A postcard (c. 1911) depicting a man pointing at a woman wearing a hobble skirt. The caption says, "The Hobble Skirt. 'What's that? It's the speed-limit skirt!'", because a hobble skirt limits the wearer's stride.

A hobble skirt was a skirt with a narrow enough hem to significantly impede the wearer's stride. It was called a "hobble skirt" because it seemed to hobble any woman as she walked. Hobble skirts were a short-lived fashion trend that peaked between 1908 and 1914.[1]


Hobble skirt style, 1911
Journalist Marguerite Martyn drew this sketch of herself wearing a hobble skirt while interviewing millionaire Edward Howland Robinson Green in 1911, with a quotation from him.
Long pencil skirts considered as a modern variation of the old hobble style

At a 1908 Wright Brothers demonstration in Le Mans, France, Mrs. Edith Ogilby 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.[2][3] 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.[3]

The French fashion designer in the Berg story might have been Paul Poiret[2] who claimed credit for the hobble skirt, but it is not clear whether the skirt was his invention or not.[4] Skirts had been rapidly narrowing since the mid-1900s.[4] Slim skirts were economical because they used less fabric.[4]

The hobble skirt became popular just as women were becoming more physically active.[4]

Hobble skirts inspired hundreds of cartoons and comic postcards.[4] One series of comic cards called it the "speed-limit skirt."[2] There were several reports of women competing in hobble-skirt races as a joke.[4]

Boarding a streetcar in a hobble skirt was difficult. In 1912, the New York Street Railway ran hobble-skirt cars with no step up.[2] Los Angeles introduced similar streetcars in 1913.[5]

Hobble skirts were directly responsible for several deaths.[2] In 1910, a hobble-skirt-wearing woman was killed by a loose horse at a racetrack outside Paris.[2] 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.[2]

To prevent women from splitting their skirts, some women wore a fetter or tied their legs together at the knee.[1][6] Some designers made alterations to the hobble skirt to allow for greater movement.[4] Jeanne Paquin concealed pleats in her hobble skirts while other designers such as Lucile offered slit or wrap skirts.[4]

The 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.[7]

The post-hobble skirt era

The next time skirts would be narrow enough to impede movement would be with the sheath skirts of the 1950s, first introduced at the end of the 1940s.[8][9][10] Though shorter lengths (from just below the knee to the lower calf) and advances in fabric would enable a little more movement than in the hobble-skirt era,[11] the 1950s sheath skirt's new waist-to-hem tightness, said to reveal the shape of the leg, still created problems of mobility, with split seams a familiar occurrence.[12] Nonetheless, they were widely promoted by designers and the fashion industry, their narrowness exaggerated even more by having models pose with one leg directly in front of the other.[13] Some other skirt styles of the time also had very narrow hems, particularly the knee-length puffball/pouf skirts shown by Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent from 1958 to 1960. A few of Saint Laurent's 1959 skirts were so narrow at the hem that some fashion writers revived the word "hobble" to refer to them.[14][15] Sheath skirts remained part of the fashion picture into the early 1960s and then went very much out of style with the rise of the flared miniskirts of the mid- to late sixties[16][17][18] and the easy, comfortable clothes of the 1970s.[19][20][21][22][23]

Toward the end of the seventies, beginning in fall of 1978, some designers began reviving the narrow skirt silhouettes of decades past. Initially, many of them allowed some movement via slits,[24][25] though not always. Some were so inhibiting that the word hobble was once again used to describe them.[26] When the tight silhouette of the 1950s sheath skirt was revived in the early 1980s, it was somewhat less restricting, as it was now usually produced in stretchier, often knit fabrics and could even be in mini lengths, though there is only so much movement possible in a knee-length or longer skirt that is tight all the way to the hem.[27][28] These 1980s-style stretch sheath skirts in various lengths have been revived off and on ever since.

