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?