What is a Hobble Skirt?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A hobble skirt is a skirt or the skirt of a dress that is so narrow at the hemline it impedes movement. Women wearing this type of skirt had to take very short calculated steps and are said to hobble rather than walk in a comfortable stride. It’s virtually impossible to run in this kind of skirt, but at the time they were worn, running for ladies was still frowned upon.

As women became more active, both the hobble skirt and the restrictive corset were undesirable features.
As women became more active, both the hobble skirt and the restrictive corset were undesirable features.

The first design fashions for these skirts. were made in the 1880s, and are sometimes credited to designer Paul Poiret. The term was born long after the actual design. Restrictive skirts were first called hobble skirts after 1910.

Some skirt styles, though narrow, only give the illusion of being a hobble. A skirt might include hidden pleats, or slits that allowed for easier walking. Most commonly the wedding dress of the early 20th century featured a true hobble skirt, since women didn’t really need a quick stride, unless they decided to make a break for it, before the ceremony!

Sometimes the skirt was banded with fabric below the knee, or fit tightly just below the knee instead of right at the ankle length hem. This is the case with the modern mermaid skirt, and many early 20th century designs. Restricting the legs below the knee often leads to the same hobbling effect, as does a tight ankle hem.

Though these skirts are less fashionable, they have certainly never gone completely out of style. The modern pencil skirt, though shorter in length can still be a hobble skirt. Formal dresses for proms, balls, or red carpet events may also exhibit hobble skirt elements. However, today, when a hobble hem is used, or a gown is form fitting, it normally features slits, often quite high and revealing ones, so that movement is not impeded.

The hobble skirt of the early 20th century gave way to much shorter hems, and looser anti-hobbling garments like the flapper costumes of the 1920s. As women gradually became much more active, participating in sports, and walking long distances, both the hobble skirt, and the restrictive corset were undesirable features. Instead, freedom of movement was far more desired, representing the independence of young women.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

lightning88

I think hobble skirts are so beautiful -- and I don't mean the fetish leather hobble skirts, I mean the nice, classy ones.

For instance, I think that a white satin hobble skirt, when fitted appropriately and worn by someone who knows how to walk in it and doesn't fall over all the time can be such a beautiful fashion statement.

Although it's kind of hard to learn, walking in a hobble skirt is by no means impossible, and let me tell you, the looks you get once you master it are fantastic!

What a great way to make a classy, yet sensual fashion statement.

FirstViolin

I have a question: would a long denim skirt be considered a hobble skirt? It's very fitted, so I know it's not a tulip skirt a pleated skirt or anything, but most of the hobble skirts I see aren't denim.

Is it even possible to have a denim hobble skirt? Do they exist?

rallenwriter

I have never been much of a fan of the hobble skirt, but I did see one that made me cock my head the other day -- it was a white plus size pvc hobble skirt. Now, I didn't really know that plus size hobble skirts existed, much less why you would want to wear one made out of PVC.

Maybe I'm just out of it, but aren't most hobble skirts made of satin or cotton?

I mean, I can understand a satin or silk hobble skirt, but PVC? I'm just not sure about that, particularly in plus size.

anon899

Actually, the term "hobble" was nothing to do with the way the wearer walked (would you buy a skirt if someone said you were "hobbling" in it?) it was a rather witty reference to the hobble strap used to tether horses' legs to stop them straying off on open ground when there was nothing to tie the animal to (this was 1910 don't forget - lots of horses still!)

The early hobble skirt either had a sash or belt incorporated as part of the design below the knee. It was worn with what was known as a "hobble garter" which was an elasticated strap linking a garter on each leg, thus discouraging the wearer from over-striding in the narrow skirt shape, and splitting delicate fabrics. The hobble skirt was so popular that women allegedly tried to force their way into the salon of its Paris designer, Paul Poiret, when it first became available, to make sure of getting one! The style was directly influenced by the traditional women's clothes of varius parts of the far East, where a restricted stride is considered graceful and sensual - e.g. the Japanese Geisha or the dancers of Thailand. It is unfortunate that the misuse of the word "hobble", which should therefore be understood as a noun, not a verb, has led to ignorant Westerners missing out on (and even making fun of) a beautiful way of dressing, and of walking.

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