Bloomerism in Corning New York, 1851

photo 10This past summer we visited the Corning Glass Museum (well worth the visit), where Kenn took a photo of an 1851 painting in their collection depicting the earliest known view of Corning, before the glassworks were built.

photo 8The view of the town depicts a couple taking a stroll with the woman dressed in a Bloomer costume: an outfit named for Amelia Bloomer consisting of loose fitting ‘harem’ trousers, like those worn by women in the Middle East and Central Asia, under a short skirt.

The weight of multiple petticoats required to achieve the full skirt fashionable at the time caused editor Amelia Bloomer to advocate for dress reform in her publication The Lily: “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.”

Bloomer was not the first to adopt the bifurcated costume. Both New England temperance activist Elizabeth Smith Miller and actress Fanny Kemble began wearing what they considered to be the more rational trouser costume during the day. Miller showed her trouser outfit to her cousin Elizabeth Stanton who wore one when she visited Amelia Bloomer. Bloomer immediately took up the fashion and it was her name that became associated with the style. Subjected to ridicule in the press and harassment on the street, Bloomer stopped wearing the fashion named for her in 1859, saying (surprisingly) that the crinoline was a sufficient reform from conventional dress as the crinoline took the place of multiple petticoats.

The bloomer costume survived in the form of bathing and gymnastic sportswear, as well as another name for pantaloons or knickers.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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