how the west was worn bloomers cowgirl magazine

Maneuvering through the dusty streets and rough terrain of the Wild West proved women’s complicated wardrobe of hoop skirts, elaborate jewelry, and long gowns impractical. A lady’s traditional floor-length garments hampered her ability to move freely, and in some instances were health hazards. Many women were disfigured or killed because of burns suffered when their voluminous skirts caught fire without her noticing it until they were engulfed in flames. There were even accidents involving women’s bulky crinolines that led to injury and sometimes death.

“About 11 o’clock on Thursday night a shocking accident occurred resulting in the death of a highly respected young lady, Miss Kate Degraw, together with her two sisters, had attended a picnic a few miles out of town, in company with a young gentlemen named Ennis. Upon their return the carriage drew up to the door and the two sisters had alighted, and as the deceased was being assisted from the carriage, the horses took a sudden fright and dashed off at a furious speed.

The young lady’s crinoline became entangled in the steps of the carriage, and with her head and shoulders dragging upon the ground, the horses made the circuit of the village twice before the citizens could stop them. When they did so the young lady was found to be lifeless, and her remains presented a mutilated and ghastly appearance.”

Pioche News  Pioche, Nevada  July 17, 1865

There were sanitary problems with long skirts as well. Lifting the yards of the garment’s material, along with the heavy metal hoops under the skirts, was difficult. Women could not avoid dragging their clothing through the dirt and mud. An ambitious inventor from Kansas, seeking to rectify the dire situation, created a device to help ladies protect the hem of their clothes from the elements. The “instant dress elevator” was advertised for sale across the plains for the modest price of forty-five cents.

“You can raise your skirt while passing a muddy place and then let it fall, or you can keep it raised with the elevator. It keeps the skirt from filth. It can be changed from one dress to another in less than two minutes.”  

Leavenworth Daily Times  Leavenworth, Kansas  June 1874

Ladies’ heavy, cumbersome clothing was a nuisance in the home as well as in public. There was not enough room in the small kitchens of mining cabins for the cook, the cook’s clothing, and the food. During working hours, the hoop skirts were removed and hung on nails driven into the walls. Occasionally, the hoop skirts were stolen from argonaut’s homes, only to be found later on Native American women at nearby settlements. They were fascinated with the garments and wore them at evening dance with shawls draped over the wire.

In 1851 a voice rose up from a crowd of frustrated females and the active movement for change in women’s dress began. Amelia Bloomer, an abolitionist, and reformer, introduced to the public the first-ever women’s trousers. The frilled pants were worn under a short skirt and were gathered about the ankles. Bloomers, as they would later be called, became the style from coast to coast. Women welcomed this turn toward comfort over convention and practicality over fashion. Men, on the other hand, were appalled at the costume, insisting the clothes threatened femininity, motherhood, and family. 

“It’s a disgrace to see females dressed in trousers – an offense to the very fabric of civilization. I was witness to a display of ‘bloomers’ the other day. The young woman’s skirt was unusually short. It was an outrage!”

Miner Arlo Howell’s Journal Entry,  Auburn, California  May 29, 1853