Amelia Jenks Bloomer
Journalist, Suffragist, and Women’s Clothing Reformer
By Kathleen McFadden
“The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.”Amelia Bloomer
Although Amelia Jenks Bloomer didn’t invent the ladies’ trousers of the 1800s, she gave her name to them. Popular dress at the time consisted of whalebone corsets, bustles, and voluminous hooped skirts over layers of petticoats – an inconvenient and constricting costume that weighed about 15 pounds and raked up plenty of dirt and mud.
When Amelia met Elizabeth Smith Miller, who was a friend of suffragist Elizabeth Cody Stanton and the daughter of a noted abolitionist, she was quite taken with her outfit. Elizabeth was wearing a short skirt – it came to just below her knees – and a matching pair of balloon-legged trousers gathered at the ankle. Elizabeth had originally worn such a dress and trouser ensemble for long walks in the country because of the freedom of movement it provided, but she soon began wearing the style exclusively because it was so comfortable. Amelia immediately saw the practicality of the design, made one for herself, and began to wear it.
At the time, Amelia was the editor and publisher of the Lily, a women’s paper that advocated temperance and women’s suffrage, and she was also an active public speaker in New York state. She used her paper to promote the new look in women’s attire, and it soon became associated worldwide with her name. Called the Bloomer Costume, it was universally derided as indecent, Amelia was publicly ridiculed, and newspapers across the country shouted the news of the new brazen look in women’s attire from the headlines. In some circles, the Bloomer Costume was a hotter topic of debate than the slavery issue. The outfit became a symbol, not only for the reformation of women’s clothing, but also for the women’s rights movement.
Despite the outcry, Amelia continued to wear the style and the Bloomer Costume attracted a number of followers, women who were tired of sacrificing both their health and their comfort to the vagaries of fashion and an artificial definition of decency. Although Amelia’s advocacy of the Bloomer Costume did not bring about any lasting changes in fashion, it served as the inspiration for the bathing suits and bicycling outfits of the late 1800s, and her name has come down to the present. These days, any baggy pantaloons are called bloomers.
Amelia was born on May 27, 1818.