Amelia Bloomer: A Rebel in Pants

“Careful, or he’ll see your bloomers!” I don’t know why this is a phrase I’ve heard from time to time. I always assumed bloomers were another term for underpants, and it turns out I’m not the only to have thought that.

Bloomers have an interesting history in clothing one that sheds a nearly double-meaning on the cautious phrase.

Bloomers got their name from a gal named Amelia Bloomer.

Born in 1818 in New York, Amelia Bloomer was a suffragette and involved in the temperance movement. She married an editor and co-owner of the Seneca Falls County Courier. In Seneca Falls, Amelia became more involved in activism and wrote about the dangers of alcohol in her husband’s paper.

Seneca Falls was the home to the first Women’s Right’s Convention in 1848 and Amelia not only attended but was inspired to start her own newspaper called The Lily. The newspaper started with a focus on temperance.  Soon Elizabeth Cady Stanton joined as a contributing writer. Together they started champion women’s right to vote (suffrage).

Meanwhile, in New England, Elizabeth Smith Miller adapted a radical way of dress. Women at the time we’re most known to wear constricting corsets and multiple layers of petticoats under their dresses. Miller wore knee-length dress with Turkish-inspired loose pants that gathered at the ankles. Elizabeth Miller was Elizabeth Stanton’s cousin and when Stanton saw the look, she adopted it, and showed it to Amelia.

(Left) Women’s typical fashion in 1849 (Right) Bloomer Costume

“As soon as it became known that I was wearing the new dress,” Amelia said, “letters came pouring in upon me by the hundreds from women all over the country making inquiries about the dress and asking for patterns—showing how ready and anxious women were to throw off the burden of long, heavy skirts.”

Amelia published a pattern of the pants and shorter dress in The Lily and it was a hit!

Because pants-with-short-dress was not catch to say even then, it was dubbed as the “Bloomer costume” when the fashion trend was covered in The New York Tribune. Amelia didn’t want to take credit for the design, however the public did.

One of the many women who took on the Bloomer Costume was Susan B. Anthony. The two met on their shared interest in temperance and women’s suffrage. It would be Amelia who would introduce Susan to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Susan and Elizabeth became the best of friends. Elizabeth was the writer behind many of Susan’s speeches. The two of them were a powerhouse of BFF’s.

When-SBA-met-ECS-5_2

“When Anthony Met Stanton” life-sized bronze figures sculpted by Ted Aub in Seneca Falls, NY. Amelia is in the center wearing the Bloomer Costume.

The Bloomer Costume took a lot of heat from men and women. Susan herself stopped wearing the outfit as she saw more people paying attention to what she was wearing versus what she was saying. She decided the Bloomer Costume was bringing unwanted attention and detracting from the women’s rights issues.

LEARN MORE about Susan B. Anthony from Your Gal Friday. 

Gal’s rocking the look faced ridicule in the papers and harassment on the street. In 1859 Amelia herself stopped wearing the outfit.

Amelia continued to work on women’s suffrage for the rest of her life. She never stopped writing, even after closing down her paper.

Today women wearing pants is no big deal, but it once used as an act of rebellion.

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