Divided Sports Skirt

by Babette Polich & Otto Beyer, 1896

Inventor

  • NAMEBabette Polich and Otto Beyer
  • PATENTGB189611822A
  • DATEJuly 18, 1896
  • LOCATIONPatented in the UK – inventors residing in Leipzig, Germany
  • INVENTION"An Improved Skirt or Garment"
  • THEMEExpanding
BIO —

Babette Polich and Otto Beyer identify themselves in their patent as “milliners” from the “Firm of Aug. Polich” in Leipzig, Germany. More research reveals that Babette was the widow of August Polich who established the August (Aug.) Polich Fashion House. It was a successful business, rebuilt and expanded a few times during the nineteenth century. In 1898, the firm installed one of the few “moving staircases” [escalators] in the world and registered two motorcycles, suggesting they were early adopters of new technologies.

There was always a collection of businesses operating from within the store, and from 1890 that included a publishing house run by Otto Beyer. Its speciality was sewing pattern sheets, but it was also known for fashion and handicraft magazines. As far as we know, Polich and Beyer collaborated only on one patent – their convertible skirt/trouser. However, Beyer had a long history of patented inventions for sewing, pattern and knitting devices.

Invention

PROBLEM —

Like many inventors in our patent collection at this time, Polich and Beyer identify the challenges facing women wanting to participate in sports and other activities. They desired freedom of movement and to minimise if not entirely avoiding social harassment in all its forms from parts of society that frowned upon women wearing what they considered to be “masculine” attire (as well as engaging in masculine activities). Hence, in their patent, the inventors aim to provide a garment that is both a skirt and trousers via an easy-to-convert system.

SOLUTION —

Their invention consists of what looks like an ordinary long skirt on the surface. Yet the front apron is detachable. The inventors suggest it should be folded and stored safely in a pocket. There is no rear apron, unlike in Winthrop’s invention. Instead, the inventors include generous pleats to hide the divided nature of the trousers from behind. The invention also includes a unique gathering cord in the hem that transforms the trousers into knickerbockers.

“The garment consists of two parts formed as trousers which are united on the front side by a connecting part” and “may be used for or as knickerbockers or as a skirt.”
— Babette Polich and Otto Beyer, inventors
More quotes from Polich and Beyer's patent

“We, Babette Polich and Otto Beyer, both of the firm Aug. Polich of Sclossgasse 1-3 Leipzig in the Empire of Germany, Milliners, do hereby declare the nature of this invention.”

Babette Polich & Otto Beyer1896

“This invention relates to a skirt or garment for sporting and other purposes, which in consequence of its peculiar construction may be used for or as knickerbockers or as a skirt.”

Babette Polich & Otto Beyer1896

“The garment consists of two parts formed as trousers which are united on the front side by a connecting part in a convenient manner. If the garment is to be worn as a skirt, these fixing arrangements are loosened and the parts of the knickerbocker are enlarged.”

Babette Polich & Otto Beyer1896

“The back part thus falls together in folds or pleats in such a manner that the whole has the appearance from behind of a completely closed skirt.”

Babette Polich & Otto Beyer1896

“The lower ends of the knickerbocker are provided on the seam or on another suitable part with tape or any other suitable arrangement for gathering them to the legs, by means of this latter arrangement the lower openings of the parts of the knickerbockers can be drawn tightly to the legs and kept closed.”

Babette Polich & Otto Beyer1896
Speculatively Sewing Polich and Beyer's Invention

Polich and Beyer’s invention shared many similar features to other sporting garments of the period. It consisted of a divided skirt hidden under an apron. As such, we did not need to make any paper mockups. We felt confident enough to go straight into a full-scale calico toile. The reasons that we were interested in reconstructing this design lay hidden in the trouser hems.

The inventors explain: “A garment forming knickerbockers and also adapted to present the appearance of a skirt, such garment having means for gathering or loosening the lower ends of the parts of the knickerbockers.”

The patent drawings show a tape of some kind looped through the hems to create a gathering cuff that draws the loose material close to the leg – critical for safe cycling – and also allows the wearer to pull the trouser legs up to create a voluminous knickerbocker effect. This worked well in practice. It was quick and effective and the excess tape could be tucked into the trouser cuff. It was easy to reverse back into wide-legged long trousers.

Although the inventors don’t mention it, we noted how the cuffs could be affixed at the ankle, and the long trousers become harem pants. Pulled up and gathered under the knee, they become a voluminous pair of bloomers. In this way, the invention shifts from conservative to radical via a simple cuff. It’s a simply yet effective and offers multiple options for the wearer to adapt to different sports/activities.

The speculative sewing process revealed other key features of the patent that we may have overlooked in the text and drawings (often, inventors also do not reveal everything in the patent). The inventors replace the normative side entry point in women’s skirts – the placket – with a double set of buttons on the front of the skirt/trousers. This is a more masculine-style opening, which cleverly doubles as the attachment for the apron.

We also noted how the strap detail at the waist, which is given little detail in the patent by the inventor, could be interpreted in different ways. If it is attached to the front part of the waist band, it would allow the wearer to lower the rear of trousers to “respond to the call of nature” (as it was described in other patents of the time). They would still be modestly covered. Being able to relieve themselves, without the worry of being “leashed to the home”, would have further enabled independent women to enjoy and participate in outdoor activities. It shows how even small simple details could have radical potential.