Women on the Move (Film)
In the latest film from The Adventure Syndicate, “Women on the Move,” a team in Scotland uncovers some fascinating research into clothing patents and reveals an extraordinary hidden history behind women’s sportswear. You can watch the unique 25-minute film, read about the project’s backstory, and browse a gallery of photos here…
Film and stills by (Maciek Tomiczek)
In a recent study, a team at the Politics of Patents (POP) project delved into thousands of publicly available clothing patents spanning 200 years of clothing inventions from 1820 to 2020. This unique research revealed a hidden history of innovators and inventive clothing that helped women defy political and societal restrictions barring their access to active living and sporting activities. As a result, a selection of extraordinary “sportswear” from the 1890s to the 1940s was bought to life by sewing sociologist Dr. Katrina Jungnickel and her team at the Politics of Patents (POP) project, which is funded by the European Research Council at Goldsmiths, University of London.
The inventions were then put through their paces by the crew at The Adventure Syndicate and Mòr Diversity in a week of outdoor activity that involved running, hiking, climbing, cycling, swimming, hunting, and horseback riding in Scotland’s stunning Cairngorms. These experiences were turned into a lovely film called Women On The Move. Watch it below, then scroll down for additional background and a photo gallery from the project.
“Two things combined to hinder the growth of mountain climbing among women. One was the belief that it was not a womanly occupation… the second was the problem of clothes.” -Ronald Clark, 1953
Who gets to be sporty and active was one of the key questions that emerged from the POP project. Delving into 120 million publicly available open-access patents from the European Patent Organization provided valuable social science data revealing information about inventors, their lives, and the problems that concerned them. Working with this data enabled the research to get below the surface of conventional sporting history.
Because women were rarely the focus of sportswear manufacturers, they had to either borrow or adapt existing menswear, go without, or invent it themselves. And because they had to work around social and political limitations and restrictions, these inventions often had to do more than one thing. While they might look ordinary on the surface, many are convertible, multiple, and hidden.
Further analysis into genealogical data and from periodicals and newspapers of time were used to add insight to the research. Unable to access surviving clothing from the time, the research team used a method called “speculative sewing” to reconstruct five patents – one for each decade making up the period of research. The collection includes:
- A skirt that converts for city, country, and touring cycling
- A skirt that converts into breeches for horse riding
- A skirt that converts into an all-in-one aviator costume
- A skirt that converts to a cloak for mountain climbers
- A combination garment for travelers to go tobogganing, cycling, and hiking
Dr. Kat Jungnickel from Goldsmiths, University of London said, “Clothes patent archives are a veritable treasure trove of inventiveness. We’ve unearthed hundreds of clothing inventions for and by women for all kinds of sports and activities. They reveal the extraordinarily ingenious ways that women have challenged the status quo to do what they’ve loved while forging the path for future generations.”
As shown in the film, all of these creations were tried on and tested by the Adventure Syndicate and Mór Diversity consultancy, two organizations that share a mission to inspire participation in sports and activities by everyone and hold brands and government accountable for their equity, diversity, and inclusion policies. Alice Lemkes from The Adventure Syndicate added, “What has been so brilliant about our involvement with this project has been the opportunity to place ourselves in a lineage of brave, creative women who have been challenging the patriarchy and trailblazing change in extraordinary and very ordinary ways, and who will have felt that special feeling of being awesome with other women for hundreds of years. The chance to be a part of this research, and to literally, materially, step into the past and walk with our foremothers was something we couldn’t and wouldn’t pass up.”
According to the team, this research brought to light just how women’s participation in outdoor activities and sports remains a contentious issue. Many people remain disproportionately restricted, scrutinized, and harassed while being active in public. Recent studies have shown that far more girls than boys in Britain stop feeling sporty as they grow into adulthood. This has limited or entirely stopped some of them from doing any physical activity. Barriers include the feeling of not belonging and being judged based inappropriate clothing and equipment.
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