“There’s something about undergarment history that enables people to share their own stories,” says Cat Jensen, education coordinator for the Center for Colorado Women’s History. “Just in the last week, I’ve learned many, many new terms for undergarments.” That’s thanks to the debut of Rumors of Bloomers, a new exhibit at the History Colorado community museum that uses vintage corsets, swimwear, bloomers, and brassieres to spark conversations about how what we choose to wear under our clothes can reflect all kinds of things, from our gender identity to our social status.

Since the Byers-Evans house was renamed the Center for Colorado Women’s History in 2018 and dedicated to showcasing the experiences of Centennial State women, Rumors of Bloomers is the first exhibit to weave throughout the two-story, Italianate mansion. Built in 1883, the home has been restored to its early 1900s glory with a focus on how the women who lived at that time may have used it: For example, a tea parlor is currently set up as if ready to host a private meeting of suffragists.

“This exhibit, for us, is another really great milestone in being authentic and accountable,” Jensen says, noting that curators went beyond the experiences of the upper-class white women who are generally the focus of turn-of-the-century history to find a more diverse array of stories to tell. Those include the tales of Beatrice Lewis, a Black corset maker, and Amache Ochinee Prowers, the daughter of a prominent Cheyenne chief, who embraced Victorian fashion but eschewed the corsets that were de rigueur.

Through March 2025, general admission visitors ($7) can navigate the articles at their own pace, with the help of interpretive signage—but for more context and, yes, underwear banter, sign up for a docent-led Bloomers Tour ($20) on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. The museum, nestled between the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum in the Golden Triangle, is also offering ongoing tie-in programming, such as poetry workshops, musical performances, and guest speakers.

Although it’s typical of museums to have many items in their collections that never make it to the exhibit floor, the subject matter of Rumors of Bloomers means the display of these History Colorado artifacts is even more rare. “We have the opportunity to showcase belongings and examples of material culture that reflect women’s lives that have never been viewed by the public,” Jensen says. Here, five of our favorite unmentionables and the stories underneath them.

Gibson Girl Corset

A Gibson Girl style corset in the Rumors of Bloomers exhibit
Photo by Jessica LaRusso

Designed to facilitate the S-shape idealized in American illustrator (and, later, Life magazine editor) Charles Dana Gibson’s depictions of the independent, upper-class white woman of the 1890s and early 1900s, this corset bears the sweat stains of its wearer. “There may be only two or three of these in any museum collection that could be identified with this design,” Jensen says.

Chest Flattener

A chest-flattening bra on a vintage quilt
Photo courtesy of Cat Jensen

As a more boyish silhouette became popular in the Roaring ’20s, so did chest flatteners. Although they were frequently used simply as a fashion choice, Jensen says, “certainly, because of our understanding of folks of all identities existing throughout all of history, I would make the assumption that folks were also using it to reflect their own outward identity.”


A navy pair of bloomers and a blouse in Rumors of Bloomers
Photo by Jessica LaRusso

Designed by New York journalist and suffragist Amelia Bloomer in 1851, this style of trousers grew in popularity as more American women began riding bikes in the 1890s. Although they were still frequently covered by other layers (see: the skirt guard on the turn-of-the-century women’s bicycle that’s also part of the Rumors of Bloomers exhibit), the combination of bloomers and bikes allowed women of some social classes increased mobility and freedom. “A bike becomes not just a bike,” Jensen says. “A bike is autonomy of movement. A bike is engaging in nature and the outdoors.”


A dresslike swimsuit and a smaller bodysuit
Photo by Jessica LaRusso

As Victorian women were discouraged from participating in strenuous physical activity (for fear of harming their delicate reproductive systems), truly functional sporting attire was difficult to find. Swimwear ranged from dresslike frocks in the 1890s to the suit on the left in the image above, owned by a member of the Colorado Mountain Club in the 1920s. Jensen likes to use the display to “make connections about how many members of our communities, and many cultural communities, still make a choice about how to adorn their bodies.”

Bullet Bra

A drying rack in a bathtub is hung with various undergarments in Rumors of Bloomers
Photo by Jessica LaRusso

Upstairs, as Rumors of Bloomers enters the home’s private sphere (bedrooms and bathrooms), visitors are encouraged to “think about what makes something private versus public,” Jensen says. In a bathtub, a drying rack is hung with a variety of undergarments—including a bullet bra, the conical, often foam-filled style (think: Marilyn Monroe) that took off toward the middle of the 20th century—but in other households of the era, unmentionables may have been hung outdoors on a clothes line in full sight of neighbors and passersby.