I’m sure there are parts of the northern hemisphere that have been enjoying summer and all it’s splendor for months now, but in true Pacific Northwest fashion, summer doesn’t ever seem to show up around here until after the Fourth of July. The wonderful thing is, when she does arrive, she arrives in the most splendid gowns of gold and green, piercing blue and accompanied by enough fruit to make any hat that Gail Carriger’s Ivy Hisslepenny could devise amply covered. So what exactly did Victorian’s do to while away the dog days of summer? Lots! (Even in bustles and corsets…) In fact many of our most favorite activities today gained their popularity during the Victorian era.
The Victorian era brought us the popularity of Bicycling as a pastime. And while the first bicycles were really introduced right before Victoria’s reign, it took until the 1880s for it to become a fad that swept both Europe and the United States. Part of the reason was that it took several decades for fashions to catch up so that women as well as men could ride the contraptions.
Long, voluminous skirts could far too easily spell disaster by catching in the bicycle chain, so shorter, split skirts were introduced (that looked appropriate when one stood, but divided down the center like to enormous pant legs when seated on the bicycle).
Further complications arose when the larger wheeled bicycle was introduced in the late 1880s. One had to “hop up” to the small seat and the elevated position left no doubt it wasn’t fit for a woman to ride (as it would give ample view up her skirts!). For the extreme sports enthusiast, a woman might be so daring as to done a bloomer bicycling costume, which (gasp and horror) approximated a pair of loose pants usually gathered at the knee and accompanied by long stockings.
If you intend to steampunk your bicycle, may I suggest that you have extra brass polish on hand, and perhaps goggles if you intend to supplement pedal power with a small steam engine to drive your chain?
Swimming at the Shore
Water was always a popular attraction when the weather got warmer. The Victorian’s loved taking in the shore. The cut of the bathing suit may have varied slightly from year to year, but the basics remained the same: a shorter-skirted and sleeved dress, accompanied by bloomers and stockings (and often laced up slippers!). While many a fashion magazine advocated for a lower necked, open collar bathing suit, women were concerned that an obvious line of tanned skin might result and show when they wore their evening gowns, so they opted instead for high necked gowns where they could disguise their unwanted tan-line from their bathing costume with a bit of black ribbon tied about the throat.
Popular fabrics included silks, taffetas (often in black or darker colors) and wool. Given the volume of fabric you can easily see how heavy it would get to swim so most shore side activity was limited to jumping waves or holding on to a rope attached to a pole that would allow the beach-frolicker to maintain their upright position even in hip deep waves.
For steampunk bathing beauties, don’t forget the details. Cogs and metal bits might corrode in salt water, staining your bathing costume. Instead opt for ribbons and flounces when you can, broad stripes and colors when you can’t.
While racquet sports had been popular for centuries among the nobility and royals, in the 1870s and 1880s the Industrial Revolution gave average Victorians ample opportunity for leisure time and the sport of kings became the popular sport of the people. In 1874 Major Walter C. Wingfield registered his patent in London for the equipment and rules of an outdoor lawn tennis, which is considered the original version of what we consider the game of Tennis. Lawn Tennis was played by both men and women, usually in the same clothing they would use to promenade about in the park, which meant women were often at a sports disadvantage in their bustled skirts and well-trimmed hats. Rackets were wooden, strung with either gut or string. And refreshments at such events would have included the fresh strawberries of the season covered in cream.
For those who wish to have a steampunk Tennis match, may I advise you leave your self-levitating or flying tennis balls at home. They can make a ruin of one’s racket.
And, of course, what would steampunk summer be without a picnic or two? Picnics as we know them were really became popular during the Victorian era. The idea of letting down one’s stiff manner at the formal dinner to eat out of doors for fun was a contrast to the highly dictated manner of most social meals. (Not to say there wasn’t ettiquette! One was still expected to dine with dignity!) Often food was delieverd by separate carraige and set up ahead of the picnic party and often included such things as iced champagne rolled in wet newspapers to preserve the chill, lobster tails accompanied by homemade mayonnaise, small tea sandwiches, cold cuts of meat such as poached chicken with cream sauce, and desert in the form of trifle (chunks of pound cake, cookies, fresh fruit, rich custard and cream) with whiskey punch, lemonade or freshly boiled tea with the aid of a kerosene burner. For some most excellent recipies including Lavender Lemonade click here.
Gentlemen were expected to act as waiters for the ladies, and certain elements (no extreme hills, a bit of shade and no alarming sights that might upset the ladyfolk) were supposed to be taken into consideration. Games, such as tag, blind-man’s-bluff, croquet or exploring on walks or sketching were done after the repast. Wether it was celebrating holidays, accompanied by live music in the park, or just taking a family or sweetheart out to watch the ducks on a local pond, picnics were a fast favorite of the Victorian summer. W
What better place to put your parasol, fantastic broad-brimmed hat and walking stick to good use? So go out and enjoy your summer with steampunk flair.