Saturday, November 17, 2012

12. Little Boy's Breeches: Dress Reform

Little Boy's Breeches
By Becky Brown

"Little Boy's Breeches" can remind us of the fight for dress reform. The pattern was given that name in the Kansas City Star by someone who saw a pair of pants in the corners.

Mid-19th century-women carried their own cages with them. Corsets, petticoats and cage crinolines or hoop skirts impeded any movement, exercise or work. Fashion was a pretty prison.

Elizabeth Smith Miller,
Portrait from the Seneca Falls Historical Society.
I've lightened it to show the dress.
It's hard to say if reformers actually wore gathered hems---
Turkish trousers.

In 1851 Elizabeth Smith Miller designed a costume she considered more rational, a short dress over trousers with a gathered hem. Also important---no confining corsets and expansive petticoats. Friends in the reform movement adopted this rational dress--- the bifurcated garment.

Lucy Stone often wore rational dress
 for lectures on the abolition of
slavery and women's rights.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer advocated trousers for women in her magazine The Lily, a position that invited ridicule and a rush of subscribers. Soon the Bloomer Costume became a stereotype and the name Bloomers was irrevocably attached to women's pants.

Amelia Bloomer in the early 1850s

Fashion plates romanticized the
realities of bloomer costume.

From The Lily 1852
An accurate depiction of Amelia Bloomer's outfit.

Opponents of change were incensed by women in pants. Hooligans saw reform dress as a call for rotten eggs and verbal abuse. By the end of the 1850s most public speakers had abandoned trousers as so distracting that their major message, whether abolition, temperance or votes for women, was forgotten.

A new confining fashion in the 1870s

As silhouettes changed through the 19th century, dress reform advocates continued to preach rationality while press and pulpit decried the idea of women in pants as unnatural.

It wasn't until the 20th century that women in pants became socially acceptable.

The Block

Little Boy's Breeches
By Becky Brown

Little Boy's Breeches
By Georgann Eglinski
Georgann, a rational woman herself,
appliqued those britches.

(BlockBase #2961)
I changed the proportions a bit.

Cutting an 8" Finished Block

A - Cut 4 squares 2-1/2"
B & C - Use the templates.
D - Cut 1 square 2-3/8"

Cutting a 12" Finished Block
A - Cut 4 squares 3-1/2"
B& C - Use the templates
D - Cut 1 square 3-5/16"
Here's how Becky pieced the block. Make four of those corner units.Add them to the center. Y Seams.
Little Boy's Breeches
By Dustin Cecil
Katherine Hepburn in the early 1940s

Read the National Park Service biography of Amelia Bloomer here:


  1. In many parts of this country women lawyers weren't free to wear pants suits or any form if pants to court until the very end of the 20th Century. "Should I wear a skirt?" is still something to think about in the court room or business because if you don't know your audience pants could hurt your cause and it's not worth the risk of offending. Progress is unbelievably slow.

  2. We weren't allowed to wear pants to school when I was growing up. I'm talking 1960s ...
    I lived in Chicago -- cold winters! We wore snow pants under our skirts for the walk to school and took them off when we got there.

  3. I remember not being able to wear pants to elementary school but it was okay by the time I went to Junior High. The 60's in Kansas City where it can also be cold in the winter. :o) So glad my daughter and granddaughter did not/will not have to face that issue.

  4. There's a wonderful picture book about Amelia Bloomer called "You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!" by Shana Corey. At one point in my career I was a librarian in an elementary school, and I always read this to students in March, Women's History Month. (When I first started teaching in the late '60s, we were not allowed to wear pants! That's hard for young women to imagine. Now they have the option, and instead they dress like tarts. Go figure.)

  5. When I went to court for my divorce in 1978, the judge kept a wrap around skirt on hand in case any woman dared show up in pants. I'd like to see him try that now. I'd been warned, so I was dressed "appropriately".

  6. I remember when the bank tellers were "allowed" to wear pants in the early 70s. A friend of mine, a teller, said it was harder to catch coins that escaped her. With a skirt they always landed in her lap! We Public Health Nurses (who made home visits in those cold Midwestern winters) were finally "allowed" to wear pants in 1971.

  7. In 1955, when I was a first grader, I got up early one morning and dressed myself and walked to school. I was wearing turquoise pinwale corduroy pants and a cotton play shirt. My mother was called and I was made to go home and change into a dress. Boy, can I relate to this discussion!

  8. Could anyone who has block base please creat a 6” block and post here what size the corner squares and the one middle square should be cut. Thank you in advance.