Rompers: Gym and Camp Uniforms


Figure 1.--Many American schools did not generally consider shorts apropriate for girls until the 1940s. These bloomer costumes continued into the 1950s and 1960s with shorter legs, at least on the East coast. I'm not sure about California. The styles changed from bloomers with middy blouses to one-piece romper suits.

By the 1910s a related outfit--bloomer pants usually with middy blouses had been adopted as a gym costume for girls in many American highschools. We also beliece that they were worn at summer camps. By the 1940s, bloomer outfits were still being used as a girls gym outfit in secondary schools. Girls' bloomer gym costumes had relatively long long legs, but they gradually got shorter, especially in the 1940s when shorts became popular for girls. They were worn with long black stockings in the 1920s, but this began to decline in the 30s. Schools did not generally consider shorts apropriate for girls until the 1940s. These bloomer costumes continued into the 1950s and 1960s with much shorter legs. He styles changed from bloomers with middy blouses to one-piece romper suits. I can remember as a Virginia high school student in 1958 that the girls wore rompers rather than shorts for gym. They were light blue rompers and as short as shorts would have been. I rememember when I was in highschool (1957-61) that the gurls thought that they were terribly old fashioned and some girls also complained that they were childish. These romper outfits were widely worn in American highschools. A HBC reader tells us, "I remember wearing one very similar to the image that I sent you; only the one I wore did not have the wide flap at the back of the neck portion of the romper." We do not at this time know to what extent these rompers were worn by girls as a gym outfit in other countries, if any.

Chronology

A related outfit--bloomer pants usually with middy blouses had by the 1910s been adopted as a gym costume for girls in many American highschools. I am not sure if they wee called rompers or bloomers or if this changed over time. We also believe that they were worn at summer camps at least in the 1930s. By the 1940s, bloomer outfits were still being used as a girls gym outfit in secondary schools. I can remember as a Virginia high school student in 1958 that the girls wore rompers rather than shorts for gym. They were light blue rompers and as short as shorts would have been. I rememember when I was in highschool (1957-61) that the girls thought that they were terribly old fashioned and some girls also complained that they were childish. Other readers have mentoned wearing them throughout the 1960s. We believe, however, that by the 1970s that they were no longer common.

Style

Girls' bloomer gym costumes had relatively long legs in the 1910s-30s, but they gradually got shorter, especially in the 1940s when shorts became popular for girls. They were worn with long black stockings in the 1920s, but this began to decline in the 30s. Schools apparently did not generally consider shorts apropriate for girls until the 1960s-70s. These bloomer costumes continued into the 1950s and 1960s with much shorter legs. The styles changed from bloomers with middy blouses to one-piece romper suits. Some retained middy suit styling elements like the back flap.

Regional Trends

The schools we note with the gym uniform seen here in the 1950s and even 60s were East coast (North and South) and Mid-West schools. I'm not sure about other sections of the country, especially California. Hopefully some of our readers will provide some information here.

Reader Comments

A HBC reader tells us, "I remember wearing one very similar to the image that I sent you; only the one I wore did not have the wide flap at the back of the neck portion of the romper. The girls and I at the school that I attended wore these at least thru the period of 1969. As for what we thought of it, I will tell you what I thought of it and then will tell you what several of the other girls did with theirs. I thought that it was neat yet constricting!! And yes, old fashioned!! Neat in that all the essentials were covered but constricting in that the time required to slide ( ? ) into and out of these rompers was excessive as compared to the time required to slide into/out of a tee and shorts. When you consider that we were required to shower after our "exertions" on the field, every minute counted. As for what some of the other girls did with theirs was the same that girls of any generation did to capture the eye of the boys ... was to wear one smaller (tighter) than it had to be. But, then, the same could be accomplished with tees & shorts without the extra time needed to get out of a gym suit. So, I would have to be honest and admit that the tee and shorts were considered to be a great change by the girls in the later classes after 1969."

Another reader tells us, "I wore (and hated !) rompers in gym class in middle school (7th grade) in Indiana. This would have been 1972-1973 They were a royal blue and puffed at the legs quite a bit- but we did not call them rompers- just a gym suit. Our rompers snapped up the front- no middy collar. And the more brazen girls did wear them too tight! I was very pleased when I moved to Virginia and for 8th grade our gymsuit was also a one piece- but made to look like shorts and a t shirt (power blue bottom and striped top). It oddly enough zipped up the back, which made it impossible to put on or take off yourself but as you were in a locker room this wasn't a problem. I thought it looked so much better than the bloomer style. Not sure what I wore the first year of high school- but because of Title IX by sophomore year (1975-1976) gym classes were co-ed and we all began to wear dark elastic waits shorts and a regulation t-shirt just like the boys. I could not get over how much more comfortable (cotton knits!) the unisex clothes were and so much easier to get off and on." [Baumgarten]

Boys' National Trends

While primarily a gym and camp garment for girls, we do see boys wearing them in some countries. In Italy we see boys wearing them at Balilla summer camps. In Sweden we see boys wearing them for gym class. Where boys wearing them int was primarily the bloomer psnts, not a full romper suit.

National Trends

Romper outfits were primarily worn by girls for gym and at summer camps. These romper outfits were widely worn by girls in American high schools. Most American high schools had girls gym outfits with bloomers and middy blouses. These outfits wee also worn at summer camps. Bloomer or romper styled gym uniforms were still being worn into the 1960s atv some American schools (figure 1(. We do not at this time know to what extent these rompers were worn by girls as a gym outfit in other countries, if any. I believe they were worn in Britain and Germany. I'm less sure about France. One matter to consider here is that some countries had much more academic oriented academic programs than America. I an not sure that gym was an important subject in the French academic program. Most American high schools had gym and physical education programs. Sport was very kmportant in British eduction. We are much less sure about the academic program in other countries.

Sources

Baumgarten, Marion. E-mail, December 30, 2007.






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Created: December 7, 2002
Last updated: 9:59 AM 10/17/2010