Bloomers: Women’s First Trousers

 In the early 1850s Amelia Jenks Bloomer introduced trousers to women, garnering much ridicule and limited acceptance. The design wasn’t hers.  Amelia was an early campaigner for women’s rights and the temperance movement, founding a temperance newspaper named The Lily in 1849. In addition to temperance and women’s suffrage, Amelia also advocated women’s dress reform to a style less restrictive than the confining corsets and several petticoats women typically wore at that time. When friend and fellow activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton visited Amelia wearing a new “sensible” outfit of long baggy pants gathered or cuffed at the ankles, topped with a full, calf-length skirt or dress and vest, Amelia began to enthusiastically wear the ensemble herself and promote it in her newspaper. The outfit was promptly dubbed The Bloomer Costume, or “Bloomers.” Multitudes of mature women declared themselves aghast at such un-lady-like attire, while scores of the younger set wore it proudly, even defiantly. Men weighed in with their opinions, of course—rarely complimentary. Bloomers faded from the fashion scene by 1859. Women simply did not wear “pants” for another 100 years, until female factory workers in the 1940s discovered that wearing men’s trousers at work were much safer around machinery than skirts—leading to the acceptance of pants as a respectable fashion.




4 thoughts on “Bloomers: Women’s First Trousers”

  1. This post brings back lots of memories. As an 8th grader I had to wear bloomers in a school play. They were the “real deal” – brought from Scotland to a 1910 Montana homestead in a keepsake trunk. The billowing lace-embellished garment was gathered around the waist by a drawstring. Thanks, Cheryl!

  2. Cathy, how interesting! I remember wearing bloomers for a school play too, but mine weren’t authentic, because they had an elastic waistband. Nineteenth century garments & shoes had no elastic, and no zippers either–everything closed with drawstrings or buttons or laces. Can you imagine wearing three petticoats plus underwear, all with drawstrings around the waist? I’m told ladies’ corsets helped to “soften” the feeling of all that binding.

    1. I love the stories of women in the era you write of in your book. When my big project finishes I’ll be purchasing and reading it. The burning question for me as someone removed from CA history is: how did Amelia Bloomer’s contribution to the development of CA compare/contrast with that of her husband?

  3. Ameila Bloomer can’t really be said to “contribute” to the development of California. The outfit she promoted was worn in California and nationwide, but Amelia & her husband didn’t live in California. Her Bloomer Costume didn’t last long, in California or anywhere, as it was met with too much ridicule by both genders. By the time it became popular circa 1852, pioneer ladies in the West were already pretty confident of their worth and abilities.

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