New research into clothing patents reveals hidden history of women’s sport

A hidden history of women’s sport has been uncovered by new research into thousands of historic clothing patents dating back over 200 years.

The research sheds light on innovators and inventive clothing that have helped women defy political and societal restrictions that prevent them from accessing active and sporting lives.

As part of the project, a selection of sports and sportswear patents from the 1890s to the 1940s were analyzed by sewing sociologist Dr. Katrina Jungnickel and her team “brought to life” in the “Politics of Patents” (POP) project.



The research was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The garments were then tried on and tested by consultancy Adventure Syndicate and Mor Diversity – organizations that hold brands and governments accountable to accountability for their equity, diversity and inclusion policies.

Both research and clothing testing have shown that women’s participation in outdoor activities and sports remains a contentious issue.

Recent polls have found that more girls than boys in the UK stop feeling sporty as they grow up, discouraging some from engaging in physical activity.



Barriers include non-affiliation and judgment, and inappropriate clothing and equipment.

According to the POP project, data collected through research into clothing inventions from 1820 to 2020 provided “valuable social science” insights into the makers and their lives.

This data allowed the research to get beneath the surface of conventional sports stories.

It has been noted that historically, women had to either borrow or adapt existing men’s clothing, often circumventing social and political restrictions and restrictions.



Lacking access to surviving clothing, the research team used a method called “speculative stitching” to reconstruct five patents — one for each decade that made up the research period.

The collection includes: a skirt that converts for urban, country and touring cycling, a skirt that converts into breeches for riding, a skirt that converts into an all-in-one aviator suit, a skirt that converts into a cape for the mountains mountaineers and multi-purpose clothing for travelers to tobogganing, biking and hiking.

dr Jungnickel said: “Clothing patent archives are a veritable treasure trove of inventiveness.



“We unearthed hundreds of clothing inventions for and by women for all types of sports and activities.

“They reveal the extraordinarily ingenious way women have challenged the status quo to do what they loved while paving the way for future generations.”

The inventions of Dr. Jungnickel and her team were put through their paces in a week of outdoor activities with The Adventure Syndicate and Mor Diversity.

These experiences were adapted into a short film entitled Women On The Move.

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