Elizabeth Smith Miller: The First Woman To Wear Pants

When you were deciding what to wear this morning, did you consider that pants for women were once unheard of? Nowadays, pants are a major wardrobe staple for women, and many of us rarely wear skirts or dresses at all. But less than two centuries ago, it simply wasn’t acceptable. One woman, Elizabeth Smith Miller, challenged the status quo and attempted to reform the female dress code.As the daughter of abolitionist and Congressman Gerrit Smith and Ann Carroll Fitzhugh, whose father was one of the land purchasers for Rochester, NY, Miller enjoyed a financially secure life that exposed her to philosophical and philanthropic discussions. She was also the cousin of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. So it’s not surprising that Miller was instrumental in the dress reform movement of the 1800s.

In 1851, Miller became known for her Bloomer costume, which she patterned after the Turkish trousers she saw on a visit to Europe. The look consisted of trousers that were gathered at the ankle with a mid-calf length skirt worn overtop. Miller had become disgusted with the restriction of the socially acceptable long skirts that made tasks like gardening difficult for her. She wore the costume on a visit to Stanton’s home. Her cousin admired the outfit and adopted it herself. And so did Amelia Bloomer, who publicized the costume in the temperance journal Lily. Initially, the look was lauded as a comfortable and healthy choice over the voluminous and constraining skirts that were the preferred fashion of the day.

Many women’s rights proponents also wore the Bloomer costume, but later abandoned it because it caused too much derision. They were ridiculed for their wardrobe choice, which also took attention away from their main causes. The Bloomer costume, however, was worn for several years in gymnasiums and sanitariums. Miller also kept up the tradition of the Bloomer costume for several years and even wore it to special receptions and dinners in Washington, D.C. when her father was in Congress. [Western New York Suffragists, Historical Boys’ Clothing]

Celebrate National Women’s History Month on The Frisky this month! We’ll be highlighting cool, inspiring ladies and talking about the ways women have gotten ahead over the years.