The Defiant Amelia Jenks Bloomer

In western romance one of the garments often referred to is bloomers. While they eventually became synonymous with underwear and pantaloons they were originally a type of loose trousers in Amelia Bloomer’s day. She designed them as baggy pants gathered tightly and buttoned at the ankle. They were worn under a short skirt that allowed the lacy bloomers to show.

 

At a time when men kept women under their thumb with all manner of rules for dress and decorum, these bloomers showed defiance and definitely shocked proper society.

Bloomers released women from their tightly laced corsets, layers upon layers of petticoats that could weigh over ten pounds, and long dresses that dragged the ground. Bloomers allowed freedom of movement. Women could at last ride bicycles and indulge in sporting activities in addition to swimming. And it was all because of Amelia Bloomer who made the garment fashionable in the 1850’s.

Amelia Bloomer was quite woman and a visionary.

Amelia Jenks (1818-1894) came from modest means and despite receiving only a few years of schooling, she became a schoolteacher at 17 years old. Back then, it took nothing to become a teacher. When she turned 22, she married an attorney by the name of Dexter Bloomer. He was also a newspaper editor. She began writing a articles for his paper pertaining to women’s issues. After attending the Women’s Rights Convention in Senaca Falls in 1848 she founded her own bi-weekly newspaper called “The Lily” and became a voice for many women reformers such as Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Initially, the newspaper focused on temperance and the women’s suffrage movement. But as the times progressed the articles became more about marriage law reform, higher education for women, the right to vote, and women’s right to employment without having to ask for her husband’s permission. The health and well-being of women was also a primary focus and that’s when Amelia advocated clothing for women’s comfort and the bloomers in particular.

She fashioned them after the Turkish women’s trousers with a short skirt worn over them. They were intended to preserve Victorian decency while being less of a hindrance.

I quote her, “The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once her health, comfort, and usefulness; and while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.”

As you can imagine, she was met with overwhelming ridicule. The garment was deemed unfeminine and a moral outrage. Gradually, the bloomers faded away. Amelia herself gave up the fight after eight years and stopped wearing them, citing that it shifted the focus away from more important women’s issues.

But women still wore them only underneath their dresses as underwear.

   

I imagine these bloomers were a forerunner of today’s jeans. I love the comfort, freedom, and casual look of jeans. And they’re form-fitting and feminine.

Here’s a true story that might make you laugh. My daddy had thirteen brothers and sisters so flour sack clothes were all they got to wear. One of his older sisters (Ila Lea) was so uppity, always flouncing around like she was better than most. During the Depression in the 1930s, her mother made her a pair of short bloomers from flour sack and it just turned out exactly right that the words, “America’s Finest” were emblazoned across her fanny. She was about 18 years old and prissing down the street one day when a big gust of wind blew her skirt up. Every passersby in the vicinity got an eyeful of her America’s Finest bloomers. My mom said she was talked about for quite a while. But, who knows? Ila Lea probably saw an uptick in her social calendar for that was quite an advertisement.

Did you ever have to wear flour sack or feed sack clothes? Do you think you would’ve worn bloomers if you lived back in Amelia’s day? How many of you are a jeans and sneakers kind of gal?

Comments

The Defiant Amelia Jenks Bloomer — 18 Comments

  1. I have really never really thought of where or why bloomers, ie underwear came from. I am just glad we no longer have to wear corsets. Much prefer the bloomers. Because of the material that was used, I would think they would be hot to wear.

    • Good morning, Veda……..Well, I think everything would’ve been hot back then. And unless you had a lot of money to afford silk, lawn, and brushed cotton they would’ve been stiff. Muslin was the most common fabric back then. You know, for a very long time the women didn’t wear any underwear. That would’ve been very yucky!

      Have a blessed and lovely day, Miss Veda. Love you!

  2. Love this blog Linda- I’m glad Amelia brought the bloomers out, she might be the one to have saved us all, I just can’t imagine having to still wear corsets and all the petticoats they wore back then. Yikes!!! I bet if the women from that time period could see today’s fashion, some might just faint.
    I laughed at “America’s finest” that’s a priceless story.
    I’m a Jean and boots kind of gal, but I do love my tennis shoes.
    I’m like you, the bloomers might have been the start of “Freedom” we all now have with jeans.
    Thanks for such a great trip back into history.
    Have a great day and keep me in your prayers.
    Love you sister friend!!

    • Good morning, dearest Tonya…….I’m saying prayers that you find some relief from your headache. I cannot imagine. Glad you liked my bloomers blog and that I could give you a laugh. I’d love to put my aunt’s incident in one of my stories sometime. It really was so funny and that she was so prissy only added to the humor. I’m so glad for Amelia Bloomer’s defiance. I love wearing jeans and the comfort and modesty of them. I swear, if some of these dresses get any shorter they might as well be naked! These women are showing everything they’ve got.

      Much love and prayers, sister friend!

  3. My mother in law used to sew all my daughters dresses and she made the cutest dresses for them and she even made them some bloomers to wear underneath because they were such tomboys so I asked her to make them just so their hinny would be covered on Sunday morning when they by chance be would be flipping around and the dress tails would fly up. They inform me all the time how they hated wearing all those dresses and such and now are definitely jeans and sneakers even on Sunday to church

    • Good morning, Miss Glenda……Ha! I can just picture Carla and Bethany flipping upside down and running and playing. YAY for jeans! They sure save on a mother’s embarrassment. Glad you liked my post.

