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Bloomer girls on men's bicycles cause quite a stir in 1897!

The reporter added that a large number of citizens were demanding to know the names of these bloomer-wearing women

“On Friday evening last, two young women of the 6th ward were out bicycle riding, and would you think it, they were dressed in the very latest fashion – 'bloomers' you know.”

My heavens, what a spectacle!

The writer of this very short piece in the Sept. 28, 1897 edition of the Northern Advance seems to have been quite taken aback that this fashion movement had found its way to conservative small-town Barrie.

“They were scorching on the road between the gates crossing and Bothwell’s corner. Yes, and more than that, they were using men’s bikes. They thought no person saw them.”

The reporter added that a large number of citizens were demanding to know the names of these bloomer-wearing women.

Even though this version of the garment was not of the better-known underwear variety, but actually a forerunner to everyday pants, I would guess that any bloomer-clad Barrie girl of this era, if identified, might find her social invitations quickly dry up.

Bloomers were not new in the 1890s. There had been a previous craze in the 1850s, one that likely never made it to this still emerging community on the north shore of Kempenfelt Bay. First known as the Turkish dress, this alternative lower-body clothing piece was part of an early women’s rights movement.

The campaign ultimately fizzled and the style lost favour in the 1860s. Women returned to conventional dresses and skirts once again.

When, in the early 1890s, a renewed push for better health and welfare for women arose, the bloomer would again play a part.

This time, the cause was more centred on the physical well being of women and exercise was promoted as the way to improve their lives. Into this mix came the Rational Dress Society.

Formed in England, the group “protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms.”

At the same time, the bicycle was becoming very popular and was seen as the perfect way to exercise in the fresh air. Heavy skirts did not blend well with this two wheeled activity and so lighter sports skirts were created but that did not appear to satisfy the real bike enthusiasts such as the daring bloomer girls of Allandale!

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.

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Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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