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Lingerie And The History Of Underwear
( Orginally published November 1933 )
Part 3 - Undies Remake The World
Various forces were gathering to shape the underthings with which advertising was to deal and, again, to reshape Marjorie herself. One of the most potent of these was Marjorie's migration toward sports. Bloomers are again heard of when, along about the nineties, a sprinkling of young women got into gymnasiums to take up basketball and the like.
In this incarnation the garment was made of a gloomy heavy woolen material. The earlier models were gathered to the black stockinged leg by a band and buttons below the kneee. Elastic was then very little applied to clothing, if at a11, except in garters. Later a somewhat lighter-weight (lark blue serge was used, and elastic bound the bloomers in place above the knee, beneath the copious fullness which drooped below it. Bloomers not unlike these are apparently still in use in belated quarters where classes in calesthenics have not advanced to shorts.
A hybrid contraption which came into fame with its adoption by the advance guard of women cyclists, the divided skirt, was succeeded by an ankle-length cycling skirt, rather natty in effect. This continued to be popular throughout the bicycle era. Though following the introduction of the shortened skirt, a decidedly radical alteration in women's dress for public wear rode in on the bicycle and soon assumed the proportions of a heavy vogue. The Bloomer Girl became the popular figure of the scene.
The bicycle bloomers at first were on the general order of the gymnasium affairs just discussed and probably were at first largely homemade. It was not long, however, before a more tailored model, sometimes constructed of tweeds or other sports fabrics, made its appearance. In design it resembled a garment more properly termed knickerbockers-the knee-breeches worn by the Dutch and New Netherlanders in the seventeenth century.
For a time the two bicycling costumes, bloomers and knickerbockers (or, for short, knickers), seem to have been used more or less interchangeably. The bloomers were frequently worn beneath a scant skirt, with the bulky knees protruding. But, for that matter, so were the more tailormade knickerbockers.
In the great day of the bicycle, clothiers complained that only cycling suits could be sold. A newspaper item of 1896 asserts: "The cyclist has created a demand for all sorts of things that man never imagined he would need. The latest introduction made for the benefit of those who wheel is underdrawers that come to the knee." By 1904, curious as it may seem, the "wheel" was as much out of fashion, according to statistics of manufacture, as it is today. Or rather, until the present moment-when the bicycle, this time accompanied by shorts or pajamas, has reappeared at the outdoor haunts of dashing Fashion.
But in Europe, especially England, the Professor reminds us, the bicycle retained a degree of popularity for some time after the pastime had gone flop in the United States. Further, Englishwomen continued to go in much more for outdoor exercises, such, for instance, as walking jaunts, than American women. Thus in England knickerbockers for sports wear seem to have remained a social issue for an appreciable time after practically all American women had got back into swell street cleaning skirts. Something, at any rate, on the order of knickerbockers-arrangements of strap, cloth, and button.
These contraptions, generally worn with an abbreviated skirt, had a lining which was sent to the wash, and came to be popularly called Rationals. They were apparently identified in the English mind with the American invention. Writing in 1906, a public-spirited Englishman ferociously agin 'em remarks that his reader "is openly familiar with the term Bloomers, which, though hopelessly out of date, is the softer word of the two."
As described by this critic of feminine leg attire, none other than the learned and redoubtable "Lato," this garment"clasped round the legs, the center one solid piece of material, the upper portion buttoned up"-was "almost hermetically scaled by the pressure of the skirt, and the whole rendered more airtight still by an inner lining!" On historical grounds he found "Rationals," as a form of breeches, untenable for girls, and on hygienic grounds unspeakable.
On one point he was in accord with the future course of events. Declaring it "quite apparent that dual leg covering was never a staple article of women's dress," he concludes that "consequently it should be, as when first introduced," of the lightest possible description in contradistinction to Breeches or `Rationals.'" Bloomers were destined to pass on into even more glorious reincarnation-as silk knickers succeeding starched drawers.