The factor of departure for feminism is the desire for women to be dealt with equally to men in the society and to be allowed favorable conditions so that they can self-actualize fully. Around the world in general, and the United States, in particular, structural injustices put girls in a subordinate position, given that cultural values and moral codes restrict them from doing many matters that men were privileged to do. Women have been considered as a home builder, and all the obligations about that were undertaken by them. In the feminist struggles, there are few cases of the issues surrounding the meaning of cloths and motives for their invention. Social scientists have not attempted to glare meaning out of clothing and designs as they have been left to fashion designer. However, in the 1850s, a publication by Amelia Jukens Bloom in her journal The Lily, brought about controversial debates in the United States, sending ripples around the world . While her dress design is in no way controversial by the standards of dressing today, its history has valuable information that can be gleaned in the cultural and artistic context, with regards to the modern day fashion . In this paper, we look at the features of the bloomer as it first appeared and explored the elements. By discussing its beginning and evolution, we shall elucidate its effects on the history of fashion.
Dress reforms came to the United States after the publication of the Bloomer dress by Amelia Bloom. At that time, the dressing code of women was subjective, except they had not realized it. Moral values and laws dictated that women wear long skirts while they did everything. Elizabeth Miller was the inventor of the dress,
“The dress looked tolerably well in standing and walking, but in sitting, a more awkward, uncouth effect, could hardly be produced- a perpetual violation of my love of the beautiful. So, by degrees, as my aesthetic senses gained claimed the ascendancy, I lost sight of the great advantages of my dress–its lightness and cleanliness on the streets, it’s allowing me to carry my babies up and down stairs with perfect ease and safety, and its beautiful harmony with sanitary laws–, consequently the skirt was lengthened several inches and the trousers abandoned.”
She was concerned about how the dress caused inconveniences during her daily chores and decided to make her dress out of the traditional Turkish trouser, by adding a skirt to a length below the knees. It is while at her friend’s, Mrs. Stanton that she met Amelia Boomer, who adopted the dress and published it in The Lily journal, from which she taught women how to make their dresses. Elizabeth revealed that the dress was also one of the ways that women were subjugated in the society as conventional skirts they wore were heavy and cumbersome when carrying out some tasks. The social changes during that time, including the inclusion of women in sports such as horse riding, bicycles riding, swimming and soccer were complicated to go about in those dresses.
Another driving force behind this change of dress code for women was by the water cure movement. In the mid-19th century, women were flocking at the restorative water resort to get cured for different kinds of diseases. Walking these waters was difficult with the long dresses that were dragging on the ground and attracting water and dirt . These petticoats were made in a way to keep the bell shape. The dresses were cotton made, slim to the waist while broadening to the knee. The cuts of the bodice were also restricting comfort and movement. With the introduction of bloomers, there were public outages from those opposed to the feminist actions, arguing that the change of code to imitate men’s trousers was a subversion of men’s authority. In the military, nurses who were being allowed to perform nursing services were barred from wearing the bloomers. But, as the civil war progressed and workforce was diminishing, volunteers who were called to undertake military service wore the bloomers in the field . The orthodox clergy was not welcoming ladies in the church who wore the bloomers. Through the use of media journals, they mocked the move by reformers by drawing cartoons of them, engaging in male indiscretions such as smoking cigarettes.
The changes made to the traditional model were due to the social changes and agitation by professionals that the dresses were unhealthy for women. The shift in fashion was a process through several silhouette changes; from bell-like shapes to hourglass-like shapes and back to bell-like shapes. During those times, the change in fashion silhouette was inconsiderate of the female’s natural body shape, but rather the undergarments that they wore . The undergarments included; chemise, petticoats, loops, bustles, and corsets. The idea, in the cultural context of the time, was that appearance reigned over the individual’s feelings of the women, and so, the undergarments were designed to create an artificial shape. As such, it is what led the feminist, doctors, educators, sports enthusiast and other pro dress reformers to declare the fashion unhealthy to women.
The bloomers gained popularity and were considered a symbol of feminist movements. As they crisscrossed the country, they encouraged all women to find their bloomers. Reformers realized that women were caught up in the bloomers fashion that the heckling they were receiving from the anti-feminist public became counterproductive . Women were now focused on the fashion rather than their liberation. After few years, they reverted to the conventional clothes that, in 1855 were far made of cotton, and silk by the year 1865. They had some change in them that was different from the 1843 woolen silk material. The new dressing introduced crinolines that were whalebone or steel strips placed on the top back of the petticoat in a separate pannier puff to hold out the elaborate draping at the back of the skirt bustle. Fashionable women’s clothing styles shed some of the extravagances of the previous decades, but corseting continued to increase in severity. The early 1890s dresses consisted of a tight bodice with the skirt gathered at the waist and falling more naturally over the hips and undergarment than previous years . Petticoats were corded and lined with horsehair and finished with a braid and straw at the hem. Spring steel hoops were set into petticoat or onto cloth strips to hold the petticoats and skirts away from the body in a bell shape. Nonetheless, the bloomer dress continued to gain popularity.
In the arena of sports, the solution for restrictive dress codes included an introduction to pants as the archetypal gymnastic suits for students in high schools . The dress reformers influenced artistic designers to model clothes that would imitate the men’s pants for athletes. Athletic bloomers were introduced, and their design was different from that of the bloomer- a knee-length buggy trouser, fastened below the knees. Later on, they added shorts; hence, there was a transition that was being dictated by culture. Fashion eroticized femininity to play out, and ladies’ team abandoned bloomers and short sleeved shirts to wear tank tops and shirts. At this time, trousers were reserved for biking and hiking.
According to the dress reformers, beauty and power went together and so, despite them advocating for dress reforms, they were interested in maintaining the outlook of women. Feminist authors supporting the change in dressing always used the portrait of Venus de Milo as a mark sheet to beauty . The traditional conventional dress destroyed the natural beauty and formation of women. Thus, the artist maintained the principles of art to advocate for good dressing. Exhibitions on women’s dress and paintings were held to this effect. In Britain and France, art and craft reformers wrote about the reformed and designed dresses for artists.
As such, it is evident that the introduction to bloomers gave light to the modern day women fashion. Today, there is an exchange of fashion whereby male features appear in feminist’s attire. As such, it is in line with the modern day struggle of structural inequality that primarily seeks to give everyone the legitimacy to whatever they desire. There is no single activity that men do which women do not feature in it. The fashion designers always seek to keep up with these times. While the bloomers only took a short time before its proponents detested it, it has inspired the growth of fashion industry. Cloths are made according to the desires of the person ordering them and without regard to any cultural reference.
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