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hobble skirt

The Hobble Garter

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Hobble Garter

Not content with the harness and trappings of various descriptions with which the fashionable woman must needs burden herself in these foolish fashion days, there has now made its appearance in the fashionable shops that cater to the ultra – advanced fashion whims, what is known as the “hobble-garter.”

The new contrivance follows closely on the heels of the much-discussed hobble-skirt, a freakish idea thrown up by the fashion tide, the lasting qualities of which are a moot question among the fashion authorities of both the Continent and this side of the water. Narrow in its confines, uncomfortable in the wearing, because of its pull-back effect, the women who wear them, so it is reported, have discovered that not only is free locomotion well nigh impossible, but if the wearer even makes use of her natural step when encased in one of these new freak gowns there is danger of a stumble and fall when least expected, and there is the added excitement of practically tearing the skirt asunder if it be fashioned of light material, unless a mincing gait is assumed.

Such a walk is not acquired in a day or even a month, and therefore there has been devised for the hobblers a particularly feminine piece of torture—for it is nothing else—which we herewith illustrate and which for lack of creative ability on the part of its devisers is called the “hobble-garter.”

This new dress adjunct may be best described as consisting of two silken garters fastened below the knees with bejewelled clasps (they are not cheap articles) and ornamented with bows of the same shade as the elastic and ribbon used. These are in turn connected by the use of a strap of elastic webbing of the same color, not over a foot in length. It can be readily seen that so equipped the danger of tripping, missteps, or of damaging the gown is minimized, and all this in detriment to the natural gait which is entirely lost by its use. Silly fashions have come and gone, but it remains for the fashions of the fall of 1910 to develop this latest freak—the “hobble-garter.” – Notions and fancy goods, September 1910

The Hobble Skirt

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Of all the fads in fashion of the Edwardian era, none was so provocative–or dangerous–as the hobble skirt. French couturier Paul Poiret claimed to have created the hobble skirt, but the narrow, nearly skin-tight skirt had its roots in the early 1880s, when fashion placed emphasis on the posterior hidden beneath a neat, erotic bustle. However, it wasn’t until skirts began to narrow once more circa 1908/09 when the true “hobble skirt” made its appearance.

Between 1910 and 1913, the hobble skirt reigned supreme in fashion, obtaining popularity from the Oriental- and Directoire-inspired crazes. These skirts were extremely slim to the point of forcing women who wore them to take tiny, mincing “geisha-like” steps, and nearly barring them from independent movement (it is rather curious that as the suffrage movement moved to militancy, fashions for women became restricting). Though the hobble skirt was denounced as unsafe, and some employers even barred their female workers from wearing them, a few factions approved of the trend: “Grandmothers think that the means justify the end, and that the hobble skirt will bring back to women the old grace. They will be compelled to shorten their strides, learn to place their feet in a straight line, and not throw them in or out in the slovenly modern way, and that the entire appearance of women will be thus benefited.”

By 1912, the hobble skirt had become a tad more practical, with many concealing slits, hidden pleats, draping, and sometimes even Turkish trousers, beneath the narrow outer-skirt, which allowed greater movement than the hobbled walk initially characterizing the fad. Thank goodness, for the newspapers of the day reported countless accidents involving hobble skirts, with many women tripping, falling, and even breaking their legs while maneuvering in the skirt. To save face against the backlash, many Parisian couturiers began to characterize the trend as “American”!

To the rescue did come an American firm who, with great ingenuity, designed “Hobble Skirt” cars for city tramways. The correct name for these trams was Low Level Center Entrance cars or Hedley-Doyle cars after their designers, Frank Hedley, who was Vice-President and General Manager of the New York Railways Company, and James S. Doyle, Superintendent of Car Equipment. In 1912 they produced three prototype cars for the company–the sills of the doors were only about 8 inches from street level and once inside the floor sloped up into each saloon to give space under the floor for the bogies–and by 1914, tramlines throughout the world were equipped with “Hobble Skirt” cars.

As with all fads, the hobble skirt passed from fad to fashion history by 1915. The odd thing is, with the fabric shortages of WWI, it should have remained in style rather than the fabric-hoarding “war crinoline” trend (left), but who can tell what drives fashion?

Further Reading:

Poiret (Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications) by Harold Koda, Andrew Bolton, and Nancy J. Troy

Introduction: Edwardian Women’s Fashions

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vict-edw_corsetThe silhouette of the Edwardian woman changed drastically between the 1880s and the start of WWI. From the protruding bustle of the 1880s and the aggressive, slightly masculine leg-o’mutton sleeves of the 1890s, to the S-bend, swan-like shape of the 1900s and the ultra-slim line of the hobble-skirt in 1910, each reflected the shift of the roles women played in society. The “New Woman” of the 1890s was the natural reaction to the 1870s and 1880s, when not only were white-collar jobs increasingly available to them, but universities began to open their classes–or, in the case of Oxford and Cambridge–opened colleges for the education of women.

