Construction of the "Bloomer Costume"
Construction of the "Bloomer Costume"
(Courtesy of the Kean Archives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
I have been researching the history of nineteenth century dress reform for quite some time, but there has always been one aspect of the history that is difficult to thoroughly document. This "difficulty" includes how the rational dress of the 1850s was originally constructed. Because each dress reformer was responsible for designing her own clothing to her personal tastes, it is nearly impossible to say that a strict guideline exists for the construction of the dress. Primary documentation, such as newspaper or journal articles, diaries, and letters, can give us some glimpse into the past, but there are very few original "Bloomer Costumes" that still exist from that period in history. What I have decided to do with this page is create some very broad guidelines for the construction of the rational dress based on my own research of primary sources (mainly original articles from The Lily and The Sibyl as well as illustrations and other photographs). If you have any suggestions, comments, or see anything that might be wrong with my interpretation of the documentation, please feel free to email me at Bloomerite@hotmail.com. Thank you!
- May be made by shortening the skirt of a previously worn conventional dress only a few inches or up to the knees
- May consist of a frock worn with a blouse underneath and a skirt
- Is not worn with a corset, because this only defeats the purpose of the rational dress
- Is not necessarily decorated with fancy trim, collar, or cuffs
- Can be constructed with almost any fabric, from silk or velvet for more formal occasions to cotton or wool for more casual occasions or working environments
- Styles do not necessarily reflect the "fashions" of the time. For example, some of Dr. Hasbrouck's rational dresses reflected styles of earlier decades (such as neck lines, waist lines, trim, fabric).
Notice that the bodice of this rational dress is similar to the bodices of conventional dresses for women of the mid-nineteenth century.
- Can have straight legs
- Can be baggy and then gather at the ankles into a cord or band that buttons in the back, and from this band there may be a small ruffle
- Most will fasten on the right and left side of the waist with either 1, 2, or 3 buttons
- Some may button down the center of the waist like men's trousers
From these photos, the construction of the trousers are evident. The first photo shows how they fasten at each side of the waist via buttons. The second shows how each leg is gathered into a band at the ankle, which buttons in the rear. The last photo shows the complete trousers.
These photos show another pair of trousers constructed in a similar manner. These trousers would be worn for more formal occasions than the ones pictured above, as they have been constructed of silk taffeta, are much more full in the leg, and have two inch ruffles around the ankles.
The above logo was found on a business envelope from B. Salisbury & Company of Battle Creek, Michigan, c. 1890-95
(Collection of the Webmaster)
Examples of Original Rational Dresses:
- An article from the Water-Cure Journal mentions that one woman wore "stout calf-skin gaiters; white trowsers made after the Eastern style, loose, and confined at the ankle with a cord; a green kilt, reaching nearly to the knees, . . . confined at the waist with a scarlet sash tied upon one side, with short sleeves for summer, and long sleeves for winter, . . . a green turban made in the Turkish mode."
- In 1851 San Francisco, a woman was seen wearing a dress of "green merino . . . reaching below the knee some 3 or 4 inches . . . [and] loose, flowing trowsers of pink satin, fastened below the ankle."
- A letter written on 5 August 1851 describes a woman who attended a festival at Glen Haven Water Cure wearing "a short green tunic not reaching to the knee, and white linen drilling trousers made a la masculine [not gathered at the ankles and cut similarly to men's styles]."
- For the September 1892 issue of Arena, Elizabeth Smith Miller wrote an article reflecting on her days as a dress reformer. In it, she also described one of the dresses she wore during the winters of 1852 and 1853: "My street dress was a dark brown corded silk, short skirt and straight trousers; a short but graceful and richly trimmed French cloak of black velvet with drooping sleeves, called a cantatrice; a sable tippet, and a low-crowned hat with a long plume."
- The New York Times, in a 8 February 1853 article, reports that at a temperance convention in New York, "Mrs. [Amelia] Bloomer was attired in a suit of brown satin cut, of course, in the most approved style of her costume. Miss [Susan B.] Anthony was dressed in similar costume - material black silk."
- The Illustrated News, in a 28 May 1853 article, has an illustration of Lucy Stone wearing a "Bloomer Costume" of "black silk and velvet."
- In 1854 Maj. Edwin A. Sherman wrote that he saw "two ladies dressed in brown linen 'bloomers.'"
- The Northern Islander, in a 9 August 1855 article, mentions that a Mormon woman wore "full-length calico-pantalets, covered by a matching straight-waisted dress reaching down to the knees."
- The women's gymnastics uniform at Vassar College in 1865 consisted of a "dress of gray flannel, high necked, long sleeved, and ankle length skirts, with bloomers under the skirt."
Copyright 2002 by Britta Arendt