Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bloomers - Victorian's Secret

Woman smoking, Knickers, Victorian, Vintage, Edwardian,
Come on! You're kidding right? No? What's wrong with you?


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-94) of New York, who advocated such dress.]

Singular, Historical.
1 In full bloomer costume, bloomer dress = sense 4 below. M19

2 bloomer trousers = sense 5 below. M19

3 A woman who wears a bloomer costume. M19

In plural
4 Historical. A woman's costume with loose trousers gathered at the ankle or knee. M19

5 Historical. Knee-length trousers or knickerbockers,
especially as worn by women for active pursuits as cycling etc. L19

6 A woman's or girl's loose knee-length knickers; colloquial knickers of any style. E20

Also: bloomered adjective wearing bloomers L19. bloomerism noun (Hist.) the principles of A. J. Bloomer as to female dress. M19.

I find bloomers to be rather lovely. I know they're anathema to many today, probably most, men and women alike, and they represent the very antithesis of sexiness, associated more as they are with stuffy grandmothers and matronly aunts than anything you'd actually like to cuddle up next to at night. But if you would just put aside, for a moment, those old prejudices and associations, look at bloomers with fresh eyes, ones that haven't been sullied by years of negative reinforcement and familial associations, I think you will come to agree with me that bloomers are in fact very, very sexy indeed.

Even if you're determined to disagree, the history of bloomers and bloomer costume is jolly interesting and has always been steeped in controversy. If you're a woman from the Western world and you're sitting reading this in a pair of trousers or jeans, then you actually have good reason to be thankful to bloomer dress, as it was this style in the 1850s that helped usher in the concept of women wearing trousers. And, yes, it was a concept, and one that was met with near hysterical opposition from the conservative classes. Prevailing fashion of the time dictated that women wear whale-bone corsets to achieve the desired feminine shape, and these were so tight that they would actually displace the internal organs. Therefore, various journals and writers started urging women to adopt styles that were more conducive to good health.

Women smoking, Suffrage, Women's rights
 Tut tut tut. Women smoking, drinking, lounging and reading - that's what men do!
Although she did not invent the style, American Amelia Bloomer wrote an article in 1851 saying that she had adopted the Turkish style of dress, that of wearing baggy pantaloons underneath a skirt, and she printed instructions on how to make it. Newspapers quickly dubbed this the "Bloomer Dress", and very soon there was a "Bloomer Craze" across the nation. Bloomer banquets, picnics and balls were held, and bloomer dress quickly became associated not only with women's independence from "the despotism of Parisian fashion", but also the wider debate of women's rights and suffrage. Conservative opposition quickly descended on bloomerism, with suggestions that the style would quickly lead to the usurpation of male authority. Hysterical cartoons appeared in newspapers showing women smoking and sitting with their legs crossed, or working while the husbands looked after the children. 

During the 1890s, bloomers were specifically recommended as a comfortable and practical style for riding bicycles, and skirtless bloomers were adopted for other athletic pursuits. During the 1920s and 1930s, it became more respectable for women to wear trousers in a variety of situations, and bloomers first got shorter and then ultimately became less common. The baggy undergarments (knickers) that fall to just below knee-length were popular throughout the 1910s - 1930s, after which they too declined and became more associated with the older generation. It's these undergarments that are most commonly thought of when one mentions bloomers, and I for one feel they are grossly undervalued and maligned.

Women's suffrage, Sports team,
The athletic bloomers. 
There is still interest in bloomers, however; I'm not alone. They're common fare in lingerie and period dress shops, and there are also videos on YouTube showing how you can make your own set of bloomers. Personally, rather than the tawdry, no-imagination-required styles of modern underwear and lingerie, I think there are few things more alluring than a subtle, silky set of flattering bloomers. And considering the historical and sociological discussions that a set of vintage bloomers is bound to prompt, there can be few things more stimulating that one could wear in the bedroom.

What do you think of bloomers?

Do you think they're bloomin' lovely or bloomin' awful?

Have they in fact led to a rise of women smoking, reading newspapers and having their own opinions?

Do please leave your pantalooniest comments below.


  1. I also find bloomers particularly sexy ed, but my wife says they make me look even more stupid.


    1. Submit a picture to Lexi and we'll put it to a public vote.

    2. I'd be glad to vote, just to confirm what you already know.

      I learned about bloomers in uni (history of fashion) and thought it was probably one of the most interesting evolutions in both fashion and the emancipation of women. And also, I do think they look cute, yes. Cute can be sexy :)

    3. It *is* fascinating isn't it? I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks so. And yes, cute can be sexy, but I think they're sexy in their own right. *Very* sexy.

    4. Mind of man is a weird place sometimes.

    5. You said it, Bibi.

      I can't say I agree with the cuteness or sexiness of bloomers... sorry, folks.

  2. Add me to the bloomin' lovely list!
    I love the athletic look in the picture, and I think they'd make wonderful PJ's for all ages, at any length,

    1. They should make a comeback. They have to. They must!

  3. Bloomers are utterly terrifying. I remember as a child seeing voluminous bloomers flapping on washing lines and wondering if one day my body would change so much that they'd fit me.

    They were huge. I mean, HUGE. And the legs were so far apart...

    Oh the horror, the horror...

    1. Out of context and in isolation I can see the horror - but on the right person ...

  4. Knee-length knickers? Seriously?? I suppose at least there wouldn't be any wedgies... :)


    1. Oh yes. Nothing says sexy like "also quite practical"

  5. If I could get away without being ostracized for it (which is mostly bad because I'd have no one to relay homework assignments with), I would wear bloomers, with the skirt, everywhere except the robotics lab. There I would still wear jeans. A good thing about loose clothing is that if it's a size too small, it doesn't matter. My pants always get too small. Yet if I get a size too large, I look like a rag bag. Jeans aren't meant to sag. You're meant to buy more jeans if you grow, or shrink, half an inch at the waist. For the most part, those bloomers are adjustable, even without the fact that people knew how to sew back then.

    As for the sexiness, bloomers are so much easier to put your hand up the leg than jeans are. And those ruffles can be exciting to some. The poofiness reminds me of falling into a pillow-top bed with a ton of soft blankets and cuddly things.

    And actually, I'd probably go for medieval style dresses, which did have poofy undergarments in some cultures. And they made dresses sturdy and practical. I actually have made a few items for that, but I'm just starting out.

    Hmm, did Bloomers affect the way society accepted women? Certainly. Did it make them smoke? No. Did it make them able to defend themselves and fend for themselves? Not immediately, but eventually. Did it put women in the work force? Again, not directly, but it helped greatly.

    Ending thoughts: Leave the skin-tight jeans for the tasks that require it(factory/robotics/machinery). Leave the half-thigh-length skirts for the brothels and prostitution dens, not in the office. Let's see decorative garments that don't flash your genitals. Let's see draping cloth and plenty of fabric for mending. Let's see beauty beyond flesh and sex.

    1. A compelling treatise on the benefits of bloomers indeed! We are of one mind.

  6. Tastes change according to period but honestly with what they wear I find them anything but sexy!

  7. My wife wears nothing but skirts and dresses, usually longer ones, and bloomers underneath. No more chafing and if her skirt blows up riding her bike there's nothing to see but satin and lace. (They are also very sexy when I follow her up a ladder!) I even dye them her favorite colors!
    They are the best discovery we've made for active, sexy women in skirts.

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