During the first decade of the 1900s, just as women began demanding more freedom, more rights, and more comfortable fashions, one of the most restrictive styles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came into style. This was the hobble skirt, a tight, ankle-length skirt that grew narrower at the hem. Popular between 1905 and 1910, the hobble skirt was so tight at the ankles that the woman wearing it could only walk in very short steps.
In the early 1900s many westerners were fascinated by the clothing styles of Asia and the Middle East. Famous French fashion designer Paul Poiret (1879–1944) created many popular designs based on Eastern clothing. The hobble skirt, which reached its peak of popularity in 1910, was a variation on the harem skirt designed by Poiret to resemble the styles of the Middle East. Another popular variation on the same design was the peg skirt. Like the hobble skirt, the peg skirt was tight at the hem, but it was wider at the top, creating a loose blousy effect as the skirt tapered sharply in at the bottom. Both the skirts forced the wearer to walk with tiny steps, the way many westerners imagined women might walk in the East.
Horses are hobbled by tying their front legs together with a short rope to prevent them from running away. The hobble skirt was named after this practice. Women who wore the skirt often wore another type of hobble as well. The hobble garter was a band made of fabric that was worn under the hobble skirt, wrapped around each leg just below the knee. A band connected the legs, preventing the wearer from accidentally taking too long a step and ripping her fashionable hobble skirt. Some hobble skirts were also made with a slit in the back to make walking easier. When sitting, the slit could be buttoned in order to keep the ankles modestly covered.
The popularity of the restrictive hobble skirt did not last long, as women continued to press for more freedom in their lives and their clothing. By the 1920s women's fashions had become much less confining. The hobble skirt wearer, shuffling along with tiny steps, was replaced by the flapper, dancing a wild Charleston in a loose skirt that was hemmed up to the knee.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Baudot, François. Poiret. Translated by Caroline Beamish. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. Vanity Rules: A History of American Fashion and Beauty. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books, 2000.
Miller, Brandon Marie. Dressed for the Occasion: What Americans Wore, 1620–1970. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1999.