The first time I saw a hobble skirt from the early 1900s, I couldn’t imagine who in the world would think it was a good idea. They were a fashion trend that peaked between 1908 and 1914. Hobble means: to walk in an awkward way; to restrict the activity; to walk in an impeded manner.
Therefore, a Hobble skirt is one with a narrow hemline designed to restrict the wearer’s ability to walk, forcing the person to take tiny steps. Why? Why? Why? This sounds like a bad idea from the get-go. It was nicknamed the “speed-limit skirt” in several comics. I guess sometimes a fashion needs to be tested in order to deem it serviceable or not.
There are various origin stories for this restrictive garment. One claimed it was Katherine Wright when she flew in an early airplane. A similar account was with Edith Ogilby Berg’s first ride. Since these flying machines were basically an open skeleton, the pilot and passenger were windblown from head to toe. This could cause serious modesty issues for a woman in a full skirt that would likely billow up over her head while soaring through the sky. Some measure had to be taken, so a rope (or twine or strip of fabric) was tied around the voluminous skirt at the calves or knees before takeoff. After their flights, these women hobbled away with the rope still attached. Thus, the name stuck.
|Edith Ogilby Berg|
The proof being a few hobble skirt related accidents, resulting in deaths! In 1910, a lady at a racetrack outside of Paris was killed by a loose horse. Another woman, Ida Goyette was strolling along on the Erie Canal Bridge, stumbled, fell over the railing, and drowned.
An additional indicator people should have thought twice before forging ahead with this fashion design was the difficulty it caused when boarding a streetcar. The narrow hemline of these skirts was too restrictive to allow women wearing them to climb aboard. In 1912 and 1913, New York and Los Angeles redesigned some of their streetcars as “hobble-skirt” cars with no step up. That’s a lot of money spent for a poor clothing choice.
Even the New York Times thought this was a bad idea in an article in 1910 where they said, “The Hobble is the Latest Freak in Women’s Fashion.” The New York Times even claimed that the hobble skirt could cause a world-wide depression. Here’s how that thinking went. Hobble skirts didn’t require petticoats, in fact, there was no room for them. Tossing aside the layers of these under garments for this new fashion would cause an economic impact worldwide. It would bring about the decline of the textile industry, a rise in the cost of living, and lower wages. “Think of 10,000 people turned away from their possible means of livelihood, 10,000 families, perhaps, starving just because women persist in following an ungraceful and immodest freak of fashion!” LOL! I didn’t know so much was riding on petticoats.
Some women wore hobble garters under their skirts. These were a length of fabric tied around one knee then the other to keep the lady from taking too long of a stride and tearing the expensive garment.
A short-lived activity from about 1910 to 1915 was the hobble skirt races. Women would line up in their hobble skirts and waddle to the finish line.
I suppose that isn’t much different than a three-legged race or a sack race. A hobble skirt race sounds like it could be fun. How about you? Would you participate in a hobble skirt race if given the chance?
I’m grateful the fashion fad died out. I have enough trouble walking without my knees being lashed together.
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