Bloomer shorts are a difficult item to wear, so I’m told – an item that emphasises the hips and posterior is not to everyone’s taste – but that doesn’t stop me from loving them. Domenico and Stefano are clearly with me on this and religiously put bloomer shorts into most collections in some guise or other; thankfully summer 2013 is no exception. For a few glorious seasons they were like fashion hot potatoes in Milan, kickstarted by Miuccia as is the case with so many trends.
Blooming marvellous: left and right are playsuits I’ve bloomered myself, centre is from the Beyond Retro remakes. You can see a tutorial on how to make bloomers from scratch here, it’s easy to adapt to make pre-existing trousers or shorts into bloomer-style shorts.
Broken Hearts for Beyond the Valley playsuit. Print and illustration by Rob Flowers
Historically, you could say that bloomered shorts had their heyday in the trunk-hose of Tudor Europe (who said the trend-cycle couldn’t span centuries?!). As a bifurcated garment they were designated as menswear and hit a crescendo between 1550-1610. Reaching to mid-thigh, they were often paned (slashed into ribbon-like strips, or constructed of ribbons of fabric) so a contrasting lining could be seen beneath. I’m particularly enamoured of this mustard pair:
Trunk hose owned by Elector Moritz of Saxony (1521-1553) found here
I first set eyes upon a pair of trunk-hose in real life on a trip to Florence (when I also got to visit the fantastic Ferragamo Museum). They were (somewhat gruesomely) the funeral clothes in which Don Garzia de Medici was buried in the 16th century, having been lovingly conserved and reconstructed over a 10 year period and proudly on display at the Costume Gallery of the Pitti Palace. I was next alerted to trunk-hose in this brilliant BBC 4 documentary, in which I also had the pleasure of discovering the Greenwich armoury. This was swiftly followed by a trip to the Met Museum to see the armour in its full glory.
Don Garzia de Medici’s doublet and paned trunk-hose with cod-piece after conservation, image found here; armour of George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland. Greenwich, 1580-85 found at the Met Museum
Armour of George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland. Greenwich, 1580-85 found at the Met Museum
Henry VIII founded the Greenwich armour workshop in 1511 with the intention of producing pieces for battlefields and tournaments that would rival the famed armouries of Germany and Italy. He recruited some of finest craftsmen in Europe and by the second half of the 16th century the select few artisans had developed their own distinctive Greenwich style. During Elizabeth I’s reign leading courtiers would vie for the Virgin Queen’s favour through their armour designs. This was a much easier proposition under Elizabeth than Henry, being a woman she was not expected to take arms herself, and so courtiers were free to compete against each other but not the monarch with their extravagant battle finery. George Clifford was made a Knight of the Garter in 1592 and chose the Tudor Rose, fleur-de-lis and Elizabeth’s cipher of two Es back to back for the intricate designs on his armour, resulting in an exquisite pattern that many scholars believe represents the peak of the Greenwich school. It also would have cost a phenomenal amount of money to commission.
Armour of Sir Henry Herbert, Second Earl of Pembroke. Greenwich, c. 1575-80, from the Met Museum
Sir Henry Herbert was somewhat less sycophantic in his choice of decoration, opting instead for a design which visually traces the lineage of the Pembroke family and also features his Order of the Garter. Cracking trunk-hose too. The Greenwich workshops closed around 1649 and sadly none of it remains today.
I was lucky enough to witness more elaborate Tudor ornamentation at The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe at the Wallace Collection last month. Throughout the 16th century Milan was regarded as the centre of arms manufacture in Europe. It was also well known for its fine textiles, cementing the connection between clothing and ornamental weapons. The rapier – a new, thinner and highly decorated sword – began to be worn in courtly and day-to-day dress as an accessory, as opposed to the heavier swords of Medieval Europe that were only worn and used in battle. The beauty of craftsmanship of these items conferred status upon the wearer and marked him out as a man of honour and power; it became a hybrid object that combined elements of both weaponry and jewellery. It was especially interesting to note that sword workshops often created other trimmings such as buckles and buttons. The exhibition shed light on many fascinating areas including the history of urban crime and also served as a reminder of how much I adore the Wallace Collection itself. You can see this thread for more intricate details on 16th and 17th century fencing clothing.
