Pioneer Women: Scandalous Fashion

BloomersIn 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 that women reform their dress styles to one 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, which led to the acceptance of pants as a respectable fashion. March is National Women’s History Month.