Friday, January 26, 2007

Amelia Bloomer and the Reform Dress Movement

Amelia Bloomer

Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894) was active in the reform period of American politics when women sought the vote, prohibition and freedom from constricting clothing. She also have been the first woman to publish a newspaper. However, her name lives on due to a controversial clothing style she advocated.

The Lily was published by Bloomer from 1849 until 1855. Articles on issues of importance to women appeared regularly. Among these issues were recipes, temperance, the right to vote and the Rational Dress Movement. In 1851 Bloomer began to publish articles concerning women's clothing. The success of Bloomer's paper translated to speaking engagements and having articles published in the New York Tribune.

Female fashion at the time consisted of tightly laced corsets, layers of petticoats and floor-length dresses. Bloomer began to advocate the wearing of clothes that had first been worn by Fanny Wright and the women living in the socialist commune, New Harmony in the 1820s. Bloomers were conceived by Libby Smith, cousin of noted feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who modeled them on the comfortable outfits worn by women recuperating in Swiss sanitariums.

Fashion reformers touted the bloomers as a way to "physically and spiritually free women of the cumbersome hoop." They argued that the costume was economical since it required less fabric than traditional frocks, was comfortable to wear, and was "conducive to health, by the avoidance of damp skirts hanging about the feet and ank[l]es since they would be clad in a boot." As a later historian wrote, "Hers was a spirited effort to free women from their voluminous and constricting haberdashery: heavy skirts raking the muck of the streets, multiple petticoats, bustles, miscellaneous padding, and lung crushing whalebone-all told, some fifteen pounds."

The new style contributed to the Rational, or Reform, Dress movement, but never gained a foothold in mainstream society. Advocates, realizing that negative publicity and ridicule were counterproductive, switched tactics. The Bloomer Uniform included loose bodices, ankle-length pantaloons and a dress cut to above the knee. The name stuck, and in the 1880s bicycle craze “bloomers” were sought after.

Camiknickers arrived in the 1920s as a combination chemise and panty. They had closures at the crotch for modesty and freedom. Often visually representing a slip with separate legs.

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