A hobble skirt was a skirt with a narrow enough hem to significantly impede the wearer's stride. It was called a "hobble skirt" for that very reason; it seemed to hobble any woman as she tried to walk around while wearing one. Hobble skirts were a short-lived fashion trend that peaked between 1908 and 1914.
The hobble skirt may have been inspired by one of the first women to fly in an airplane. At a 1908 Wright Brothers demonstration in Le Mans, France, Mrs. (Edith) Hart O. Berg asked for a ride and became the first American woman to fly as a passenger in an airplane, soaring for two minutes and seven seconds. She tied a rope securely around her skirt at her ankles to keep it from blowing in the wind during the flight. According to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, a French fashion designer was inspired by the way Mrs. Berg walked away from the aircraft with her skirt still tied and created the hobble skirt based on her ingenuity.
The French fashion designer in the Berg story might have been Paul Poiret who claimed credit for the hobble skirt, but it is not clear whether the skirt was his invention or not. Skirts had been rapidly narrowing since the mid-1900s. Slim skirts were economical because they used less fabric.
The hobble skirt became popular just as women were becoming more physically active.
Hobble skirts inspired hundreds of cartoons and comic postcards. One series of comic post cards called it the "speed-limit skirt." There were several reports of women competing in hobble skirt races as a joke.
Boarding a streetcar in a hobble skirt was particularly difficult. In 1912, the New York Street Railway began running hobble skirt cars with no step up. Los Angeles introduced similar streetcars in 1913.
Hobble skirts were directly responsible for several deaths. In 1910, a hobble-skirt-wearing woman was killed by a loose horse at a racetrack outside Paris. A year later, eighteen-year-old Ida Goyette stumbled on an Erie Canal bridge while wearing a hobble skirt, fell over the railing, and drowned.
To prevent women from splitting their skirts, some women wore a fetter or tied their legs together at the knee. Some designers made alterations to the hobble skirt to allow for greater movement. Jeanne Paquin concealed pleats in her hobble skirts while other designers such as Lucile offered slit or wrap skirts.
The hobble skirt trend began to decline in popularity at the beginning of World War I, as the skirt's limited mobility did not suit the wartime atmosphere.
In popular culture
Movies and television series
- Intolerance: The Dear One (Mae Marsh) wears a makeshift hobble skirt in the hopes of impressing a man.
- Titanic: Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) wears many hobble skirt gowns throughout the film. Early in the film, she runs across the deck in a beaded hobble skirt, stumbling and tearing it. The skirt nearly causes her to fall overboard.
- The Addams Family: Morticia commonly wears long, black gothic hobble dresses.
- Darkwing Duck: Darkwing Duck's girlfriend, Morgana Macawber commonly wears a long, red hobble dress.
- Dick Tracy: Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) appears in a shiny black skintight gown.
- Ugly Betty: In the episode "Icing on the Cake" Amanda (Becki Newton) wears a tight silver rubber hobble dress named the "Amanda".
- What a Way to Go!: Louisa May Foster (Shirley MacLaine) is seen in shiny red pencil hobble skirt.
- Static Shock: Daisy Watkins wears a purple pencil hobble skirt in the first few seasons of the show.
- Parade's End: Sylvia Tietjens wears a hobble dress to her mother-in-law's funeral, c. 1912 (episode 2); the gentry disapprove of her stylishness, but the servants admire it.
- "Love Religion" — U96
- F, José Blanco; Hunt-Hurst, Patricia Kay; Lee, Heather Vaughan; Doering, Mary (2015-11-23). Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe [4 volumes]: American Fashion from Head to Toe. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781610693103.
- David, Alison Matthews (2015-09-24). Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781472577733.
- "Women in Aviation and Space History - Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum". airandspace.si.edu. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
- Milford-Cottam, Daniel (2014-02-10). Edwardian Fashion. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9780747814757.
- Walker, Jim (2007). Los Angeles Railway Yellow Cars. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9780738547916.
- "::: Fashion Plate Collection :::". content.lib.washington.edu. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
- "Hundred-Year-Old Fashion Fad: The Hobble Skirt". 2014-09-22. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hobble skirt.|
- The Hobble Skirt Streetcar, streetcars designed with women wearing these skirts in mind