By: Hella Goode
Maybe my next piece should be the history of gossip and misconceptions. It appears that Amelia Bloomer is not the inventor of bloomers. I repeat, Amelia Bloomer did not invent Bloomers. A woman named Elizabeth Smith Miller did in the late 1840’s to early 1850’s. So then why does Amelia Bloomer get all the credit?
Amelia Bloomer did not create the first pair of bloomers, but she does get credit for publicizing them and making this free-legged step toward comfortable women’s clothing more available to ladies. Today we choose to wear dresses, but in Bloomer’s time, there was no other choice if one wanted to be considered a lady. Really the only alternative to being a ‘lady’ was to be considered a whore, regardless of a woman’s actual value or virtue. Such scandalous debate on women’s behavior became tied to Amelia’s name, most likely due to her writings for the feminist-reform magazine, Lily, referred to as ‘bloomerism.’ What is interesting is that the most concern was taken for middle-class women. After all, lower class women were a lost cause and upper class women were, well, classy and untouchable, above the influence of such immorality. Or so it was thought.
Stranger also, was that, what today is considered more scandalous, women not wearing any undergarments at all, was the norm before bloomers. They were so covered in ‘overgarments’ that there really was no need for the invention of panties until later.
The first bloomers, full-length puffy pants that were worn under knee-length skirts, were likely inspired by designs of the Eastern world. Women of the Orient were already wearing pants, some of which are similar to belly dancing traditional ‘harem’ pants and other styles out of Turkey. Yet these women were not being pestered for suddenly having the opportunities to move freely in their clothing such as the men, or not carry around 30 or more pounds of extra weight with each day’s dress. It seemed obvious that women’s dress was limiting for a reason, and it was to keep them in their place.
Although American women everywhere expressed their desires for more rights such as the right to vote, the right to property ownership, and to divorce, they worried that dressing too radically might jeopardize their other battles and be too much of a distraction from their main causes. So, many chose to keep wearing the traditional dress.
In the midst of this fight, bicycles were becoming a popular mode of transportation. This was disturbing to many as it would allow women the ability to find their way around. Who knows where they might end up and under what influence? They also worried that the physicality of the bicycle would lead women to become lesbians or even to masturbate. Many thought they were better off trapped in their dresses.
Whoever would have guessed that the straw that broke the camel’s back (who was wearing harem pants) for resistors would be upper class women who embraced this new fashion in order to be able to use the bicycle, even Queen Victoria herself. Aha, so when royalty does it, it becomes fashionable. Hear this, modern day royalty, give us something new…