Amelia: The link between bloomers and women's suffrage.
I took my Witch's Britches to the Wychwood Forest Fair earlier this year. It was one of the best fairs I'd attended in a long while, and the perfect blend of country show and vicar's tea party (The latter possible only because the sun shone so gloriously). My stall was situated opposite a most inspiring woman who displayed heavy horses that she worked, single-handedly, in forests and woodlands of Wales.
But, I digress...
As I slowed at the entrance to the ground that morning, gave my stall name and eagerly awaited my instructions for the day, I was met by a friendly smirk. It's not often I can introduce myself as The Witch's Britches (obviously far more auspicious than the cat's whiskers, or the bee's knees). It seemed I had caused a stir even before my arrival, and I was duly informed there was a particular book held back for me at the second hand book stall!
The book gifted to me was titled 'Knickers: An Intimate Re-appraisal', By Rosemary Hawthorne. Of note, Rosemary observed that underwear had to be 'in sympathy' with the outer wear, or it wouldn't seem right. I know what she means. Have you ever started your day feeling like you've worn the 'wrong' knickers?
Rosemary wrote that knickers came into fashion for women only around 200 years ago, when the French 'Empire line' was all the rage. It was chilly, and an extra layer was advantageous. Of course, people didn't talk about the delicate matter of under layers, for fear they may be reminded women had legs, and all the other bits of anatomy that makes women women.
I giggled to read that women who dared to wear those unmentionables were considered 'lewd', and 'loose moraled'.
It was only in Victoria's reign that expanses of white linen underwear became fashionable. Long chemises were covered with 'divided' drawers and over worn with a camisole, before donning the dresses. The outer-most petticoat layer may have been edged with lace or Broderie Anglaise.
With the invention of water closets and hooped skirts, 'divided' drawers became the only practical answer. The garment legs were attached individually to a wide waistband, tended to reach to mid calf in length, with a large button at the back.
Sadly for women, their guts, hips, and unborn babies, fashion created ever wider skirts, smaller waists and tighter corsets. Some petticoats weighed 10lb in weight, and were hot and impractical to wear.Here's where Amelia Jenks Bloomer comes into the story....
Married to a Quaker in 1840's New York, and into the Ladies' Temperance movement already, Amelia got a bee in her bonnet about women literally 'jumping through hoops' to stay fashionable, when those clothes were so impractical and caused such serious health issues. She started to wear Turkish style bloomers under a shortened skirt and looser top. She spoke at rallies all over United States on women's rights. Many women adopted her style of wear for sports, work, and for ease of movement.
Amelia was ridiculed by higher society for her fashion statement, and when women's fashion changed to shorter skirts and lighter undergarments, she moved with the general female crowd. But during that time, she became the first to own, operate, and edit a newspaper specifically for women. ('The Lily' newspaper achieved a circulation of over 4,000). Amelia also attended one of the first U.S. Women's Rights Conventions, and remained an outspoken suffrage pioneer and writer for the rest of her life.
In one of her articles, she wrote.....
“The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. 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 of secondary importance.”
What would Amelia make of our fashion today? I think she'd enjoy it. We do, at least, have freedom in our fashion choices, and probably more so than we have ever done. Yes, she'd be disappointed that we are STILL suffering to achieve equality and respect while juggling as professionals, carers and life givers of tomorrow's population. She'd be sad that we still hold up half the sky despite the abuse and second rate treatment we receive around the world....
We have a vote, thanks to women like Amelia. We have a choice, too, to express ourselves by what we wear. We may wear clothes for comfort, for warmth, to impress, to brighten our days and those of lovers.... To some, bloomers may seem ridiculous, but I don't think I'll now view or wear them without being reminded of what they once stood for.
You'll find the perfect pair of bloomers for yourself, or to gift to a loved one, on my 'collections' sales pages. Ranges in size, style, and price, and I'm happy for personalised orders. Drop me a line.