Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Bloomer Costume

"I feel no more like a man now than I did in long skirts, unless it be that enjoying more freedom and cutting off the fetters is to be like a man. I suppose in that respect we are more mannish, for we know that in dress, as in all things else, we have been and are slaves, while man in dress and all things else is free." - Amelia Bloomer 

In my painting and study of modern dress, it is essential for me to look to the past as well. I recently read about the 'Bloomer Costume' of the 1850's. It was meant to be a trend to begin the women's liberation movement but it was cast aside as a sideshow. At the time, women's dress was restrictive, heavy and even spread illness - by the long skirts sweeping the floor's dirt. Instead of being the catalyst for a new freedom for women, it was ridiculed. Any woman who dared parade the streets in one became a spectacle. British explorer Richard Francis Burton, travelling across the United States in 1860 noted that he saw only one woman (whom he called a "hermaphrodite") wearing bloomers.*

For my next mannequin painting I think I will use a source that I captured in Palm Springs. Much like city itself, she seems to be imported from the 1950s. She is wearing a polka dot suit. Unlike the bloomer, in the last century and a half, this costume has become socially accepted. It has enough frills, darts and adornments to keep her out of the "hermaphrodite" category. When drawing her, it is almost like she is selling the suit by saying 'Don't you see? We are liberated now.' 

I do not consider myself much of a feminist, but I was taken aback by the recent presidential election bringing back some archaic stereotypes. A suit like this makes me think of how Mitt Romney justified - no equal pay, but he’ll get you home in time to cook dinner.

I wonder if Ameila Bloomer would be contented to see where we are now?


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