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 Thank you!

  • The Dress:

    Notice that the bodice of this rational dress is similar to the bodices of conventional dresses for women of the mid-nineteenth century.

  • The 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:

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    Copyright 2002 by Britta Arendt