Possible Inspirations for the "Bloomer Costume"

Possible Inspirations for the "Bloomer Costume"

(Courtesy of Graham's Illustrated Magazine, August 1858)

Some historians argue that Western society was fascinated with Middle Eastern styles of clothing throughout the early nineteenth century, especially the pantaloons, which became known as "Turkish trousers." Magazine illustrations, such as the one above, depicted Eastern women wearing their traditional pantaloons, and may have been the model for many women trying to design trousers for their rational dress.

(Courtesy of Catherine Smith, co-author of Women in Pants, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers)

Here is a carte-de-visite image of two women wearing "Turkish trousers," c. 1860-70.

(Courtesy of the Oneida Community Mansion House, and Courtesy of Catherine Smith, co-author of Women in Pants, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, respectively)

In the early ninteenth century, some religious affiliations and utopian societies (including the Oneida Community and New Harmony) advocated a "simple dress" for their female members that would promote better health and freedom. The young women pictured above don the characteristic dress that many women of the Oneida Community in New York wore.

(Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin)

Some of the most typical wearers of the rational dress were neither feminists nor members of a particular religious community. Instead, they wore the dress for practical and health reasons. It was much easier for women to complete tasks or work while clothed in trousers rather than long skirts. Pioneer women, such as the one pictured above, who travelled West to create new lives for themselves and their families found reform dress to be a necessity.

(Courtesy of Water-Cure Journal, January 1852)

Gaining popularity in the early nineteenth century, hydropathic therapy consisted of applying cold water to various parts of the body via showers, baths, or compresses. These precursors to modern day spas promoted healthy living, and the isolated locations of the spas made them perfect environments for women experimenting with dress reform. Anyone interested in hydropathy would have had easy access to information on the rational dress by simply reading the Water-Cure Journal or visiting one of the spas.

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Copyright 2002 by Britta Arendt