Another Girl in Pants

fashion plate from Paris in the early 1850s of a young woman in ”Turkish Dress” bloomers covered with a knee length skirt
Fashion plate from the early 1850s of a young woman in “Turkish dress.” In America this was considered indecent and the sort of thing only deluded women calling for women’s rights would wear. In Europe it was just generally considered a passing fashion with little political statement behind it.
March 3 1853 newspaper article from a Boston newspaper
March 3, 1853 from a Boston, MA newspaper

Both Emma and Harriet would be arrested several more times in various places for wearing pants. When Harriet was arrested for a third time in New York she claimed she had only worn trousers “to get more wages” as a man. As early as 1845 American cities were passing ordnances forbidding crossdressing or men wearing makeup. Cross dressing was considered “being in disguise.”

1851 parody of women in pants smoking and taking the man’s role in family affairs
1851 parody of women taking a man’s role in the family and wearing “pants.”
parody drawing of women wearing pants and smoking cigars
When not being lampooned, bloomers were sharply criticized as immoral because “women shouldn’t wear men’s clothes.”

Today, we’d hardly think of “bloomers” or “Turkish Trousers” as being pants. Named for an advocate of dress reform, Amelia Bloomer, the clothing was loose pants, tied at the ankles and covered with a knee length skirt. Bloomer was not the inventor of the fashion, however. That distinction belongs to James Caleb Jackson, owner of “Our Home On the Hillside,” the largest health spa in the country. At Jackson’s spa red meat, tobacco, alcohol, tea, and coffee were banned. Jackson believed unprocessed grains and fresh fruit combined with daily exercise were the cornerstone of health. While attending the spa to take the water cure women were encouraged to wear a costume Jackson invented called the “American Style.” Jackson believed this style allowed women much freer movement, comfort and health than the long, heavy dresses. Jackson eventually began publishing patterns for women to make their own “American Style.” Amalie Bloomer owned a magazine which reprinted the pattern and Bloomer herself was an advocate of dress reform. There was even an organization, the National Dress Reform Association, founded in 1856, but dissolved in 1865.

While many women adopted the new “pants” purely for the freedom of movement, some wore it as a badge of advocating for women’s rights. In Europe, the style was not viewed as making a political statement, merely as a passing fashion.

1856 political cartoon showing Republican candidate Jon Fremont favoring women’s rights and free love. Interesting that women favoring equal rights are shown smoking a cigar and wearing pants, while women favoring “free love” are depicted as old crones in traditional dress.
1856 political cartoon showing Republican candidate Jon Fremont favoring women’s rights and free love. Interesting that women favoring equal rights are shown smoking a cigar and wearing pants, while women favoring “free love” are depicted as old crones in traditional dress.
satirical drawing of a young woman in pants asking a man for permission to marry his son
satirical drawing of a young woman in pants asking a man for permission to marry his son

Bloomers were popular with women in wagon trains going West. During the Civil War, women in western border states working as nurses often wore bloomers.

Women’s rights advocate Lucy Stone in bloomers or pants. Notice the straight leg style pants under a longer skirt than the one at the beginning of this article.
Women’s rights advocate Lucy Stone in bloomers or pants. Notice the straight leg style pants under a longer skirt than the one at the beginning of this article.

In the east, Dorothea Dix, head of the Union Army’s women nursing forbade any nurse from wearing bloomers. Dix would recruit only married women who were plain looking and could wear clothes of grey, brown or black. Dix was concerned if nurses were in the least bit alluring, Army doctors and other officers would harass them. Dix viewed bloomers as many did at the time — racy and indicative of a women who might have a liberal view of morals.

Dr. Harriet N. Austin James Caleb Jackson’s adopted daughter. Note her straight leg pants under a long skirt.
Dr. Harriet N. Austin James Caleb Jackson’s adopted daughter. Note her straight leg pants under a long skirt.

By 1870, few women wore any sort of pants, the vast majority having reverted to traditional dresses.

women of the Oneida Community in the 1870s wearing pants
An exception to the fading fashion — women of the Oneida community wearing “pants.” A “free Love” community in which women were encouraged to pursue any work or activity that appealed to them, “pants’ were considered more comfortable and sanitary.

In the 1890s as women were beginning to ride bicycles, “bicycle bloomers” were acceptable on a woman. We would call them knickers in the United States. Bicycle bloomers passed as bicycle makers started making “girl’s bicycles” with area in front of the seat for a dress. A similar design was invented, though, for women to wear exercising or participating in sports such as tennis or basketball.

In the 1950s, bloomers came to refer to baggy underwear preferred by old ladies in the 1920s and 1930s.

James Caleb Jackson
James Caleb Jackson

As a sort of footnote: Jackson invented a forerunner of the Grape-Nuts cereal as well as writing numerous books expounding his views on health. Among them, Dancing: Its Evils and Benefits and The Sexual Organism — Its Healthful Management

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steel sculptor (34 years), novelist,short whimsical fiction and non-fiction.

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Joel Haas

Joel Haas

steel sculptor (34 years), novelist,short whimsical fiction and non-fiction.

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