I didn’t realize I knew Amelia Bloomer even before I read about her for this post. Growing up in a cluster of all-girls, uniform-enforcing schools, I was introduced to one of her lasting gifts to the world first hand: the bloomer.
In the group of three girls-schools in my local neighborhood, two of them required bloomers under their school uniforms. Bloomers, those shorts-like over-under-garments which kept the wind from undoing the prim uniform dresses we wore, were mocked pretty ruthlessly by the girls at our school. No bloomers for us, we cried.
So we wore boxers under our uniform skirts. And spandex bike shorts. And had the option of culottes (shorts as part of our skirt uniform). No bloomers for us. Apparently we were not all that clear eyed when it came to irony.
We wore all those additions because we were active children and youth. We walked blocks to school, ran, climbed, and used our bodies in ways which children and youth should. The traditional garments (skirts and dresses) assigned to us (which would change during my high school years to include the option of trousers) were unable to keep up with the practicalities of being, you know, a human.
Today is the lesser feast day of Amelia Bloomer. She was more than the creator of her namesake clothing item; she was originally a writer and editor of The Lily, a publication devoted to the cause of temperance in the mid-1800s. As part of the Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society, she found her initial work deep in what she termed ‘the defenders of the home’—that drinking was the main cause of impoverished children and unstable homes.
As editor, her writing stemmed from temperance, but grew into a wider understanding of the causes which left families and children hemmed into poverty with no recourse. She wrote about women retaining their earnings instead being allocated to a husband, for the right to the ballot box and for wider vocations for girls and women. During this time, she introduced Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to one another, marking a milestone in women’s rights going forward.
Along with all of the greater issues at hand, Bloomer became interested in the concept of ‘dress reform.’ She created a pants-and-tunic outfit, which allowed women to no longer be hindered by long and heavy dresses. She didn’t mean to take credit for it, but her advocacy earned her the namesake outfit and requests for patterns came pouring in, and the ‘bloomer’ was created.
On my grander days as parent, priest, participant in the world, I think of all the greater schemes in life before me: transformation of souls, fostering creative thinkers and feelers, cultivating a world of peace and justice. On my regular days, which far outstrip my grander ones, I am faced with changing diapers on the floor, yogurt on my shoulder, fourteen bags and backpacks in hand, a dog who won’t walk herself responsibly, and a paten of wafers in the furthest, farthest corner of our apse behind all the unmovable chairs which need both gathering and consuming.
Life, in theory, is easy and aspirational. Life, practically, demands that we descend into the incarnate mess of things and literally get down on the ground to make it all work.
I see lots of posts about women especially bemoaning going to pick up or drop off or around town in ‘yoga pants and a messy bun,’ implying that they haven’t pulled themselves together to be appropriate or respectable in public. There are entire websites and blogs devoted to rectifying the yoga pants and messy bun look.
The reality is that life is messy and requires more of our bodies and souls than we anticipate. The reality is that our dressing for ‘work’ (touching, holding, carrying, dragging, bending down to look into a child’s eyes or wiping tears or kissing a cheek) means that we need to be able to move and stretch and live into this incarnate being in this particular season of parenting. To imagine that a uniform, designed for theoretical women by real life men from decades, or even centuries past, should be one which limits that missional work denies what the incarnation can truly mean to us – that the work of the world is holy, real and necessary to understand that God is and will always be here with us.
So, Amelia, patron saint of yoga pants, I salute you. I didn’t know you before, but I knew what your gift to women and families has given to me, which it has in turn given to my children as I haul them both around with love, mostly football style, and not flash anyone in the process.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]