Ironically, I found this material while researching the topic “politics in riding” in the early 20th century, and found it to be a better article on female riding attire than the politics that plague the hobby (and every hobby). I’ll get to the politics of it in a later post. First, I’ll give a little background on what I’m about to present in this one. [Due to length this will have to be divided into multiple posts – please read them in order for better clarity]
In July, 1919, a man calling himself “Grandpa Grundy” sent a letter to a motorcycling magazine criticizing the way female riders dressed which set off a firestorm of responses from both the female riders themselves, a dealership owner, and from others who just wanted to add their two-cents worth to the on-going conversation. Sound familiar? I’ll start by summarizing the criticisms made by “Grandpa”, although the reader will see that “Friend Wife” seems to have been the catalyst behind his explosive comments.
And can you see women of—well, never mind the ages, but real, honest-to-goodness, grown-up women, dressed in quiet efficient styles of becoming modesty and simplicity, DRIVING motorcycles? Well, they do in England. In American motorcycle circles you sometimes see a girl, a young girl, driver, but her costume is always a crime against man’s piece of mind and looks like a cross between bathing trunks and a movie poster of “Hetty Hoot, the Cow-Girl of Bloody Gulch”. Long John’s “stripped stock” hussies out there on the sands of California are modestly gowned beside them.
Often you see a girl on a motorcycle wearing an ordinary skirt and white stockin’s and when she rides its tandem. With her arms wrapped lovingly around her man person’s tummy and her skirt up to her knees—or above—and her feet dangling in the vicinity of the muffler, all the observer’s much-over worked eyes register are two white legs. Either his artistic sense is horrified or his modesty is shocked, sometimes both—and the sport gets another black eye.
Didja ever ride behind one of these outfits at night with your headlights or spotlight in good working order? Oh, Boy, how those white pins do stand out (stand out is right) in relief!
Honest, now, doesn’t that sort of stuff look cheap? Sure, from some view-points its funny for a minute, and it appeals to some folks; so does Charlie Chaplin’s cheap slapstick stuff. Let’s hope this sort of riding won’t last any longer than Charlie’s humor has in the movies. Don’t let any of us do anything to cheapen the motorcycle game. A girl riding tandem is O.K., but let’s have her dressed properly for it. A modest and full divided skirt answers the problem easily. But a girl or a woman who’ll ride behind clad in an ordinary skirt that creeps up to her waist or riding pants and a tight fitting jersey has no respect for herself or her sex. Keep these girls off, fellows.
Edwardian split skirt
Of course, the sidecar girl hasn’t such a problem to solve. She’s got to have something durable, strong, that will stand rain and dust, but there’s no necessity for even a divided skirt.
I don’t think there’s any question but what the above described lady riders injure the motorcycle sport. They look like hoydens (that’s what Friend Wife calls them) and usually they act like it and we’ve got enough troubles with the open muffler goofs without having the girls dress noisy too.
I was present at the Weirs Gypsy Tour this year and I got a distinct jolt when some of the girls unloaded. They wore brother’s army breeches and canvas and spiral leggings [WWI] for a starter and either tight-fitting jerseys or these clinging form-fitting knitted sweaters. There were a number of these, and I didn’t see but one divided skirt in the whole crowd up there.
But I got another and more distinct wallop between the eyes when it dawned on me several hours later that these said girls had brought no further wardrobe and intended to amble around the works for the rest of the time in those man-teasing outfits. But they did that and more. They sprawled out on the ground along by the hill climb and they had wrestling matches on the hotel piazza with their “gentlemen frens.” But to top it off they actually got out on the dance floor and SHIMMIED with their partners in those outfits!
Wow! ‘Twas turrible! Sure, every window along the dance hall was a writhing wrangle of chaps trying to get an eyeful. They were standing all over each other. And they nearly had to call out the militia to protect the girls from the mob that wanted a dan—wrestling match. There was a waiting list a mile long when the orchestra gave up exhausted at midnight.
