There were a lot of great leaps forward in the 1890s, or the “gay ’90s” as they are sometimes nostalgically called: exciting new forms of transportation (rail, steamboat, electric street car, bikes and even the start of the “horseless carriage”); department stores and mail-order catalogues made lots of new goods available; and new forms of communication, like telephone and typewriter, advanced the way people connect.
As distant as that era sounds, there’s a lot about the 1890s that we’d recognize and enjoy. Here’s how to tell if you’re a child of the ‘90s:
You can’t wait for the next season of Sherlock on TV. Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world to his iconic detective Sherlock Holmes in a series of short stories that were first published in 1891 in the Strand magazine in England. Doyle’s peerless master of deductive reasoning has continued to capture readers’ imaginations ever since.
You like to ride your bike. The 1890s, sometimes called “the golden age of bicycles,” is when women first widely started riding bikes. In fact, Queen Victoria owned a “Royal Salvo” tricycle, one of those wild numbers with two enormous side wheels and a tiny one in the front. Women’s need for appropriate cycling attire, by the way, led to a loosening up of the tight, bustled, severe dress of previous decades. We were still a long way from Lycra, but women did start wearing bloomers (though billowing ones) to ride bikes, instead of long skirts that could get caught up in the tires.
You shop at Macy’s. The famous chain department store started in 1858 as one small, but fancy New York City dry goods shop and just kept on growing.
You go to the movies. The 1890s saw the beginnings of the movie industry. The kinetoscope, an early motion picture exhibition device invented by Thomas Edison, was first introduced to the public in 1893 and 1894. The famous movie, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, terrified audiences in 1896.
You like Tin Pan Alley, Broadway show tunes, ragtime, or Sousa marches. These were all popular genres in the 1890s.
You wear suede shoes. Suede hit the footwear market in 1890 and quickly became a popular material. Elvis Presley has the 1890s to thank for one hit song.
Your favorite author is Oscar Wilde or H.G. Wells. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest all came out in the 1890s. Meanwhile, Wells published War of the Worlds in 1897. The author was ahead of his time, as it was one of the first works to feature a conflict between humans and aliens.