Monday, November 14, 2011

Bloomers: The Downfall Of Womanhood and All Things Feminine

by Anna Kathryn Lanier

In 1851, Amelia Bloomer, newspaper owner and advocate of women’s rights, including suffrage, temperance, education, and fashion, introduced Bloomers to America.  Though she did not invent the outfit, Elizabeth Smith Miller did that, Amelia’s wide-spread promotion of them linked her name to the “short dress that reached to the knees with frilled Turkish-style trousers gathered in ruffles at the ankles.”  Women from Maine to California welcomed the comfortable clothing.

Men, however, often found the clothing a threat to “femininity, motherhood and family.”
Chris Enss relays in her book “How The West was Worn” a journal entry by Colorado miner Arlo Howell on May 29, 1853.  “It’s a disgrace to see females dressed in trousers—an offense to the very fabric of civilization. I was witness to a display of ‘bloomers’ the other day. The young woman’s skirt was unusually short. It was an outrage!”
Newspaper reported on sightings of women wearing the outfits. From the Daily Alta California in September 1853: “In yet another sighting, the city was taken quite by surprise yesterday afternoon by observing a woman in the company with her male companion, crossing the lower side of the Plaza, dressed in a style a little beyond the Bloomer.  She was magnificently arrayed in a black satin skirt, very short, with flowing red satin trousers, a splendid yellow crepe shawl and a silk turban a la Turque.  She really looked magnificent and was followed by a large retinue of men and boys, who approved to be highly pleased with the style.”

In response to the controversy she caused, Amelia once wrote, “I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused.” But people certainly were interested in the new fashion. She remembered: “As soon as it became known that I was wearing the new dress, letters came pouring in upon me by the hundreds from women all over the country making inquiries about the dress and asking for patterns – showing how ready and anxious women were to throw off the burden of long, heavy skirts.”
Bloomers fell out of favor for a while, but with the invention of the bicycle, they made a comeback.  Reports of bicycling accidents caused by long skirts getting caught in the gears appeared often in the newspapers. In 1880 “The Girl’s Own Paper” advised that there must be no long skirts worn when using the tricycle dress. Women turned to the Bloomer instead.

Over the years, the design changed some. The short dress was replaced by a blouse and jacket, as seen above.  But the split skirt/trousers were here to stay and by the turn of the century they were quite the mode of fashion. 
Work Cited and Further reading:


  1. Interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

  2. All I keep thinking is that's more clothes on them...weren't they just smothered at times...but being a tomboy when I grew up, I could see the need for them. Great post, Anna!

  3. Anna Kathryn, I didn't realize the bloomers had been around quite that long. Thanks for the info.

  4. LOVE the post and the pictures, Anna.

    When I was a little girl we weren't allowed to wear pants, even on cold days, although we could wear them UNDER our skirt or dress. Go figure. At least it was California where it never got that freezy. Good post.

  5. Super interesting post, Anna. Loved it. I remember wearing pants under my skirt to school on snowy, wind-swept days. But we had to remove them as soon as we stepped inside the school building. What madness!

  6. I always thought the bloomers came in the same time as women riding bicycles.But I guess they were already in fashion.
    Deanne Gist, an Inspirational romance novelist, writes cute, funny stories. She has one about a young woman who wears bloomers, rides a bicyle, and runs an oil field for her father. The hero...God bless him...doesn't even blink an eye at her bloomers. He's too buy looking into her eyes. Darling book.
    The photos and information were excellent!

  7. Fantastic information. I'd not even thought the bloomer craze existed in my time period. I will have to see if I can't find a heroine who can use a pair or two.

    Thanks for sharing the info, Anna Kathryn. :)

  8. Hi, everyone! Thanks for stopping by. It's been a busy day, so sorry for not checking in before. I'd heard of bloomers, but I think I think of them in the modern day sense - as underwear, not a sort of pants. It was fun to research.

  9. I wore home made bloomers as a child. My Mother probably still has the pattern. The thinking was if my skirt rode up the boys would not see my knickers.

  10. Fascinating post! I really enjoyed it, and the pics. ~ Ashley

  11. I'd always thought the bloomers came out in response to the bicylce problem. I didn't know they came out in the 1850's.


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