Today is the birthday of Amelia Bloomer, who significantly impacted the future of fashion for all women. Born in 1818 in upstate New York, Bloomer championed the idea of pants for women. While she did not create the style, which was derived from images of the garb of middle eastern women, she was such a virulent advocate that the fashion itself came to be known as “Bloomers”.
Unfortunately, Amelia was unable to stand the ridicule, and returned to wearing dresses once the crinoline was introduced. For those of you who are not historically fashion-savvy, the crinoline is a stiff petticoat that allows the skirt of a dress to stand out away from the body. It was the forerunner of the hoop-skirt, and just another tool to help women hide their true shape from men. Clearly, if men ever got a glimpse of a woman’s true shape in the 1800s, they’d have all turned into raging satyrs. Or possibly not. Everyone was obviously very nervous about sex in the 19th century.
While Mrs. Bloomer rejected the comfort of pants for a stiff skirt that challenged mobility , her original passion for pants spurred into existence the Rational Dress Society of 1881. This London-based organization argued for attire for women that did not deform the body, as whalebone corsets did, and that did not require women to wear up to 14 pounds of undergarments to ensure that their figures were decently disguised.
As a positive aside, the elimination of voluminous skirtage no doubt saved countless lives – each year, scores of women burned to death when their garments went up in flames from passing too near fireplaces and candles.
The Rational Dress Society encouraged women to wear no more than 7 pounds of petticoats – a step in the right direction. The concept of comfortable clothing for women took a long time to mature, but it eventually did, as we can see by some of our fashions today. Though I might argue that some of today’s fashions are a step backwards – skirts that are too short and tops that are too tight don’t make a woman comfortable, even though they may be fashionable. As I’ve discussed before, we seem to be slaves to fashion. (Men are as well – it’s just less obvious.) Fashion designer Corinne Grassini has branded her clothing line the Society for Rational Dress, and while her fashions look loose and unrestrictive, the hemlines are still impractical.
Vincent Price, horror movie icon from the 1940s through the 1970s, was born today in 1911. I was in college (for freshman year) with his grandson, who looked just like him. I loved Vincent Price’s movies – they were scary but so corny that they weren’t scary. My favorite was The Pit and the Pendulum. Price and Poe seemed to have an affinity for each other.
Today in 1895, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for sodomy. Wilde was a fascinating and controversial character. His wit and his focus on beauty and pleasure above all things characterized a life that was full of struggle and selfishness. While married with two children, he had several socially prominent male lovers, one of whom was the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, who set the standard of rules of conduct for boxing matches for years to come. The Marquess, in a note left for Wilde in his club, implied that Wilde was gay. Wilde, given his blase nature, would probably have let this pass, but he was also one who could be easily influenced by his friends. In this case, his friends encouraged him to bring a suit for libel against the Marquess, which he did. The Marquess, with unlimited funds and resources at his disposal, proved, in his own defense, that his claim was not libelous, but was, in fact, true. And so Wilde’s suit was dismissed and he found himself charged with sodomy.
Two trials later, he was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labor. Wilde was an aesthete and totally unaccustomed to work, hardship or discomfort, and did not do well in prison. Upon his release, he retreated to Paris. His wife, who refused to speak to him or allow him to see his children, did provide him with a meager allowance, but he considered himself penniless. He wrote De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol in his three years in Paris, and died in L’Hotel d’Alsace on November 30, 1900 of cerebral meningitis. (Of L’Hotel, he remarked shortly before his death, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.”) He is now buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in a tomb marked by a modernist angel complete with silver genitalia, the original marble genitalia having been stolen by parties unknown.
On this day in 1937, 200,000 people crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on foot and roller-skate, as part of its inaugural day festivities. The suspension bridge, painted “international orange” for increased visibility in foggy San Francisco Bay, has 80,000 miles of wire in its cables, and connects San Francisco with Marin County. It’s the most popular place in the world to commit suicide; only 26 people are known to have survived the 245 foot drop into the Bay. Among the successful jumpers was the husband of a college acquaintance of mine. He was a nice guy who couldn’t stand the idea of their divorce. Very sad.
And finally, today is Cellophane Tape Day. So go ahead, try to find a roll of tape in your house. I’m sure you’re familiar with this mysterious phenomenon – you need tape, you go to look for it – everywhere – and can’t find it, so you go to the drugstore and buy three rolls of tape, come home, find the roll you couldn’t find before you went to the store, use it, and promptly lose the three new rolls you’ve just bought. It’s like some kind of spiritual planned obsolescence for tape.
Thus endeth the history lesson. Hope you feel slightly enlightened.