Why Friend Wife Beat It. It’s all wrong, Lorenzo, all wrong. They otta been spanked and sent home to dress. You couldn’t drag a hotel guest (there were a few regular guests there, too) into that dance hall with a team of motorcycles and a steam roller. They scuttled for their rooms and hid their heads under a pillow. Friend Wife, who had never been to a motorcyclists’ outing before, was aghast at the temerity of the sirens and wanted to go home; she didn’t want to be identified with any such gang. She allowed she was a decent, self-respecting lady person, but her khaki suit (WITH SKIRT) and sunburn marked her as one of the motorcycling crowd and she wanted to dash away from that point as fast as the old Injun could turn a wheel. But there were a few ladies there, dressed in the habiliments of civilization and horror and shocked modesty drew them together right from the first. Friend Wife mixed with them and we stayed.
But let me tell you, when a motorcycle outing features such disgraceful outfits and antics that a chap’s wife hankers to be away from there in a hurry—there’s something decidedly wrong with our version of the sport. I’ve been a rider off and on for eight years and to my mind, it gets worse all the time in this respect.
Dog-nosin’ the Trouble. The trouble? Well, it’s hard to say. Possibly it lies chiefly in Americanism as she is today. But I reckon what we need most is a little balance, some of the older men and their wives riding to give the sport its proper dignity. In England we find the great majority of the riders composed of older men of high standing in their communities and in business. They are the stable, dependable, steady men that make the wheels of business, professional and social works go round.
Over here we find the most of the riders are from 18 years up, and not very far up at that before they desert the game and buy automobiles. And in youth the blood runs red and hot and they run their motorcycles the same way. Nothing less than 75 mph in machine and girls interests them a whit…
Grandpa went on to say what was needed to change the dynamics of riding was lighter weight machines older men could ride without, “breaking his back, arms and legs”. Next he wanted to oust the open-muffler guys so the sport would survive. Sound familiar again?
They were there in force. Nobody objected to open mufflers on the hill during the climb, but some of those rats just opened their mufflers and paraded back and forth in front of the hotel at speeds averaging anywhere from 50 to 90 mph. The place was an inferno of noise. These birds were just showing off. They had no excuse for doing it; there was no reason in the world why they should make life miserable for the folks who wanted to cross the road, or needed a little rest after the long grind. Their object in life was to make as much noise as possible so as to attract attention of anyone that might look. Everybody looked and if looks were dangerous the O. M. G.’s would have passed out of this world faster than they ever rode in it, with mufflers closed.
Grandpa went on a few more paragraphs telling the world how to get older men involved in riding and the various dances and other activities associated with it. Now, let’s have a brief look at some of the responses his letter got.
The girls who were at the Gypsy Tour in Boston of which he spoke, naturally took exception to his description of them, and the following rebuttal, written by a motorcycle dealership owner, followed in the next issue.
To begin with, we believe the least he could do when writing such an article is to do his writing under his own name instead of his suggestive nom de plume. Is he ashamed of his grossly exaggerated statements, or is he just a motorcycle knocker camouflaged to give the impression that he is trying to do the sport some good? Is his article not a greater knock to motorcycling (both sport and the publication) than the much despised Grandpa Grundy’s Open Muffler Goof? The respectful and sedate riders of Boston though thoroughly against lynching, believe Grandpa Grundy is more deserving of such treatment than is any O. M. G. Such articles as his certainly do not improve American motorcycling. On the contrary they give it a black eye and tend to keep respectable parents from allowing their sons and daughters to ride this machination developed by the devil.
Is it as bad for a girl to ride a motorcycle with “brother’s breeches” and spiral leggings, as it is for “friend wife” (not personal) to go bathing in one of these modern one-piece bathing suits? Are the costumes worn by Boston lady participants in the recent Gypsy Tour to the Weirs any worse than the riding habits worn by so-called respectable society when riding horse-back? Is it any worse for sister in brother’s breeches to shimmy at a hotel used exclusively for the Gypsy Tourists (Grandpa Grundy’s statement to the contrary notwithstanding) than it is for semi-naked bathers to go through the same antics on the beaches of our many watering places?
