In western romance bloomers often refers to a woman’s undergarment. I’ve been guilty of this and have used bloomers on more than one occasion. While they were originally a type of women’s trousers, bloomers have since become synonymous with under drawers and pantaloons. But in Amelia Bloomer’s day they were baggy pants gathered tightly and buttoned at the ankle. They were worn under a skirt of a shorter length that allowed the lacy bloomers to show.
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. And it was all because of free-thinkers like Fanny Wright who first advocated a type of bloomer in the early 1800’s and Amelia Bloomer who made the garment fashionable in the 1850’s.
Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894) married an attorney by the name of Dexter Bloomer. He was also a newspaper editor. She began writing a few 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 were 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. They were intended to preserve Victorian decency while being less of a hindrance. Here’s Amelia in her outfit.
She said, “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.
I can only imagine that 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.
How many of you are a jeans and shorts kind of gal? And do you think you would’ve worn bloomers in public if you lived back in Amelia’s day?