphaness is director more towards protecting the heroine, Evie, than being a bossy asshole. Even better, although Evie is quieter than her husband, she has serious backbone. The chemistry between them is electric, and it's wonderful watching their marriage of convenience turn into love.

Unlocked (Turner #1.5)

by Courtney Milan


Amazon | B&N | iBooks

Courtney Milan is pretty much an instabuy for me at this point. I found this novella in the Seven Wicked Nights boxed set featuring a lot of my favorite historical authors. It tells the story of a heroine who has been bullied for years and the man who has to humble himself to win her heart. Since it's a Milan, there's no surprise that there's a good dose of science in the storyline as well.

Upside Down (Off the Map #1)

by Lia Riley


Amazon | B&N | iBooks

I'm not a very prolific New Adult reader. Usually the high drama and angst turns me off, but I found that this book has just the right mix of humor and drama. Upside Down also fills my recent cravings for romances in unusual settings as the action takes place in Melbourne where Talia is studying abroad. I'm lucky enough to have gotten an early read of book 2, Sideswiped, and I've got an author interview with Lia Riley coming up in a few days so keep an eye out!

A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death that Changed the British Monarchy

by Helen Rappaport


Amazon | B&N | iBooks

If you're feeling like some history, this might be a good place to start. Rappaport is a highly accessible writer who focuses in on a specific period of Queen Victoria's reign. The book focuses primarily on the death of Albert and Victoria's decade-long period of high mourning for him. It touches on the Victorian obsession with death and the various social and political issues caused by the queen's refusal to assume her public duties. If you're at all interested in the Victorian era, this is a good way to dive a little deeper into a fascinating subject.

Just a quick heads up. First Draught is coming up on October 7th. We'll be talking about revising that book you started but shoved in a drawer (or the deepest, darkest depths of your hardrive). RSVP here to make sure you don't miss out on the discussion!