G. G. must have imbibed too freely of the present unlawful [era of prohibition] beverages before writing his article, or he may have been the one that smuggled some of the same into dry New Hampshire on The Tour…his article was untrue in many instances…There were five hundred riders on the tour. Over one-third of these were women. Less than twenty-five wore “brother’s breeches”, and half of these changed to women’s apparel upon their arrival at the Weirs. His statements of wrestling matches on the piazza were mere fabrications, nor was there any truth in his statement that they “sprawled out on the ground by the hill climb”. Yes, they shimmied. But what of it? The customs of today are quite different than they were when G. G. was young…regarding the near necessity of calling out the militia, and the mile long waiting list when the orchestra gave up exhausted are both fabrications of his ever evil-seeing eye…
Hotel Weirs throws open its doors for the first time during the year when the Boston Gypsy Tourists arrive. There are no other guests at the hotel, and a very, very few inhabitants in the village. In other words, the village and the hotel belong to the motorcyclists during their three days’ stay. The red-blooded rider has a chance to open his muffler cut-out, also his throttle. He has behaved himself for the previous year. Can you blame him for opening up a bit when he has such an opportunity, especially when his actions are sanctioned by the local police and he is given the right-of-way over every other moving object in the village?…Let’s boost or shut-up. [signed] Ben C. Straube, General Motorcycle Sales Co., Boston.
Someone else’s “Friend Wife” chimed in on proper clothing for female riders…”A nice riding suit with the proper breeches, leather puttees and a long coat, such as girls wear for horseback riding seems to me to be the ideal outfit for the girls who drive motorcycles (while they are driving). They shouldn’t be worn around picnic grounds or to dances. Girls, my advice is to stick to the divided skirt until we can educate all the girls up to the fact that motorcycle riding habits should not be worn to dances”…Let’s ask our…councils to pass an ordinance prohibiting girls from riding tandem unless they wear divided skirts…they stopped them from riding on the tanks and they can stop them from riding tandem, unless they are properly dressed”…
“R. G.” chimed in that in his part of the country, “we have not been so sorely afflicted by the ‘flappers in pants’ whose didoes on the coast are so graphically described by ‘Grundy’”.
The girls in question then raised their hackles at Grundy’s criticism.
…did you ever try to ride a motorcycle in a divided skirt?…did you try to walk in one?…how do you know anything about them? I have done both for seven years for the very reason I did not care to be talked about or laughed at.
Now, as to the divided skirt, when it comes to comfort there is no such thing. Convenience is forgotten and cleanliness takes wings. I ride, not on the tandem or in a sidecar, but on the saddle and I ride. I do not run around town or stick to the boulevards but get right out in the dust and dirt and ride. I’ve had several divided skirts, all of different materials, oen or two trips and one is compelled to wash the clumsy, awkward thing [remember – automatic washers and dryers are not standard yet] If you really ride you get dirty, all words to the contrary being utterly false. No one desires or tries harder to look neat and clean on a machine than I do and with a divided skirt it’s an impossibility. It’s either switching around your ankles so you cannot walk or flapping against the machine, picking up grease and dirt. Wherever there is a motor, I care not who owns it or how careful they may be, the real rider gets grease and dust…This is my first year to try trousers and they are the finest thing I have found in which I can be absolutely comfortable when riding. They do not gather grease and dirt from the machine. Of course, there is nothing pretty or ladylike in running around in the trousers when off the machine, nor is it at all necessary, for by having a skirt opening all the way down it is a very simple matter to slip it around you and button it up, and there you are…Now you respectable lady riders back me up…shall we let Old Lady Finicky and more of their kind make us load ourselves with divided skirts or shall we be free to choose as comfortable, clean, and convenient a costume as the men riders? After just completing a 500-mile trip wearing trousers I know whereof I speak. I am going to the coast this month wearing trousers so Eee Bee and Grandpa Grundy you better buy some smoked glasses or you will sure get some shock. – A real Rider.
Father Pierce then noted some of the girls wore riding breeches and a coat of some sort (leather, if their folks have the coin, otherwise, if not) and spiral leggings and, “I’ll be darned if I can see anything to take exception to…there is much to approve. They look neat and far more in place than a divided skirt that has picked up a lot of dirt and grease along the way, from flapping against rear wheel, mud, and chain guards…it is merely a matter of getting used to a thing. The first man to wear ‘long pants’ was accused of having skinny legs, and nowadays if a fellow went down the street dressed like George Washington et a., ye Gods, what a riot there would be…five years from now if a girl climbs from the tandem seat of one of the many makes of four-cylinder motorcycles of that day dressed in the manner to get Grandpa Grundy all het up she’ll excite no comment, but if she’s dressed in divided skirts et al, everybody will look at her and giggle”.