When I was in my late teens, early twenties, we wore our jeans so tight that we had to lie on the bed to zip them up. Anyone remember that? Now that I think of it, it was torture...but it was a self-chosen torture. Would I wear them today? Not on your life. Today, women were corsets and tight clothing by choice, but there was a time, that no self-respecting woman would go without...and those with the daring to try to change the fashion were scorned.
"The costume of women should be to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance."--Amelia Jenks Bloomer
The use of clothing to accentuate or modify the human shape is as old as civilization, and there are few cultures who have not, at one time or another, sought to impose distinctive and unnatural outlines according to sex or social status. And unfortunately, the female or so-called "weaker" sex has been made to endure more than their fair share of this punishment. And one of the most interesting forms of fashion was the corset.
Women have always been considered the weaker sex. I don't like it, but it is a fact of life. Even today in societies where women have been granted their freedom, we still find ourselves considered by males as 'weak'. And, in the 1830's, women were not only thought of as weak in body and mind, they were fragile as well. And because of this, they needed assistance in some form to hold them up. Yes, this nonsense was believed by both men and women. As a result, even young girls as old as three or four, found themselves laced up into corsets. And gradually, corsets were both lengthened and tightened so that by the time a girl reached adolescence, her body had become so used to this that she was unable to sit or stand for any length of time without the aid of a heavy corset which was reinforced with steel or whale bone. These corsets were laced so tightly that numbness in the lower body and legs...and even fainting were frequent occurrences, thus only serving to reinforce the belief that women were a fragile, helpless creature.
In actually, the corset was an oppressor of women which condemned them to painful submission. The corset is considered the ultimate symbol of female servitude...and there were definite physical effects from wearing them. For example, over time, the lower back muscles became so used to the additional support that atrophy set in and with the corset, the muscles were unable to support the spine. Women suffered from breathing problems and the liver is squeezed so tightly that, in some cases, women and girls died in agony when their livers were pierced by the ribs.
Amelia Jenks Bloomer was born in Homer, New York in 1818. Although she had only two years of formal schooling, Amelia became a schoolteacher. This led her to meet her husband, Dexter Bloomer, and although she was only 21 at the time, she already had developed a feminist philosophy; hence, their marriage vows made no mention of 'obeying'. Dexter was a Quaker with a very progressive attitude, and he encouraged his wife to write articles for his newspaper. Thus, over the next several years, Amelia wrote several articles on women's rights and prohibition.
Eventually, she met Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who encouraged her to start he own bi-weekly newspaper, "The Lily". She used the journal to promote the causes of women's suffrage, temperance, marriage law reform, and higher education for women. The journal was a huge success, and in 1851 Amelia began to publish articles concerning women's clothing. She began to advocate for a more comfortable style of clothing for women by abandoning the tight corsets and stiff petticoats for a garment which later became known as 'bloomer fashion'.
The baggy bloomer trousers reached came down to the ankle and were worn with a simple knee length skirt
Although Amelia was never wholly successful in the dress reform which has kept her famous, the idea of the 'sensible women' promoted in her journal had a huge impact on the American consciousness, and her fashion look and her crusade for women's dress reform provoked a nationwide controversy. A year after her death in 1895 some women began accepting a form of of the bloomer fashion style.