      Much love and have a blessed day!

  4. Very nice! And, I do have to remove the bloomers from my 1845 character. I laughed out loud at the story of your aunt. I had flour sack dresses when I was a little girl. My grandmother made them and Sent them to me. I remember one with pink roses on it, tiny pink roses. Well done, my frjend.

    • Good morning, Winona……Thanks for coming. Bloomers are an interesting subject as well as flour sack clothes. Thank God for those cotton sacks they used to put flour in or a lot of people would’ve been naked! Those women got very ingenious with the things they made from those sacks. I just wonder how they were able to get the length for skirts. Those sacks weren’t that long. Maybe they pieced them together to make them long enough? Interesting. Good memories you have, my friend.

      Big hugs and much love!

  5. Oh I can’t imagine having to wear the clothes of the 1800’s or the social rules women had to live by. Yes I would have worn the bloomers! I would have died an old maid because I would have been a lady defying the social norms. I don’t even remember stories of my grandparents or great grandparents wearing flour sack clothes. I’ll have to ask my parents about that. Great blog!

    • Good morning, Stephanie……You and me both. Those men ruled back then and set the rules for women. They told us what we could wear and when. There were certain clothes required for every occasion–even swimming. They made women swim in those heavy skirts and as a result few learned how. And there were so many layers. They had chemises, corsets, corset covers, a jillion petticoats or crinoline, pantaloons, stockings. And that didn’t count the heavy skirts and long-sleeved bodices. Those darn men didn’t want one piece of skin showing! Thank goodness we rebelled!!

      Have a blessed week, warrior buddy. Love you!

  6. Well for me, growing up I was a chubby child, so they didn’t make plus size jeans, so i wore a lot of sweat pants, or shorts, I don’t think i got my first pair of jeans till i was a teen. But now Im 46 and still chubbier. lol and still prefer sweat pants or capri pants, I only wear jeans if going to someplace nice. and I wear no shoes or socks in my home. But if i of had to live back in that time, i think i would of worn the bloomers, as Im not a big fan of dresses.

    • Good morning, Elaine…..I’m so happy you stopped by. Comfort is always nice. Good for you! I’m glad for the wider arrange of sizes now and freedom to choose. Wear what makes you happy. We have the power.

      Much love and hugs!

  7. Actually, a corset is not too bad – I wear one when I do an author event and dress in period clothing – usually late Victorian, or Edwardian. I’m not hardcore enough to wear a hoopskirt, though…
    In my first novel, I have a character who wears a bloomer costume – only a very modest one, of what she calls “Turkish trousers” of dark calico which match her conventional dress. But she is a mother of several children, journeying over the California-Oregon trail to rejoin her husband who has gone ahead of the family to secure property.

    • Good morning, Celia…..Thanks for coming. I bought my first corset last year to wear under a Victorian dress at RT and I found it amazingly comfortable I loved how it supported my back. Now, I sometimes wear it around the house. Helps my back and posture too when I sit so long at the computer. No hoop skirts for me either! Just imagine trying to sit down in those. No thanks. You’ve done your research on bloomers. Your book sounds very interesting.

      Have a blessed week full of inspiration!

  8. Linda, I really enjoyed this particular topic. When we, as women, look back in time, it’s pretty amazing what we were up against. Hard to believe really. I watched the movie: “The Post,” this past weekend, and though, I knew it was about the first amendment, I had no idea it would have a secondary theme of feminism, but then, it makes sense because of what the female owner of The Washington Post was up against, and this was the 1970’s! I came of age during that era and getting my MBA in Finance and Accounting pitted me against mostly men in the workplace. It was rough out there, and the movie showed just how hard it was. I loved it because I could relate!
    Loved your funny story about your family, too, I’m sure Ila Lea did have a real uptick in her personal life. I can’t remember wearing flour sack clothes, but my mother had a cousin who had a family of 15 children, raised on a farm, and I know they wore clothing made out of flour sacks. Those big families back then, they’re so hard to envision, too. So much has changed in our society.
    Thanks for a trip back to the past!!!

    • Good morning, Hebby…..The difficulty those woman faced from the beginning of time to really the 1970s just boggles my mind. They had no voice in anything, including the clothes they wore. Everything was dictated to them. And even Amelia Bloomer caved in after 4 years. We were the silent housekeepers and child-raisers and were too dumb to have our own opinions, thus we didn’t need to vote. There are still women today forced to wear those heavy burkas and walk ten paces behind their husband.

      Yeah, Aunt Ila was a corker. I can’t remember how many times she was married but it was a bunch. Never learned her lessons because she was too busy partying.

      Love and hugs!

  9. I probably would have worn the bloomers, only too happy to get away from the confines of the corset. I always laughed at the story of Aunt Ila. She was quite the party girl anyway, so I’m sure she didn’t mind the attention. 🙂 I am definitely a jeans and sneakers girl. That’s about all I wear. I have a couple of dresses, and they aren’t uncomfortable, but I have yet to find a comfortable pair of shoes that look good with a dress. 🙂 Interesting post, sister.

    • Good Morning, Jan…….Yes, I know you would’ve. You’ve always had a rebellious streak a mile wide. I hear about dressy shoes. I can’t find a good pair either that don’t kill my feet. I love dresses otherwise but hardly ever pull them of my closet because of the shoe issue. It’s horrible. I just don’t think they make any comfortable dressy shoes.

      Love you, Sister1