Doublet and breeches that formed the parade costume of Christian II, Elector of Saxony, 1601-09 made from Italian silk with silver edging reminiscent of armour; the rapier of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II, c. 1550-70, with blade by Antonio Piccininio of Milan. Found at The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe at the Wallace Collection
Paned trunk-hose are evident on a grand scale in portraits of two further notables of the Elizabethan court, both Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and Sir Walter Ralegh himself. Leicester was clearly an avid fan of trunk-hose as evidenced in the many portraits of him that still exist, leading experts to believe he had a heightened interest in his own rather suave image. It’s not difficult to see why; as the only serious suitor of Elizabeth I and her perennial favourite it’s understandable that he thought rather highly of himself. He was a generous patron of the arts and had a large collection of portraits, as well as commissioning many to satisfy his own vanity.
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester: by unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, oil on panel, circa 1575; by Christoffel van Sichem (Voschem), line engraving, c. 1580s; by unknown English workshop, oil on panel, circa 1575. All found at the National Portrait Gallery
Walter Ralegh was the consummate Renaissance Man; credited with bringing tobacco and potatoes to our fair shores he was also a military and naval commander, poet and writer. In the roller-coaster world of Elizabethan court life he fell in and out of favour throughout the last decades of the 16th century, and was imprisoned in 1592. By the early years of the 17th century he was back in favour with the Queen which he commemorated in this portrait with his son, captured for eternity in their court finery.
Sir Walter Ralegh with his son Walter Ralegh; by unknown artist, oil on canvas, 1602, found at the National Portrait Gallery; trunk-hose gets longer – suit of Gustav II Adolf ca. 1620 From the Royal Armory and Hallwyl Museum found at Pinterest; Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, by William Larkin, 1613 found at Pinterest
Various portraits of King James I exist in trunk-hose, but as the 17th century drew on the garments lengthened as a monarch was executed and bloody Civil War battles were fought. Breeches became the norm, with hose slowly sliding into its current meaning of hosiery. The next big phase for puffed leg-wear also gave us its contemporary name – the bloomer.
‘Bloomer costume styled for party occasions, 1851-9′ found in Fashion by Jane Dorner; Amelia Bloomer in the Illustrated London News, 1851, found here
Somewhat surprisingly, the eponymous hero of Bloomers wasn’t actually their initiator. Elizabeth Smith Miller was a patron and advocate of the women’s rights movement in the 19th century, and was the first woman to wear Turkish-style pantaloons coupled with a knee-length skirt. Amelia Bloomer took to wearing them and publicised the outfit through her temperance magazine The Lily. Satirical publications like Punch had a field day with the ‘Bloomerism’ movement; bifurcated clothing on women was a very visual manifestation of societal and gender disruption. Throughout the 1850s Amelia and her fellow Dress Reformers caused so much controversy that many of them renounced such ostentatious garb for fear of distracting attention away from such trifling goals as the right to vote and the right to property ownership. They were swiftly adapted into the undergarment that we know them by today.
Bloomerism in Punch; Second Empire-era lingerie at the Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs exhibition at Les Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris
Bifurcated clothing for women next made an appearance as the cycling and sports wear of the Rational Dress Movement. Set up by Lady Harberton in 1881, the society followed Amelia’s ethos that clothing should be practical and non-restrictive. Boneless stays were favoured over tight-laced corsets, and they held the radical belief that women shouldn’t wear more than 7 pounds of undergarments. A healthy and active life was promoted through cycling and walking, yet they still came under ridicule from the popular press, and again only a tiny minority of women ever dared to venture into such revolutionary styles. You can hear me discussing more on Rational Dress at the V&A on Radio 4′s Making History here.
Rational Dress found at Surburban Birmingham; Lady Harberton; Punch, 1895, found here. The caption reads:
Gertrude. “My dear Jessie, what on earth is that bicycle suit for?” Jessie. “Why, to wear, of course.” Gertrude. “But you haven’t got a bicycle!” Jessie. “No; but I’ve got a sewing machine!”
Billowed bifurcation fell out of favour yet again for a few decades, only to be reborn as beachwear with the boom in leisure and tourism during the 1940s and 50s.
Beachwear from the Horrockses exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2010, helpfully dated for me by Liz Tregenza who worked on the exhibition as around 1950 (1947-52)
Current manifestations draw on a long lineage from the battlefields of Tudor Europe to the underwear of Edwardian women. Yet another contemporary reference comes from children’s wear which leads to many questions about the infantilising of women, especially when coupled with the ultra-slim silhouette of catwalk models. However, not even this can dampen my enthusiasm for the micro bloomer short.
Summer 2012 marked possibly my favourite ever year from Dolce and Gabbana, with their mainline fruit and vegetable collection and the incredible foulard-print bonanza that sadly marked the last ever show from diffusion line D&G.
The shape of things to come: