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19th century could be without exaggeration called the century of sports. It is during those hundred years that sports gained prominence, started to be practiced not only by upper strata of society, but also by commoners. It’s at the end of that century in 1896 that baron Pierre de Coubertin revived ancient idea of Olympic Games, by organizing first since antiquity international competitions in Athens – place where honest sport competition and a beautiful sportive body not covered by a square inch of cloths were treasured since millennia.
During the 19th century, when achievements of the ancient Greeks were treasured, sports especially for recreation could not be practiced naked. Therefore, for every devotee of physical exercise and of physical activity a proper selection of sport clothes became an important issue. During the first half of the 19th century most commonly practiced sports were hunting, horse riding and skating. During its second half there was a real flourishing flourishing flourishing of different disciplines of sports such as: tennis, golf, rowing, mountain climbing and in Poland: mountain climbing, swimming, biking and skiing. In 1880s court tailor of the Prince of Wales - future king of England Edward VII - invented for this devotee of pedestrian pheasant hunting special sporty outfit named Norfolk suit.The Prince of Wales was a man with a stocky build, with a characteristic overweight, which increased with age. Consequently, the prince complained that all the jackets are too tight for him and he is not able to hunt freely while wearing them. To help him to enjoy his favorite sport, a special kind of outer garments - Norfolk jacket was created for him. It reached to the hips and had a belt at the waist, its characteristic feature were two pleats on the front (one hiding a pocket) and the same single pleat on the back.
Po lewej typowy przykład Norfolk suit, Gazeta Krawiecka, 1901
Except that at the bottom there were sewn in two square pockets, there was also a soft inlaid collar and lapels. This jacket was usually worn with special knee length trousers so called knickerbockers. This whole set - jacket and trousers - was called Norfolk suit. This name came from Norfolk county, where there was a favorite royal hunting residence of Sandringham House. Norfolk suit was most often sewn of checkered English tweed fabrics. To complete the set, a special hat-cap, made of the same fabric was worn. Under the jacket a soft collar shirt and tie were put on, and under trouser - woolen stockings and strong laced leather shoes reaching above ankle. This dress originally worn by men only for hunting was quickly adapted by them for other sports, such as horseback riding, skating, mountain climbing, golf and cycling.
Męskie stroje do kąpieli i pływania. Wieś i Dwór, 1913
Also during the second half of the 19th century a men’s swimsuit for bathing and swimming appeared as before men used to jump to water in Adam’s suit. Since ladies joined them, they had to cover their charms with something.
They could achieve that thanks to knitted swimsuit that could occur in two forms: short-sleeved shirt buttoned at the side of the neck and a fairly tight pants or shirt and pants sewn together into a one-piece costume. Usually those clothes were in white and black or white and navy blue stripes or of one color: navy blue, black or dark red with a white piping. To complete this gentlemen wore indispensible boater hat – made of straw with a narrow brim and a low crown, decorated with black ribbon. After coming out of water, bodies wrapped in wet costumes were being covered with swimming coats resembling burnouses worn in the Near East, in order not to scandalize the ladies. When one gentleman had a desire to play a game of tennis or showcase power of his muscles when taking a lady on the boat, for such an occasion he could wear as a sports suit a white or beige flannel shirt with long sleeves and long trousers sewn of the same material.
Damskie i męskie stroje tenisowe. Wieś i Dwór, 1914
During 19th century most popular fabrics for men’s sports clothes were wool, gabardine, flannel and knit. Uniform color of sports clothes, man could liven adding colorful tie or belt, on the head he wore boater. When it became slightly colder, tennis player dress could be complemented with a striped jacket (most often navy blue-white-red) and rower’s dress with a navy blue jacket with a white trimming and emblem of an anchor or lifebuoy on the pocket.
Wycieczka w Tatry, Aleksander Kotsis, 1873
Ladies were in decisively worse position regarding sports during 19th century. Not all kind of sports could be practiced In the old good riding habit.
Damskie stroje w góry, Tygodnik Mód i Powieści, 1871
Accordingly many ladies going to the mountains, to the ice rink, put on casual clothes (most often a blouse, skirt and jacket), which were only slightly less decorative. Skirt, so that it would not get tangled with legs and would not interfere with practicing sports, was clamped on the sides using special clips or sewn in laces, into a neat and picturesque festoons, under which protruded decorative underskirt.
Typowy strój na ślizgawkę, Tygodnik Mód, 1871
or the ice rink instead of jacket a sheepskin jacket trimmed with sheepskin and the same pillbox hat and a small muff could be worn.
Damskie i męskie stroje tenisowe, Wieś i Dwór, 1914
For playing tennis ladies, just like gentlemen put on snow-white men-style flannel shirts and skirts reaching above ankles, boaters on their heads, special cloth footwear with India rubber sole. Ladies discovered pleasures of splashing in the water already in the beginning of the 19th century, however in this time only a few amateurs were daring to face sea waves and for such an occasions put on special swimming skirts, reminiscent of sleeping gowns, sewn of colorful flannel as a protection from cold water. In 1950s in the US a special swimsuit covering ladies from head to toe was invented. It consisted of long sleeved shirt fastened at the neck, puffy ankle length trousers, knee length skirt, stockings, cap on the head and rubber footgear. All this suit was sewn of warm flannel or strong denim in colors such as: navy blue, red or dark blue. After coming out of water ladies, just like men, put over their dress cape with hood.
Stroje kąpielowe dla pań, Moda pismo ilustrowane, 1883
Gradually this costume was being simplified; skirt disappeared, shirt got extended on the pattern of tunic and it was put over the trousers which were only reaching just below the knee. With time shirt and trousers were sewn together creating one piece costume, also sleeves were shortened and even a small décolletage appeared. Though they were sport style clothes, they were richly decorated with flounces, laces, and embroidery. Very fashionable were also items referencing sailors uniforms, such as sailor style collars, anchors, lifebuoys and other similar elements. Before the end of the century this type of costume became more functional – sleeves were replaced by wide straps and trouser legs reached above the knee. However, black woolen stockings and rubber cap were still an obligatory supplement of this dress.
Po prawej kostium  racjonalny, po lewej kostium ze spódnicą – dzieloną, Cyklista, 1896
During the last quarter of the 19th century ladies dared to switch from horses to bikes, some of them initially rode them in riding-habit, however this practical dress for horse riding, at this time consisting of special style skirt and jacket, wasn’t the best solution for ‘self-ride’ as bicycle was called then. That is why in 1894 in the United States a special biking suit for ladies called ‘rational costume’ was invented. It was composed of puffy knee length trousers and jacket under which a man-style shirt and tie were worn. On the legs - stockings and ankle high laced shoes or additional linen leggings buttoned up on side. On their heads ladies wore boaters. Since many ladies had not enough courage to ride the bike in trousers, for those more conservative and modest divided skirt or skirt-trousers were invented; after getting off the bike they were folding taking shape of regular skirt and would not offend anyone. Biking dresses for ladies were sewn from wool, gabardine, linen, velvet. Those fabrics could be plain in colors such as: brown, navy blue, black, dark green, beige or striped or slightly checkered.
Gra w kroketa. Leon Wyczółkowski, 1894
Although sport fashion had been born in the second half of the 19th century, its real boom happened only during 1920s when the world got crazy about sportive lifestyle and figure.
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