Friday, August 26, 2011

Partipants (for Participants)

If you think women's fashion trends are a hot button today, you should have been around a hundred years ago or so, when a girl couldn't even wear slacks without causing a sensation. In this picture captioned "Good Heavens! The Shirt!" from Vanity Fair's Bifurcated Girls Special Issue—"bifurcated" in this case meaning that women (stop the presses!) actually have legs—this daring young lady appears to be straddling the fence with bloomers bunched up under her trousers. (The editors are focused on something else, however: "She had been dressing in her brother's clothes and had gotten as far as the vest, when she suddenly realized that she had forgotten to put on the shirt. Oh dear, how silly she felt! She wouldn't have had her brother know the mistake she made for the world." Although, once she had gotten into his pants, who really cares about the shirt?!) Feminist Amelia Bloomer did not actually invent the pouffy pantaloons, but was a prominent advocate of this advance over the constricting corsets of previous generations. In fact, "bloomers" (like "suffragette," a derisive term contrived by the press) were invented by Elizabeth Smith Miller of Peterboro, New York. In 1909, Paris designer Paul Poiret attempted a revival of the bloomer costume with a combination of "harem pants" and a long tunic, but he was apparently a bit ahead of his time as well. According to Wikipedia, when he "presented the Russian Princess Bariatinsky with a Confucius coat with an innovative kimono-like cut, for instance, she exclaimed, 'What a horror! When there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that.'" Pants have been worn by women for over a century now, both for work (pantsuits) and play (party pants!) and women's fashion is now a participatory sport. The typo Partipants was found five times in OhioLINK and 57 times in WorldCat.

(From Vanity Fair, June 6, 1903, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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