Explorers Connect

My Great Escape: Corset Capers

Community, Adventure Revolution, Trip ReportBecky Goodall
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By Jo Symanowski

Saturday 28th September: With corsets tightened, skirts billowing and bloomers hidden, five intrepid ladies in full 1907 outfits headed up a very wet and windy Pen Y Fan. Hats off to those pioneering ladies who took on routes unknown and paths unmarked, walking in a fully boned corset is not easy!

I’ve always been in awe of the early pioneering outdoors women, in their long skirts, hats, corsets and bloomers, fighting convention, society and fashion. Without whom so many of us wouldn’t have the courage or freedom to take to the hills on our own adventures in Lycra and Gore-Tex. When a post appeared on Facebook celebrating those incredible women who broke trails in the hills for women, I innocently commented that I’d always fancied trying a hill in such attire. As is the way with Facebook and enthusiastic, adventurous women, two hours later a plan was hatched with five of us in the team.

In 1907, the Ladies’ Alpine club was inaugurated in London, the first mountaineering organisation for women. The men’s Alpine Club didn’t allow ladies “on account of their supposed physical and moral deficiencies in the matter of mountain climbing”. Because of this, we decided 1907 was the year to base our adventure clothing in. It wasn’t easy finding a costumer who was prepared to lend us clothes to wear up mountains, so huge thanks to Bristol Costume Services for their faith in us. We were unable to locate boots and, as we all have busy lives and commitments, we made the health and safety conscious decision to wear our own boots.

Research showed us the lengths ladies went to in order to defy all those who said women weren’t capable - that it wasn’t a proper activity or environment for women. Some would get away from civilisation and remove their skirts, they would then go on just in their bloomers, careful to restore their dignity before returning to town after their many successful ascents. Others would blaze their trails in full skirts or britches, all wearing wool and tweed, tight cotton and layer upon layer of underwear and boned corsetry.

Our outfits were unfamiliar and awkward, I had to hold my skirts the whole way and my bowler hat was securely attached to my head with my scarf. Bloomers were a godsend, keeping the winds from all manner of places! As you try to take a deep breath, you can’t as your diaphragm is restricted. Over time the breathing became more familiar and although I was never completely comfortable I was warm and a thankfully the lungs acclimatised, even if the corset bones didn’t give a millimetre. We made great time though, and enjoyed chatting to all those whose Saturday morning was visited by visions from the past emerging through the rain.

Outdoor gear for women and our place in the outdoors has moved forward a long, long way since those early days (It’s time to ditch only using teal and purple though, manufacturers!). The ladies of history who answered their call to the wilds did more than just defy convention, they took the rulebook to the top of the hill and set fire to it! Girls are taught to be fearful of the outdoors as soon as they hear little red riding hood and other outdated cautionary tales, so it with huge thanks and respect I acknowledge our pioneers struggles and now appreciate their efforts even more.

Raising funds through corset capers for My Great Escape - empowering domestic abuse survivors through adventures.

Ed: We are very proud that My Great Escape was set up with the support of Explorers Connect. If you have a project that will help others access adventure and would like advice, discounted training and possibly funding please get in touch with us through enquiries@explorersconnect.com. #AdventureRevolution