Bloomer Costume



Figure 1.- I believe the name of the school was Colainga High School, but we note the ball is marked CUHS. I'm not sure what the "U" means. Here we see the Colinga High School girls' basketball team in 1916. Notice the middy blouses with scarves and long bloomers, worn with different colored long stockings.

American reformer Amelia Bloomer (1818-94) was born in Homer, New York. She lectured and wrote to support the temperance movement and women's sufferage, two inter-linked issues. She is best knowm for energetic promotion beginning in 1848 of the "bloomer" costume. Bloomer in fact did not device bloomers, but merely endorse them as a practical alternative for the restrictive women's fashions of the era. Bloomers were in fact originally devised by Elizabeth Smith Miller. Although ultimately unsuccessful, they were an important step in the development of modern practical clothing.

Amelia Bloomer

American reformer Amelia Bloomer (1818-94) was born in Homer, New York. She was largely self-educated. At age 22 she married the lawyer Dexter Bloomer. He was a Quaker with progressive views and encouraged Amelia to write for his newspaper, the Seneca Falls County Courier. Over the next few years she wrote articles in favour of prohibition and women's rights. She lectured and wrote to support the temperance movement and women's sufferage, two inter-linked issues. In 1850 or 1851 she introduced fellow temperance worker Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, initiating a collaboration that would last half a century. Bloomer began publication of The Lily, a monthly temperance paper in 1851. Bloomer is best knowm for energetic promotion beginning in 1848 of the "bloomer" costume.

Sensible Dress

Bloomer in fact did not device bloomers, but merely endorse them as a practical alternative for the restrictive women's fashions of the era. Bloomers were in fact originally devised by Elizabeth Smith Miller. Bloomer in her paper became a voice for Stanton and other advocates of women's interests. Her paper became an act voice for change in women's dress, and the abandonment of restrictive clothing in favor of shorter skirts and knee-length undergarments that came to be known as Bloomers.

Elizabeth Smith Miller

The bloomer outfit was actually designed by Elizabeth Smith Miller, daughter of Stanton's Cousin Gerrit Smith. It was Smith who first wore the costume of Turkish pantaloons and knee length skirt popularized by Amelia Bloomer in The Lily. Reportedly, she began wearing the outfit after seeing this type of clothing on a trip to Europe.

Dress Reform

Dress reform was a significant focus of concern among early women's rights activists, and was strongly advocated in the Smith household. Rebellion against the fashion of the day, requiring women to dress in voluminous and constraining fashion, was both a practical necessity and a focal point of social reform. The "Bloomer" costume was worn for some time by most of the leaders in the women's rights movement. It was primarily designed to emancipate women from the cumbersome and restrictive fashions of the day. The costume was also promoted as a comfortable and healthy choice over wool skirts. The popular press gave great attention to the bloomer garment and it was widely criticized. It was ultimately abandoned because of the amount of the derision it brought. Most feminists concluded that the ridicule bloomers encountered undermined attempts to convince people of the need for social reform. Bloomer herself, however, continued to wear these clothes until the late 1850s. Bloomers never proved popular with women and the derision they inspired discouraged many women from wearing them. While bloomers were not adopted as a popular style, they were an important step toward develop more sensible clothing, especially in sports where bloomers were worn.

Costume Description

Famous for her stand in favor of dress reform, Bloomer adopted the bloomer style in 1849. She appeared at her lectures during the early 1850s wearing a full jacket with full trousers, gathered at the ankle, under a short skirt falling slightly below the knee. The trousers were baggy Turkish-style pamts gathered by elastic bands a little above the ankel. This garment became known as bloomers because Mrs. Bloomer so energetically promoted it. The bloomer was in fact a divided skirt worn long and loose.

Girls Clothes

While not widely worn by women in the mid-19th century, bloomers did achieve some success as sportswear. More and more girls began pursuing education in the late 19th century and more and more girls began attending secondary school. Many of these schools adopted bloomer costumes for gym class and sportswear. Often girls wore middy blouses with their bloomers. These costumes were widely worn by girls through the 1930s. Schools began adopting shorts for girls' gym uniforms in the 1940s, but a kind of bloomer-inspired romper outfit was still worn by girls at some schools as late as the 1950s.

Boys Clothes

Boys never wore romer suits as such. They have, however, wore outfits that were either similar to bloomers or inspired by the bloomer style. The Zouave outfits worn by boys in the 1860s were of course inspired by the French Zouave uniform. Both Zouave uniforms and the bloomer women's costume were inspired by baggy Turkish trousers. Boys wore a variety of baggy trouser outfits in the mid-1850s without the distinctive Zouave jacket. The rompers appearing at the turn of the 20th century may well have been influenced by the bloomer style.






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Created: June 14, 2001
Last updated: 4:45 AM 2/21/2005