Long, loose pants that are gathered at the ankle, bloomers were worn by women during the nineteenth century both as outer-wear and as underwear. Bloomers were part of a movement toward more practical clothing for women, and soon became closely identified with suffragists (women working for women's right to vote) and feminists (women working to improve the status of women). Many men were angry with the suffragists, and did not like women wearing pants, so they often ridiculed the new bloomer outfits.
As early as the 1820s some women had designed and worn a practical garment for traveling and other activities. This garment consisted of a knee-length dress over a loose pair of trousers gathered at the waist and ankle. The "bloomer dress" as it would come to be called, covered the wearer completely so that it provided the modesty that the times required. At the same time, it provided much more freedom of movement than the tight corsets and trailing skirts that most women wore.
In the mid-1800s, feminist writer and editor Amelia Bloomer (1818–1894) wrote favorably about the new outfit in her newspaper The Lily, and soon the new pants were dubbed "bloomers." Many men and women laughed at the new fashion, but some women found it very comfortable and sensible for such activities as bicycling, playing tennis, and travelling. In the United States, many women who traveled to the undeveloped West in wagon trains wore bloomers.
Though bloomers were not widely accepted as outerwear in the nineteenth century, they did become popular underpants for women and girls, and by the late 1800s, most women wore long, loose cotton bloomers under their long skirts instead of petticoats.
Bloomer, Amelia. "True History of the So-Called Bloomer Costume." Religio-Philosophical Journal. December 28, 1889. On Ephemera. http://www.spirithistory.com/blomer.html (accessed on August 6, 2003).
Gattey, Charles Nelson. The Bloomer Girls. New York: Coward-McCann, 1967.