She invented women’s bloomers
To the Journal editor:
Amelia Bloomer, championing causes such as suffrage for women and a greater role for women in the affairs of running the nation, was one of the foremost crusaders for woman’s rights of the 19th century.
But it is not as an activist that she is best remembered.
If any one person can be viewed as the progenitor of a sensible mode of dress for women, that person is Amelia Bloomer. Disaffected with petticoats, hoop skirts, bustles and constricting corsets, she endorsed a far more practical outfit that enjoyed a popularity as the fashion vogue during the 1850s. This was a short skirt in combination with a pair of baggy trousers. The latter, voluminously fabricated from yards of stuff, reached all the way down to the ankles. Widely acclaimed by women for its comfort, this outfit deservedly became known as “bloomers.” In stark contrast, the hoop-skirted attire with all its encumbering trappings weighed as much as 12 pounds.
Unfortunately, most men ridiculed the bloomer costume and not only did it become a symbol of radicalism, but both the garment and its wearer became objects of ribaldry and derision. Ministers railed from their pulpits on the evils of women who wore bifurcated dresses. Politicians unfortunate enough to be married to such women lost elections. Street urchins opportunistically heckled the “carrion crows” as the bloomer wearers came to be known. With devilish glee, less sophisticated vulgarians derided the baggy, tucked-at-the-ankle bloomers as “thirty-day poopers.”
Miraculously the bloomers survived these onslaughts. But long skirts without trappings made a comeback while Amelia’s bloomers experienced diminution. As the dresses got longer and longer, the bloomers got shorter and shorter, until they could no longer be seen and became women’s most intimate apparel. Then after many long years of being ignominiously banished from the public eye, the bloomers peeped mischievously into the world with the advent of the miniskirt.
Bloomers have certainly evolved. Cloths embroidered with nice little pink flowers are widely known today as “panties.” Fancy laced knits, sparsely woven to permit a freshening airy relief to odoriferous membranes, epitomize the elegance and utility of contemporary fabrics.
Amelia Jenks Bloomer died in 1894. A pedantic catalogue of facts sadly falls way short of garnering the full measure of posthumous acclaim due her for her priceless legacies. May she always be remembered with light-heartedness and affection and may present-day feminists fare as well as that illustrious lady.
GAIL A. WICKSTROM
Newell, West Virginia