From bloomers to pantaloons
By Chad Ingram
Published July 19, 2018
Do you know the difference between bloomers and pantaloons?
Have you ever thought about what kind of discomfort women of the Victorian era must have endured to wear the fashion of the day?
Fashion Dictates, an exhibit exploring the hottest Victorian and Edwardian fashion (literally, it must have been so hot to wear this stuff), is now showing at the bank building at the Minden Hills Museum.
“It’s about what fashion forced the wearer to do,” says curatorial assistant Ruth O’Connell.
There were not just corsets, but under-corsets and over-corsets, worn in layers with other undergarments.
“So, about five layers,” O’Connell says.
“It was quite interesting learning how they tried to preserve their clothing,” she says. “Dresses were not to touch the skin.”
Because contact with skin tended to deteriorate dresses of the time, layered clothing was worn underneath. Those layers also served to over-emphasize the female form.
“Nothing was left unembellished,” O’Connell says.
Strict decorum regulated what length skirts should be, depending on location and the time of day.
“They could come down for tea in this ... but they could not leave the house in this,” O’Connell says, motioning to one dress.
Some neck could be displayed during the evening time, but necks were to be covered during the daytime.
As the Victorian era gave way into the Edwardian, came the emergence of lingerie, but not the kind you’re thinking of.
“Nowadays, we don’t think of lingerie as outerwear,” O’Connell says.
At the time, lingerie was a term for thin cotton dresses, which were cooler than the thicker cotton dresses popular during much of the Victorian era. They were translucent, however, layers of undergarments were still worn beneath.
As for bloomers, a term that has become synonymous with underwear, bloomers were not actually undergarments, but baggy trousers that a woman named Amelia Bloomer became infamous for wearing beneath her shortened skirts in the 1850s.
“At first, bloomers were outrageous and only worn by a few brave radicals,” reads a panel at the exhibit. “Several decades later, however, bloomers became popular as sportswear, worn for bicycling, gymnastics and swimming.”
Pantaloons were men’s pants, snug in fit and ending between the mid-calf and ankle.
As O’Connell points out, a couple of centuries later, pants similar to this are once again in fashion for men.
“In the early 1800s, that’s what they were also wearing,” she says.