Amelia Bloomer: A Style Revolution

Throughout American history until the early twentieth century, women’s clothing was restrictive and cumbersome.  Corsettes, stiff petticoats, crinolines, hoop skirts, bustles and busks were all designed to cinch, pad, flounce and lift, sometimes in layers, often in uncomfortable fabrics, draped and shirred and pleated to add even more weight.  Some of those styles were downright unhealthy!

 

One of the first women who chose more comfortable clothing was British-born Fanny Kemble, daughter of touring actors who married a plantation owner.  Critics were outraged over Fanny’s loose fitting pants that she wore under a skirt that came to her knees.  But coming to her defense on the pages of her Senecca, NY newspaper The Lily was Amelia Bloomer.

 

Born Amelia Jenks, she married Dexter Bloomer in 1840.  Dexter was an attourney and a publisher of a county newspaper.  When Amelia first wrote for his paper, she took up the cause of temperance.  In 1849 Amelia took over The Lily, a temperance newspaper.  Influenced by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia addressed issues of women’s rights, educating women about unequality and the possibility of social reform.  The paper became a model for other suffrage periodicals. 

 

Amelia, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, adopted the mode of dress sometimes called the new American Costume.  The style was also referred to as Turkish pantaloons.  When Amelia staunchly defended the clothing, other papers picked up the story, referring to their clothing as bloomers.  Eventually Stanton and Anthony agreed to forego wearing bloomers so that their cause wasn’t seen as a mere dispute over clothing.

 

You might recall another woman who started a trend nearly a century later: the lovely Kathryn Hepburn wore trousers with stylish disregard for what was considered appropriate.  However Hepburn’s popularity and intelligence soon aided a style revolution that the country–and women–were ready for.

 

Later Amelia and her husband moved to Mount Vernon, Ohio and in 1855 to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where she continued to write and speak on the issues of women’s rights.  When age caught up with her, she left the battle for equal rights to her successors. 

 

Throughout the Village of Seneca Falls, NY there are bronze statues and monuments that bring the women’s movement to life.  One in particular is a real car stopper: Life sized sculptured figures of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Amelia Bloomer.  I would love to see these in person!

 

Not only are these women shining examples of the courage and tenacity it took to win equal rights for the sexes, but they pointed out the foolishness of nonfunctional clothing and changed the way people thought about fashion.

 

Thanks for dropping by Wildflower Junction!  I’ll draw a name from your comments today and send the winner a copy of my December anthology, THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS.

 

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44 thoughts on “Amelia Bloomer: A Style Revolution”

  1. hi Cheryl! What a wonderful post. I am a great believer in comfy clothes and I highly respect those reformers who came before us! Seneca Falls was the site of the first women’s rights convention in 1845…so scandalous :).

    I think I remember reading, maybe here in a Junction post, that the corset sooooooo deformed ribcages…that was the reason for 19th century smelling salts and fainting couches. Women really did faint because they never could take a deep breath. Whew.

    Thank you, Amelia and Susan B.!

  2. Hey Cheryl! Great information. Thank goodness we’re not still wearing corsets and riding side saddle. However – style still dictates what I like to call ‘chauffeur shoes’. You know those shoes where you need a chauffeur to drive you around because they are simply impossible to walk in.

    Now if we could change that style, I’d be a happy woman.

  3. hi Cheryl!

    that was so neat to read about it…Im always interested in learning about how people dressed back then…it never gets boring! Im so glad I dont have to go around dressed in all that stuff-I think Id never leave my house if I had to wear all of it! Im a shorts and tshirt kind of girl-also..I hate shoes! LOL

  4. Gee,
    You mean bloomers MIGHT have been called Jenks or Lillies? Can’t imagine.:) Wonder what the women of the past would say about our hip-hugging, low-rise, bell-bottom pants of today!!
    You Go Girl!

  5. Great post. It was so interesting to read about. I’m so glad that I don’t have to dress like that though. I really hate dresses, more of a jeans and a nice blouse type of girl.

  6. Hi Tanya! I like comfy clothes, too.

    Maria, I’d never heard the term before, but chauffeur shoes is right on. I have a few pair of those. After church my husband will say, “Will you run in the store while I wait?” and I say, “Uh, no, I have on the Cruel Shoes.”

  7. Melissa, I’m the opposite – I like to wear shoes, but this summer I’m spoiled for flippies.

    Hi Charlene! Or how about thong undies that show above the low-rise jeans because the shirts are so short and the jeans so low? Makes me embarrassed for those girls. Whatever happened to modesty?

    Hey, Rebekah, glad you enjoyed reading about bloomers!

  8. The same could be said for hairstyles, too. All four of my daughters got their hair cut like Victoria Beckham. I remember when the Beckhams came to America, and how shocked some of this country’s women were at her drastic hairstyle, and now look how many women have imitated her.

    Can you imagine having so much influene that women want to look just like you?

  9. We have came a long way baby!!! Could you imagine trying to wear a corset, I couldn’t. We have had it made with our sweat pant and loose fitting clothes. When it comes to clothes I am glad I didn’t live back it the day.

  10. Oh the “cruel shoes” is toooo funny. We went to New York City this summer and booked an elegant dinner cruise around the Statue of Liberty…and the dock was totally within walking distance of our hotel at Times Square. Until my hubby and brother-in-law took a look at my feet. Taxi, they roared. But oh, those shoes are so cute…

    (Have I worn them since? No.)