The popularity of the bicycle, which enabled women much more freedom (and also brought about the grudging acceptance of the bloomer) from chaperonage and from past restrictions concerning their contact with places outside of the home. While ridiculous to modern eyes, the exaggeratedly puffed sleeves of the 1890s are said to be a metaphor for the aggressiveness of women, who played just as skillfully and competitively as their male counterparts in such sports as fencing, croquet, law tennis and hockey. To the older generation, the”New Woman,” who rode her bicycle to and fro, met single men for tea in the newfangled tea-rooms, attended college and–gasp–might have smoked (and all of it unchaperoned) was a shock to the systems–systems, for those who survived into the first decade of the 20th century, would suffer more shocks.

1894worthgown For a brief period at the turn of the century, fashions reverted to the overly feminine: pastel colors and the languid silhouette of the “S”-bend corset. Surprisingly, the S-bend corset (termed such, for it thrust the bosom forward and the derrière backward, causing the posture to bend) was invented by a female doctor as a health corset that fit beneath the bust and allowed for freer movement. Obstinate against their bodies being, in a sense, corset-less, women adapted this corset into its familiar usage. Starting around 1908, with the staggering width of hats, skirts began to narrow and the Directoire style arrived–an adaption of the empire waists and flowing skirts of the Regency era–, and corsets began to lengthen and straighten, starting just above the waist and fitting well down the thighs, thereby making sitting quite difficult.

Ironically(or not), with the rising militancy of suffragists, skirts began to narrow until they became the barreled, banded style known as the hobble skirt. From 1911-1912, skirts became so narrow they hampered the movement of women, causing them a1911 silhouette variety of problems that required the assistance of gentlemen for the most simplest of tasks. After that brief, brief period, hobble skirts began to feature discreet slits and panels, an accomodation which coincided with startling popularity of the Argentine tango. Hemlines also began their discreet rise, hitting the tops of boots by 1913, and rising eight inches from the ground by 1917. Oddly enough, despite the fabric shortages caused by WWI, skirts were wide and full during the war years, slimming down by 1918 and slowly morphing into the knee-skimming styles we identify with the 1920s.

To dress the actual Edwardian lady was a daunting task in and of itself. “‘…. A large fraction of our time was spent in changing our clothes.” said Cynthia Asquith. From Lady Randolph Churchill to Consuelo Vanderbilt to Lady Diana Manners , copious memoirs written by the period’s luminaries all described this phenomenon. It wasn’t enough to keep up with the fashions, one had to carry them off with style and aplomb–and the quintessential Edwardian lady, tall, stately and beautiful, was the perfect canvas for the artistry of Worth, Doucet, Beer, Callot Soeurs, and Paquin.

A typical Saturday-to-Monday would require at least half a dozen changes of clothes: tweeds for shooting, habits for hunting, tea gowns for lounging, day dresses for day, evening gowns for supper, walking dress for promenading, and the requisite “tailor-made,” a suit of varying fabrics–depending on the occasion–, worn with shirtwaist, designed by the House of Redfern. Alongside these articles of clothing came sportswear, outerwear (mantelets, coats, jackets, pelisses), gloves, handbags, shoes, boots, parasols, brollies, and most importantly, hats.merry widow hat

The bonnet disappeared in the 1890s, and hats gradually grew wider as the era progressed, the “Merry Widow” hat of 1907-08 retaining its popularity until 1914. Onto these hats were piled masses and masses of flowers, netting, feathers, and sometimes, birds. It was not atypical for a lady to not have an elaborately-made hat with perhaps a stuffed pigeon–shot by her husband or an admirer–perched saucily between feathers. The craze for feathers got so bad, laws began to be passed restricting the use of certain types of bird’s feathers. All of this, besides hats, who were placed in hat boxes, would be packed into a trunk colloquially called a “Noah’s Ark.”

marchesa casatiArticles of clothing themselves were as elaborate on the inside as they were without. Snaps and tapes fastened the blouse at either center back or the side and it was then hooked to the back of the skirt to combat gaping when the arms were lifted. These blouses, made of “soft clinging fabrics, with wilting sleeves dripping with expensive lace”, were elaborate and sometimes seductive confections of lace, ribbons and chiffon. The aptly titled “pneumonia blouse”, was a sheer, near transparent V-necked blouse that tantalized and hinted at the delicate skin hidden beneath. The skirts themselves were of languid and elegant gored lines, inspiring such names as “mermaid”, “eel” or “umbrella” skirt. Covering the blouse with a beaded and beribboned bolero jacket, sliding into slender Louis heels, and topping off with a wide hat, the Edwardian lady was dressed for the most simplest of that day’s tasks.

Further Reading:
Handbook of English costume in the nineteenth century by C. Willett Cunnington
Handbook of English Costume in the 20th Century 1900-1950 by Alan Mansfield and Phillis Cunnington
Victorian and Edwardian Fashions from “La Mode Illustree” by JoAnne Olian