Thursday, February 23, 2023


By Mary Davis

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.

Katharine Wright

Edith Ogilby Berg
A third origin said that it was simply the way of fashion. The Oriental style of apparel that were narrow at the bottom influenced several designers. These confined hems had been a reoccurring trend in Western women’s fashion wear. French couturier Paul Poiret, credited with the hobble fashion faux pas, had long since used Japanese kimonos, other Oriental designs, and Egyptian clothing as inspirations for his fashions and launched a hobble skirt in 1910. There was also the claim that the circumference of hems fluctuated from narrow to wide and back again throughout the years before and since. Any angle you look at a garment that severely impedes the wearer’s movement isn’t the best idea.

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.



Historical Romance

THE WIDOW’S PLIGHT (Book1) – Will a secret clouding a single mother’s past cost Lily the man she loves?

THE DAUGHTER’S PREDICAMENT (Book2) *2020 Selah Awards Finalist & WRMA Finalist* – As Isabelle’s romance prospects are turning in her favor, a family scandal derails her dreams.

THE DAMSEL’S INTENT (Book3) *2021 Selah Awards Winner& WRMA Finalist*– Nicole heads down the mountain to fetch herself a husband. Can she learn to be enough of a lady to snag the handsome rancher?

THE DÉBUTANTE’S SECRET (Book4) –Complications arise when a fancy French lady, Geneviève, steps off the train and into Deputy Montana’s arms.

THE LADY’S MISSION (Book5) – Will Cordelia abandon her calling for love?

MARY DAVIS, bestselling, award-winning novelist, has over thirty titles in both historical and contemporary themes. Her latest release is THE LADY’S MISSION. Her other novels include MRS. WITHERSPOON GOES TO WAR, THE DÉBUTANTE'S SECRET (Quilting Circle 4) THE DAMSEL’S INTENT (Quilting Circle 3) is a Selah Award Winner. Some of her other recent titles include; The Widow’s Plight, The Daughter's Predicament,Zola’s Cross-Country Adventure” in The MISSAdventure Brides Collection , Prodigal Daughters Amish series, and "Bygones" in Thimbles and Threads. She is a member of ACFW and active in critique groups.
Mary lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of thirty-eight years and one cat. She has three adult children and three incredibly adorable grandchildren. Find her online at:



  1. I've never heard of the skirt. Thanks for sharing. I was especially intrigued that the fashion was so far-reaching that the street car industry felt they had to reengineer their cars!

  2. Thank you for posting today. It is true, as you say, that fashion trends swing back and forth; one example being bell bottom pants. I would not enjoy wearing a hobble skirt, I am not the most nimble person on my best-dressed day!

  3. And I thought the straight skirts of the 1960's were not good for walking.....

  4. Hi, Mary. Thanks for an interesting post. Having never heard of the hobble skirt, I searched for it online out of curiosity. Imagine the horror of discovering that it's back! One wonders why.

  5. Great post! My mother made me a Maxi dress, when they were popular, with a very narrow hem line. It was a beautiful dress, and I did wear it occasionally. However I much preferred my dresses that allowed me ease in walking. I always wondered where she got the idea of shortening the hem line. Now, I guess I know. Good thing I didn't fall and break my nose.