Welcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to the hobble skirt.
Hobble Skirt (1910s)
Between 1910 and the commencement of World War I, women’s skirts were decidedly narrow. Skirts of the previous decade had been full, utilizing generous amounts of fabric. A fitted waist and hip which flared dramatically at the hem marked the first decade of the 20th century. While the silhouette of a 1900 skirt was spectacularly triangular, ten years later, they were positively rectangular. Neoclassicism, romanticism and the mystique of the Orient were some of the artistic aesthetics at play in the fashion world of 1910. In many ways, skirts of the early 1910s resembled Greek or Roman columns.
During this time, the increasingly active lifestyle of women influenced fashion. Skirt hems inched slightly upward. Corsets became less structured. Suffragettes were waging war in London and the United States. Women wanted freedom of movement (as well as the freedom to vote), so why would they confine themselves in a Hobble skirt?
Admittedly, the Hobble skirt was a very short lived trend, and not everyone partook in such foolishness. In essence, the wearer wore a skirt which was so narrow at the hem that the ability to walk was impeded, forcing the wearer to “hobble.” Various methods were employed to prevent the wearer from tearing their skirt (should they take too long of a stride). During the early teens, corsets covered and extended below the hips. Specially corsets which extended to the knees encouraged “hobbling.” [The catalog page below shows typical corsets from 1913, not the specialty ones.]
However, the most fascinating device (which was made specifically for Hobble skirts) was the Hobble Garter. Worn below the knees, the garter regulated the walker’s stride to ensure a hobble.
An overview from Wikipedia on the Hobble skirt including some later 20th century trends, which were also referred to as Hobble skirts.
The three fashion plates are from the Costume Institute Fashion Plates digital collection from the Thomas J. Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are in the public domain.
The catalog page comes from the 1913 Spring Sears catalog, available from Ancestry.com.
The newspaper article is one of many which can be found about the Hobble Garter in 1910. The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America database contains this issue of the Los Angeles Herald.