  11. Hi Cheryl,

    Thanks for a very informative post on these brilliant women. I would have loved to meet them.

    Personally, I’m not one to follow fashion trends. I think most clothes get “recycled” every decade or so anyway and are back in style eventually.

    I would be more curious to see what Amelia, Susan B. and Elizabeth would think about women in U.S. politics today!!

  12. I’m glad there were those who fought for more comfortable clothing! Can you imagine still having to wear a skirt as a uniform for a police officer and trying to chase or wrestle with bad guys (though the males might enjoy that, at least with the skinnier gals in our dept). Interesting to find out where the term “bloomers” comes from!

  13. Cheryl,

    Just imagine what we’d all be still wearing if not for these independent, forward-thinking women. I’m not sure a bustle would fit in my computer chair. LOL Women owe them a debt of gratitude.

    I’m all for comfort except I draw the line on some of these fashions. Like Brittney Spears in a short skirt without underwear on. And I hate to see thong underwear peaking from the back of low cut jeans. That’s plain tacky. And how about some of those dresses worn by movie stars on the red carpet with a neckline that plunges to the navel. Looks like they’re about to fall off and probably would if the woman bent over. Lord have mercy!

    I do think a person can be comfortable and still modest. Men don’t respect a woman who shows everything she’s got.

    Great blog! 🙂

  14. I love the changes fashion has gone through… Can you imagine how those women felt wearing all of that clothing?,… or how the ones that took a chance were mocked or snickered at? To bring out change, they were women with intelligence and strength!!!

  15. Enjoyed reading the article. Glad we have arrived at comfort in clothing.
    I can remember my grandmother saying that one of her best days was when she got to wear a pair of “silky” underwear because when she was growing up the underwear was of a muslin-type fabric and not very soft.

  16. This will tell you how old I am – all through my school years girls were not allowed to wear pants (we had leggins to wear when we WALKED to school in the cold that had to come off). Even my first job it wasn’t allowed. Eventually pants suits that the tops reached down as far as your hands at your side were allowed. I was thrilled when dress slacks were finally allowed. And then there was the girdle to hold up the nylons since pantyhose hadn’t been invent yet either!!!!

  17. I love this post, Cheryl. In truth, I sometimes wish we had those corsets, trouble though they were. I once watched SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS — and in the interviews they did with some of the women, one of them — can’t recall her name — she was talking about wearing the corsets and how sexy it made you feel — there’s a dance in that movie where all seven women are wearing corsets. I know that I love dresses and that sort of thing that tug in the waist.

    But oh, well. Times marches on.

    Great post!

  18. Hi Cheryl,
    I am always amazed at what women had to wear not that very long ago and how womens lives have changed so much in the last few generations.

  19. Wow! I’m having my carpets cleaned today, and tiptoed up to my office to find all these comments!

    Waving to Candace!

    Lynn, I’m laughing picturing Cagney and Lacey (that dates me) or even Charlie’s Angels running after the bad guys in hoop skirts. LOL

  20. I agree with yu 100%, Linda! There’a a lot to be said for keeping ones assets a mystery!

    Thanks for stopping in, Colleen!

    Joye, I can hear Rizzo saying, “Keep your hands off my silky drawers!” LOL

  21. Jeanne, we had to wear dresses when I was in school, too, even high school – but by then they were short skirts. Never jeans!

    Karen, I love Seven Brides for Seven Brothers!

    Smooches, Maureen!

  22. Thanks to the “Bloomer Girls” for the style changes. I can’t imagine playing golf in those long skirts or how hot they would be.

    Loved the old western video. I remember all of them. Audi Murphey was the most handsome cowboy of all. An American hero, too. I did see his grave on a visit to Arlington Cemetery.

  23. Hi Cheryl! Great post! I would’ve been a bloomer-wearin’-woman! It’s so interesting how these things developed, and that we got the term from her name. I imagine the bicycle had something to do with wearing pants, too.

  24. Cheryl what a great post, and I went to the Steve Martin youtube that was so funny. I am at work and they probably wondered what I was doing I was laughing so hard. LOL
    I am sure glad that times have changed because I would not be able to breath with all those cloths on how did they even clean the house not that, that is my favorite thing to do. Even being about work I would hate to not be able to bend over.

  25. Glad you checked out the westerns and enjoyed them, Sue!

    YES, Minna, thus “fainting” couches.

    Hi Kate and Penney!

    Maria, did you laugh?? And you have to say it like Steve. LOL

    I can just picture you laughing at work, Brenda. Hey, we all need to lighten up a little, don’t we?

  26. Hi Cheryl

    What great info. Thank goodness we don’t have to wear all those clothes, but of course some of us have gone to the other estreem.

    We as women have gained alot of freedom but I am afraid we have lost alot too.

  27. Hi Cheryl! Wonderful post! These women were certainly brave and daring to risk ridicule by wearing new clothing styles. I would loved to have met them. Although I ,for one, am glad I don’t have to wear corsets. I wonder what these women would have to say about what today’s women wear? Thank you for the very informative post!

  28. Hi Cheryl! What a fascinating post! Enjoyed reading about bloomers – LOL! I’m glad I don’t have to wear all that restrictive clothing like they did years ago. I’m all for wearing comfortable clothes although I believe in some cases we have gone from one extreme to another.

  29. Hi Cheryl!

    I really enjoy reading about history! Thanks for the great post!

    I definitely pay attention to how characters are dressed in books. It is always so fascinating to find out the attire of different time periods.

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