Tramping & Hunting Outdoor Skirt/Cloak

by Beatrice Sybil Bankart, 1910

Inventor

  • NAMEBeatrice Sybil Bankart
  • PATENTUS965552A
  • DATEJuly 26, 1910
  • LOCATIONPatented in the USA – inventor residing in Exeter, England
  • INVENTION“Garment”
  • THEMEMoving
BIO —

Beatrice (more commonly known as Sybil) Bankart came from a family who have left a notable legacy of humanitarian actions and contributions to medicine. There are press reports of her mother attending lectures on women’s suffrage in the early 1870s, and we assume that Sybil would have designed a garment for “tramping, hunting and outdoor recreation” because these were activities that she took part in herself.

In 1909, Bankart entered the United States in the company of Rita Sacchetto and others. They are all listed in the passenger manifest as dancers en route to join their friend Loie Fuller. Sachetto’s work The Awakening of Woman was performed in Manhattan in March 1910, and we think Bankart and her companions would have been part of the large corps of dancers. Fuller paid for all of their tickets and, as the owner of multiple patents relating to stage effects, dance and dance costumes, we speculate that she may have mentored Bankart in the patenting of her invention.

Invention

PROBLEM —

As we have seen with many other inventions in our research, Bankart and her contemporaries are still, even in 1910, navigating the conflicting ideals of meeting societal expectations of what is deemed to be proper attire for respectable ladies on the one hand, and on the other the desire to be able to move her body freely outside in the elements and challenging terrain. Carrying multiple garments to individually cater for multiple scenarios is an inconvenience which Bankart wanted to avoid.

SOLUTION —

Bankart designed a garment that could be utilised for various purposes, primarily functioning either as a skirt or a cloak. With a buttoned opening down the length of the front and a yoked form that could sit comfortably over either the hips or the shoulders, Bankart describes how it can be used as a skirt when the wearer is starting out for a tramping expedition, and then removed when, for example, rougher ground is reached. Knickerbockers worn under the skirt ensure the limbs of the wearer remain protected. At this point, the garment can either be carried, or worn as a cloak to protect the upper body. A storm collar feature gives additional protection for the throat and face.

“The object of this invention is to construct a garment that it may be utilized either as a skirt or as a cloak.”
— Beatrice Sybil Bankart, inventor
How early mountaineers (mis)used their skirts

“Two things combined to hinder the growth of mountain climbing among women. One was the belief that it was not a womanly occupation, a belief which was expressed well past the turn of the 20th century. The second was the problem of clothes.”

Ronald Clarke, The Victorian Mountaineers1953

“I owe a supreme debt of gratitude to the mountains for knocking from me the shackles of conventionality. But I had to struggle hard for my freedom.”

Lizzie Le Blond, Founder of the Ladies Alpine Club1932

“And so if I have in any way assisted my sisters in their wanderings or encouraged a single woman to join the path of travellers by land or sea, I shall feel that I have achieved the object of my labours and that my task has, indeed, not been in vain.”

Lillias Campbell Davidson1853–1934

In the 1880s alpinist Lizzie Le Blond left her skirt on the far side of a Swiss Mountain. To preserve her modesty, she was forced to retrace most of her route to retrieve it.

Lizzie Le Blond1880s
Speculatively Sewing Bankart's invention

Barkart’s invention offers a convertible sports garment “for use, by women, particularly in tramping, hunting and in outdoor recreation”. Her design is both a skirt and a cloak. We were interested in how it operates as such – if one iteration works better than another. The fact she calls it a cloak rather than a cape is notable. The former tend to be longer, heavier and more dramatic.

The word cloak is also a verb. It means to cover or conceal something – which is interesting in this context about an invention that potentially hides the intentions of the wearer. They can look normative and conventional in one form and then transform the garment and use it for other more radical purposes.

This reflects what history tells us about what early mountain climbers were doing and wearing. Many were quite inventive with their skirts, reworking and hacking them to do something else – such as to use as blankets, shelters and windbreaks. Some removed their skirts entirely and left them behind, under rocks, to climb mountains unburdened.

Our first iteration was a small-scale paper model, using pattern (dot + cross) paper. This helped to think through the different pieces that might help form the yoke, collar, skirt and cloak. We also used more rudimentary methods, noting how a heavy coat felt on the shoulders and then when wrapped around the waist.

We then started on the calico toiles. The first was a half cloak, draped on the dress form. This helped us calculate the flow over the shoulders and down the body. We moved on to the skirt form. There was much moving from patent to drawing to the draped garment and back again, on the table, on and off the dress form and body.

The length of the cloak/skirt was determined with help from the image – it skims the edge of the bloomers when worn over the shoulders. The pattern started out in the form of half semi-circles on each shoulder/hip, but this was reduced twice as it was too full. A final pattern was made from these toiles. In total it required 6 pieces: Collar/waistband; Front yoke centre; Back yoke centre; Bagged out hem; Waistband strap; Side panel.

Of note in the reconstruction: The high waistband which doubles effectively as a storm collar. The strap that holds the waistband around the waist makes a handy strap for carrying the cloak over one shoulder. We also noted how the invention felt like a solid skirt and also as a cloak — neither garment was compromised. Bankart’s invention could be secured firmly at the waist, creating a pleasing silhouette when buttoned up. At the shoulders, the cloak covered the body more than adequately and could be dramatically swept over the shoulders when more access for the arms was required.

Bankart's invention in POP's short film

POP invited The Adventure Syndicate (TAS) and Mòr Diversity to try out a collection of reconstructed convertible, reversible, multiple and hidden sports- and active-wear in the Scottish hills. We made 5 customised costumes spanning from the 1890s to 1940s – including Bankart’s mountaineering skirt/cloak.

Together we went running, jumping, hiking, flying, cycling, swimming, hunting, riding horses, catching trains and driving cars, climbing up and rolling down hills and otherwise putting these amazing costumes through their paces. We made a short film (20mins) called “Women On The Move”, directed by Alice Lemkes of TAS, which is currently being shown at international women’s and sports/adventure film festivals.

The initial launch of the film on International Women’s Day 2022 coincided with the publishing of a journal article in the Sociological Review which goes into all of this in more depth. See below for more links to further research.

More research into Bankart's invention