If I were ever featured in one of those Fashion Dos and Don’ts articles, I’d be in the Don’ts column, with a black box over my eyes, like these images:
But as fashion-ignorant as I am, even I am aware that at one time, this was fashionable:
This was the “hobble” skirt.
And it was a really, really bad idea.
Maybe it wasn’t the worst fashion idea ever – that would be hard to determine, as we have so many bad ideas to choose from. Like this:
And this: 1990s to today: Platform sneakers, platform shoes, platform anything:
What got me started on hobble skirts?
I was watching a documentary about the United States in the years 1900-1914, and saw film footage of women dressed like this:
And like this:
They were taking baby steps, some quickly, some slowly, but baby steps.
Why baby steps?
Because their skirt – that “hobble” skirt – was impeding their walking.
Let’s talk about that word “hobble.”
One definition is to “walk in an awkward way, typically because of pain from an injury.”
“A device which prevents or limits the locomotion of an animal, by tethering one or more legs. Although hobbles are most commonly used on horses, they are also sometimes used on other animals.”
This is what a horse hobble looks like:
You can see the resemblance:
Who came up with this dreadful idea?
Well, who are the primary designers of women’s fashions?
And the man who claimed credit for the hobble skirt was Paul Poiret (pictured), a leading French fashion designer and master couturier during the first two decades of the 20th century.
The way I figure it is, back around 1907, our pal Paul was sitting around one day, trying to come up with a new idea for his next fashion show collection, and…
“Sacrebleu – I’ve got eet! I will deezine an outfit wiz zee skirt so narrow, oui? it will restrict how zee woman walks. Rather like zee hobble on zee horse, oui?
“And I will call it…zee Hobble Skirt!”
And when Poiret’s assistant asked him why, Poiret replied, “Eet’s new! Zat is all eet takes, for fashion to be new. Zee women will wear eet, and zay will love eet!”
And many Parisian women did, starting around 1908. New York women soon followed:
Zee – I mean, the – hobble skirt had arrived.
Women who were already suffering the horrible constrictions of corsets on their upper bodies…
…now chose to equally constrict their lower bodies by hobbling their legs with their skirt.
And the world rushed in to accommodate them.
Bertram L’Estrange wrote a song for dancing in a hobble skirt:
And when New York women struggled to board streetcar steps due to their hobbled legs – forcing other riders to wait and wreaking havoc with the streetcar schedule – a special “step-less” car was designed, and debuted in New York in 1912:
The back of the postcard says, in part:
“The central portion of the cars is built close to the ground and the doors are in the center of the car, the steps being only about six inches from the ground.”
Those “hobble skirt cars” were pretty darn nice of the New York transit system.
But not everyone was as nice about hobble skirts – like this writer in the New York Times in 1910:
“The ‘hobble’ is the latest freak in women’s fashions. The hobble skirt suits none. But many, too many, women will wear what the fashion authorities decree.”
And women did, until the hobble skirt’s popularity waned as all fashions do, and it was considered passé in 1914.
And now, in 2021, women are too smart to wear such a ridiculous, restricting style.
Yup: This is 2021.
And alas, so it this:
Amazon, July 26, 2021:
And don’t be fooled by the “Pencil” stuff – a hobble by any other name is still a hobble: