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Amelia Bloomer wins the Victorian crinoline wars

Posted in America, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Leisure on Friday, 27 April 2012

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This edited article about Amelia Bloomer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975

Cycling in bloomers, picture, image, illustration

Cycling in bloomers was a huge step towards the emancipation of Victorian women, by Peter Jackson

Amelia Bloomer’s ideas of women’s wear were greeted with derision. But she was a dauntless pioneer who was determined that women were going to look fetching in bloomers.

This is a tale of women’s lib and male chauvinist pigs, Victorian style, and they have never come piggier than in Victorian times. It is also the story of a scorned but dauntless pioneer, whose ideas were greeted with derision. She rejoiced in the name of Amelia Bloomer.

The 1850s and ’60s saw women encased in crinolines. They were introduced in 1856 because the weight of petticoats worn by ladies of the day was becoming enough to make all but the toughest swoon. The “cage crinoline” or hooped petticoat gave them a huge steel cage in which they could move. Liberation had come.

But high winds exposed their legs, sorry, limbs: legs were not fit subjects for conversation at the time. So pantaloons were worn, long enough to conceal the limbs.

The trouble was that crinolines, which today look beautiful to us, became so wide that it was out of the question for two ladies to pass through a door at the same moment. As for sitting together on a sofa, it was impossible. Not until the 1870s did the fashion disappear after a long reign.

Meanwhile, even before crinolines became outsize, an American reformer, Mrs. Bloomer, had tried to liberate women weighed down by all those petticoats. In 1850 or so, long before be-crinolined ladies were practically taking off in a high wind, she designed a simple skirt which fell below the knees, and underneath which were baggy trousers that ended in frilly lace. A pretty woman with a good figure, like our Amelia, looked very fetching in her bloomers.

It must be admitted that larger ladies would not have looked so good, but that was not the point at issue. Victorian manhood was outraged at women wearing the trousers, and women meekly obeyed them, treating Mrs. Bloomer with the outraged contempt their menfolk considered she deserved. She fought on during the crinoline age, but was routed.

She had the last laugh though, for she lived until the 1890s when bloomers became the fashion for lady cyclists. Cycling plus bloomers was real liberation.

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