If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, you might have experienced some glee when Sybil donned a pair of loose trousers and scandalized her family in the process. Unfortunately they were never seen again, but the appearance of the trousers, along with Edith obtaining a bicycle, were signifiers that the world was changing for these women. Called bloomers for Amelia Bloomer, a social activist who popularized the loose trouser-and-skirt combo in the 1850s, this style of pants was actually invented by a woman named Elizabeth Smith Miller.
Miller’s design was inspired by full-length loose pants worn by women in Asian cultures, such as the salwar kameez of India and şalvar of Turkey. Bloomers and other trouser options for women didn’t really take off for the general populace until after the turn of the century, being worn chiefly by temperance advocates, feminists, and other troublemakers. However, these pants were part of Victorian-era dress reform, which was a significant aspect of the burgeoning women’s rights movements in North America and across the pond. The rise of female athletes was also a contributing factor to women’s pants ultimately becoming par for the course in US society. From bloomers to Levi’s, women’s clothing continues to evolve hand-in-hand with changing cultural mores.