What Would Amelia Bloomer Think?

While riding my bike to work this morning, I was thinking of Amelia Bloomer, and wondering what she’d think of my clothing. We’ve been having beautiful clear and dry weather, which means there’s a big temperature differential between morning and afternoon. It was a bit nippy this morning (49F / 9.5C) but I decided to wear a skirt anyway.

For one thing Mrs. Bloomer would certainly have said, “See, I told you Rationals were more sensible!” because my skirt kept blowing up above my knees. She’d have been shocked at its skimpiness, too: a full-ish gored skirt, but just below the knee, worn with no petticoats or combinations below, only thin leggings. On the other hand, she’d have marveled at my fabrics: the fine knit of my leggings with no sag, the no-iron crispness of my blouse, the light windproof warmth of my fleece jacket. I’m not sure what she’d think of my cabled vest; it’s knit of a finer yarn than any handknitter would use (the cables are 12 stitches wide but only about as wide as a 4-stitch cable in worsted weight would be; the yarn is more like thread). There were knitting machines in her day, but I don’t know if they could handle cables or yarn this fine. Still, at least she’d recognize it as a logical progression. She might have even wondered if it were knitted in a convent somewhere, and why they’d make such a utilitarian thing.

She wouldn’t be surprised at my self-winding watch (those appeared in 1923, but there were precursors in the late 1700s) though she might be surprised to hear that it runs on solar power, not the motion of my arm. She wouldn’t be impressed by the tooling of my boots; that technology hasn’t changed any. I don’t know if she’d recognize them as cowboy boots, but even if she did, there’s a long tradition of menswear being adapted for women. She might be impressed at the durability of their rubber soles, though, and even more that the soles aren’t clunky (you can’t tell they aren’t leather at a quick glance, unless you see the soles).

She wouldn’t be surprised at my bike, either; a Dutch stadfiets (city bicycle) is not much different from the bicycles of her day. Mine has three gears, which would be new to her but probably an expected development. A modern mountain bike might surprise her more … or maybe not, since its most advanced features are its materials, which wouldn’t be obvious and would require some explaining.

Come to think of it, she might also be surprised at my hair. It’s shoulder-length and I wear it down most days. Yet I am a married woman, and I suppose you could say I’m middle-aged (mid-40s).

The funniest thing is that within a mere quarter-century after her death, none of this except the advanced materials would be terribly shocking – it wouldn’t be fashionable, but it would at least be recognizable as possible developments in fashion.

Really, though, I suspect Bloomer wouldn’t have paid that much attention to my clothing. She’d have been too busy being thrilled that I can vote and earn a salary on par with my male colleagues.

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