In popular culture

Movies and television

Music videos

See also


  1. ^ a b F, José Blanco; Hunt-Hurst, Patricia Kay; Lee, Heather Vaughan; Doering, Mary (23 November 2015). Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe [4 volumes]: American Fashion from Head to Toe. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781610693103.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g David, Alison Matthews (24 September 2015). Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781472577733.
  3. ^ a b "Women in Aviation and Space History". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Milford-Cottam, Daniel (10 February 2014). Edwardian Fashion. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9780747814757.
  5. ^ Walker, Jim (2007). Los Angeles Railway Yellow Cars. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9780738547916.
  6. ^ "Fashion Plate Collection : Fashion Trends". Digital Collections. University of Washington Libraries. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Hundred-Year-Old Fashion Fad: The Hobble Skirt". 22 September 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  8. ^ Howell, Georgina (1978). "1948-49". In Vogue: Sixty Years of Celebrities and Fashion from British Vogue. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd. p. 221. ISBN 0-14-00-4955-X. Dior produces...an arrow-thin sheath....His tightest skirt has to be split for walking.
  9. ^ "Christian Dior Cuts Skirt Length in Move Disrupting Couture World". The New York Times: 28. 10 February 1948. ...[Dior] suits have hobble skirts...
  10. ^ Mulvagh, Jane (1988). "1950". Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. London, England: Viking, the Penguin Group. pp. 209, 210. ISBN 0-670-80172-0. Body line was the key term this year, as the sheath superseded New Look dresses....The designers of the most uncompromising sheaths were Dior...and Schiaparelli...The daytime sheath was seen at all three main fashion capitals...The sheath was the most fashionable evening line.
  11. ^ Mulvagh, Jane (1988). "1950". Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. London, England: Viking, the Penguin Group. p. 209. ISBN 0-670-80172-0. [T]he sheath...was attainable as a result of developments in corsetry, such as the use of nylon and light elastic net.
  12. ^ Mulvagh, Jane (1988). "1952". Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. London, England: Viking, the Penguin Group. p. 221. ISBN 0-670-80172-0. American Vogue emphasized that...[w]e want skirts we can step out of an automobile in without splitting their sides...
  13. ^ Howell, Georgina (1978). "1950". In Vogue: Sixty Years of Celebrities and Fashion from British Vogue. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd. p. 226. ISBN 0-14-00-4955-X. To make skirts look even narrower at the knee, models are photographed with one leg behind the other...
  14. ^ Howell, Georgina (1978). "1959". In Vogue: Sixty Years of Celebrities and Fashion from British Vogue. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd. p. 259. ISBN 0-14-00-4955-X. Yves Saint Laurent at Dior raises the skirt to the knees...and pulls the skirt in to a tight knee-band....Vogue...show[ed] the hobble first in its 'least exaggerated'...form before leading up to the 'extreme trendsetter'.
  15. ^ Donovan, Carrie (26 August 1959). "French Styles en Route: Dior Skirt Splits Critics". The New York Times: 32. Retrieved 30 June 2023. ...Yves Saint Laurent['s]...newly cut skirt...seemed to constrict the knees and then balloon above them. The skirt obviously was based on the hobble skirts of yore....The majority of the daily newspaper reporters immediately labeled it 'hobble'...
  16. ^ "Fashion View". The New York Times: SM6. 30 December 1979. Retrieved 10 December 2021. Take the anti‐establishment 60's...: the untamed manes of the flower children, the faded jeans of the affluence‐rejecting hippies, the discarded bras of the women's liberation movement, the knee‐freeing skirts..., and the street‐imitating gear of the radical chic...share...an antifashion attitude that became...powerful and pervasive...
  17. ^ Hasson, Rachelle. "Fashion". World Book Year Book 1968: Events of 1967. Chicago, Illinois, USA: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation. p. 336. Movement and freedom keynoted...skirts that widened into A-lines...
  18. ^ Molli, Jeanne (16 January 1964). "Paris Notes: The Trends for Spring". The New York Times: 32. Snug dresses are...uncomfortable, [Courrèges] points out...
  19. ^ Morris, Bernadine (1 January 1976). "70's Fashion: Sportswear at the Summit". The New York Times. p. 36. Retrieved 10 December 2021. [T]he 1970's will be marked by clothes divided into many easy pieces that can be added to or subtracted from, according to the weather, personal preferences and the feeling of the moment.... Construction will continue to be simplified so that clothes become increasingly less bulky and more flowing. The style of the 1970's is low on artifice, high on a natural look. Casual is the operative word.
  20. ^ Mount, Roy Jr. (1 January 1979). "Fashion". The New York Times. p. 18. Retrieved 8 December 2021. In the 1970's...[s]portswear emerged as the dominant theme, implying a relaxed fit and considerable versatility, since most clothes were made in interchangeable parts....For a number of years, it offered a serviceable way of dressing, geared to active women's lives, adjusting to vagaries of climate, adapting easily to travel requirements. As the sportswear onslaught continued, clothes lost their linings and interfacings, becoming softer, looser, less structured. Almost everything became as comfortable to wear as a sweater.
  21. ^ Morris, Bernadine (5 March 1975). "Will It Be Full Dresses or Narrow – or Back to Living in Jeans?". The New York Times. p. 23. Retrieved 18 February 2022. What women have found appealing is the freedom of the full shapes, which offer no restraint on wide strides and easy movements.
  22. ^ Donovan, Carrie (27 November 1977). "Fashion". The New York Times: 243. Retrieved 17 March 2022. What the new fashion is saying is Take a whole new look at yourself. Celebrate your body and do away with anything that stiffly confines it.
  23. ^ "From French Ready-to-Wear, That Well-Groomed Look". The New York Times: 30. 24 April 1972. Retrieved 14 November 2023. ...[A] straight skirt crop[s] up here and there. Anyone who remembers how it feels to wear one will not welcome its...return.
  24. ^ Mount, Roy Jr. (1 January 1979). "Fashion Notes". The New York Times: 18. Retrieved 15 December 2021. [T]he skimpiness of the styles made the skirt slits obligatory — otherwise, the wearer would not be able to move.
  25. ^ Morris, Bernadine (25 November 1978). "Slit Skirts: A Question of Taste". The New York Times. p. B14. Retrieved 4 April 2022. Many of the skirts are so narrow that slits are indeed necessary to permit the wearer to take a healthy stride.
  26. ^ Morris, Bernadine (10 April 1979). "Impresarios of Fashion Preside at Les Halles". The New York Times. p. C12. Retrieved 15 December 2021. Karl Lagerfeld ... had ... hobble skirts that are impossible to walk in...
  27. ^ Morris, Bernadine (21 September 1982). "Notes on Fashion". The New York Times. p. B1. Retrieved 15 December 2021. ...[H]ow explain the resurgence of short, tight skirts, body-cupping knitted dresses, spindly heels and other constricting clothes that can only be described as sexist? Favored by a small fashion-oriented cult in Paris, the styles by such designers as Azzedine Alaia, Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana ... run counter to the flowing, unrestricted ... look, and many women find them offensive.
  28. ^ Morris, Bernadine (27 February 1983). "The Directions of the Innovators". The New York Times. p. 132. Retrieved 4 April 2022. [Azzedine Alaïa, Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, i]n these designers' collections, waistlines are usually taut, heels are high ... and, while the designers generally deny it, many of the clothes are restrictive.