Sports Women of the Belle Epoque

In the course of my research (and collecting…) for Having It All in the Belle Epoque I started to notice that, in addition to promoting  thinking women (more of those images coming soon) as models of modern femininity, Femina and La Vie Heureuse celebrated active women and a kind of athleticism brand new to an upper bourgeois lifestyle. These fabulous images of Belle Epoque “Sportswomen” (the English term is a nod to the anglo roots of this exotic species) strike just the right balance between the powerful and the demure, the aesthetic and the athletic. For the most part, the images also glorify hyper-feminine, impossibly hourglass-shaped physiques. So it’s probably a good time to point out that for a brief period before the constraints of the corset were entirely rejected, this undergarment was reimagined in harmony with the sportswoman’s newfound flexibility:


As I note in my new piece about fashion and sports on Slate’s awesome history blog The Vault (run by the very cool Rebecca Onion), la joueuse de tennis was a favored trope: “Just like today, the joueuse’s twists and turns were articulated in the very fabric she wore, accentuating the feminine contours of her body, hair occasionally billowing in the wind. As she moved, her skirts moved with her, offering just a suggestion of what should not be seen: a peek at a tiny shoe, the upper reaches of an ankle boot.”  I could only include one tennis player on Slate– so be sure to check out the other joueuses de tennis in the slide show above (click on images for full view).

Stay tuned for more of my “Sportswomen of the Belle Epoque” summer series. Did someone say “le basket-ball”…?

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