But the original term referred to a man's shirt! How did the term get switched?
One of the first blouse styles for women were the Garibaldi blouses worn in the middle 1800s. This flamboyant top mimicked the military blouses worn by the Italian military hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Garibaldi was a dashing hero to many ladies, and he had quite a female fan club who wore red blouses in his honor.
The ladies' blouses were often red, like Garibaldi's, though some were white. The red blouses usually had some type of black trim embroidered or sewn on. They also generally had epaulet-like designs on the shoulders. A true "Garibaldi outfit" paired a red blouse with either a plain black silk skirt, or a black and white silk skirt. Sometimes the Garibaldi outfit would include a white blouse, black skirt and a red jacket with black trim instead. (If you want to see more Garibaldi ensembles, check out my Pinterest board.)
Blouses were a high-fashion garment worn by the young or the wealthy. They were not made from cheap cotton as we often see them at reenactments. Instead, they were made from high-quality fabrics such as silk or wool. Summer blouses could even be sheer.
Here is my sister's Garibaldi outfit. Doesn't she look dashing?
But the real popularity of blouses for women didn't occur until the late 1800s with the advent of the Gibson Girl look. This ficticious character wore stunning blouses with feminine ruffles and huge puffed sleeves.
Perhaps you remember Anne of Green Gables' longing for puffed sleeves on her dresses? I suspect L.M. Montgomery was thinking of the Gibson Girl model when she wrote that story, even though the Gibson Girl came slightly after Anne's time period (according to her birth date in the book).
Since the Gibson Girl, blouses have been firmly in the ladies' wear section. Shirts, tops, jackets and coats have all become unisex terms but the women-folk have laid claim to the blouse! So next time you want to wear something really feminine and girly, pull out your frilliest blouse. It's a lady's garment!