The contemporary meaning of “bloomers” is not very precise. Google it and you’ll find mentions of underwear, nightwear and other kinds of clothing.
Bloomers once were extremely controversial and were a symbol of what in its time was very radical feminism. Bloomers were invented about 1850, and consisted of loose trousers gathered at the ankle, with a dress or short skirt worn overtop, and combined with a vest, not so different from today’s pants suit.
Women’s rights activists began to wear bloomers in public, arguing that the bloomers allowed women to be in public and maintain their modesty (this was an era when bare ankles and legs were considered provocative and improper). They were far more comfortable that the voluminous dresses that passed for high fashion at that time.
One of the most prominent activists for women’s rights was Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894). She was famed for her outspokenness on women’s rights to own property and to vote, and on temperance. HAmer advocacy of the style was so strident that the clothing came to be known after her name, bloomers. Both the style and the controversy faded after the 1850s.
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