1890s Riding Ensemble and 1950s Après Ski Ensemble with Pucci Sky Pants and Baruffaldi Snow Glasses (riding ensemble photo by Brian Sanderson, ski ensemble photo by Brian Davis, © FIDM Museum courtesy American Federation of Arts)

See ‘Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960’ in Cincinnati

This Taft Museum of Art exhibition examines how women’s active attire evolved over the decades. 

With a brown jacket and matching boots, red plaid pants and a skullcap and mittens by Abercrombie & Fitch, the outfit looks plucked from the pages of this month’s Vogue. Yet the women’s piloting ensemble from 1930 — as well as over 60 other outfits in “Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960” — are far different than the sportswear worn today.

“It’s a stylish ensemble, but it makes you realize that early on, women had to piece together these outfits from things intended for other sports,” says Ann Glasscock, associate curator at the Taft Museum of Art, where the exhibition runs through Jan. 14. “There was no market for manufacturers of these different sports for women, so they had to pull from other ensembles or from menswear to put together something that worked.”

The exhibition, which is co-organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum in Los Angeles, is the first to examine how women’s sporting attire evolved in western fashion and how women broke barriers to participate in sports.

On view are fully accessorized outfits worn for activities including horseback riding, ice skating, cheerleading, roller derby, baseball and more. Famous designers are represented, including a dress designed by Coco Chanel for a 1920s promenading outfit and a 1950s après ski outfit with vibrant pants by Emilio Pucci.

 Daily-use items are part of the exhibition too, such as undergarments, swim caps and a personal changing tent from 1900. It fastened around the neck and draped around the body for privacy while changing at the beach.

The modesty expected of women’s garments in the 1800s were an obstacle for participation in sports. Women wore restrictive corsets, the body had to be covered and pants were unacceptable. An 1890s mountaineering outfit was designed to get around these restrictions with what appears to be an ankle-length skirt that is actually culotte-style pants.

As time went on, hemlines got higher, sportswear was designed to be more fitted and pants became standard. Fabric technology improved, and women no longer had to play sports in materials like wool. Visitors to the exhibition can even touch swatches on a fabric wall to see firsthand how sportswear has evolved.

“We hope that visitors will understand how the clothes on display influenced and impacted what we wear now,” Glasscock says. 

316 Pike St., Cincinnati 45202, 513/241-0343, taftmuseum.org