Life over the past year has been nothing like expectation. In the middle of a pandemic, it’s been hard to keep up with simple things, such as socializing, or even changing into something that isn’t sweatpants. It was the lack of constant action in our lives, however, that gave us the chance for introspection. Injustices and harsh stereotypes have been brought to light, including the unnecessary small pressures of growing into an adult. As a member of society, it leaves me with an inspiring hope for not only the future, but my part in it.
In a world full of changing ideas, how does one manage to make a difference? It’s a question that has held strong, especially in the United States. From the Revolutionary War to the protests of today, Americans all over the nation have stood up for what they believed in and worked to make the world a better place. During the 19th century, these feelings of change were at their peak. It was a time when people were realizing that human rights stood true regardless of race or gender, with one woman standing for something almost unheard of the time.
Amelia Bloomer was the daughter of two temperance activists, so she was no stranger to controversial ideas. Always standing out in a crowd, she married fellow activist Dexter C. Bloomer at 22. They both believed that women lacked many freedoms enjoyed by their male counterparts, even in simple matters such as staying informed or wearing comfortable clothing. Bloomer knew that if these small wishes could not be granted, rights such as voting would hardly be thought of.
“The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities,” Amelia Bloomer wrote in The Lily, the first women-aimed newspaper, run by her. “It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end to of secondary importance.”
In her eyes, the right to wear comfortable clothing was the most important of all.
The right clothes allowed more range of movement, which in turn would give women more opportunities to join the workforce. As well as this, comfortable and less restrictive clothing had fewer health risks than the constraining clothing of the time.
Bloomer was in contact with other suffragists of the time; Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were large supporters of her efforts, deciding to work together on the idea of comfortable clothing. After many failed attempts, the first version of what we know today as women’s pants were born.
Based on a Turkish style of clothing, the Turkish Bloomer was an entirely new style of dress that brought the skirt to the knees and looped pants around the boots. It dropped the weight of clothes worn by women by over 40 pounds, giving them comfortable and modest clothing that allowed freedom to move and work. It seemed like the answer to many problems that trapped women in the past—but like many other innovations of the time, it was faced with controversy.
Bloomer advocated by wearing the Turkish Bloomer everywhere, but was mocked by both men and women. Mainstream media would hire women to write poor reviews against the outfit, and soon her name would be synonymous with the clothing that sparked conversations across the nation. As much as the garment was disliked, it was also defended by activists everywhere. Within a few years, it became the largest topic at suffrage conventions, above both political and social rights.
As the Civil War began and tensions strained for other matters, the worries of women’s clothing tapered off into memory, but Amelia Bloomer’s efforts never stopped. She wore the Turkish Bloomer until the end of her days, continuing to advocate for the change that was ignored for generations. Posthumously, the outfit would come back once again with the hobby of bicycle riding. From then on, women’s clothing continued to change and innovate through removing even more fabric. Dresses grew shorter and pants became widespread as the world’s ideas changed yet again, leaving women with choices in clothing that would have been unimaginable to women during Amelia Bloomer’s age.
This unsung hero’s efforts completely changed the way women interacted with the world, and gave us freedom to wear what we wish. Amelia Bloomer left a mark on women’s history, and although credit is rarely given in her honor, she gave America’s women new visions and a chance to express themselves in a whole new light.
Today, as I wear the oh-so-comfortable sweatpants that seem so hard to leave, I find solace in Amelia’s story. Without her focus on something that may have seemed insignificant at the time, perhaps women today would not be able to wear clothes that truly express who we are now. There are many changing ideas in our modern world, many of them not entirely different from what Bloomer faced in her time. Could it be time for the next revolution in comfortable clothing, for men and women?