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A hobble skirt (from to hobble = "to limp") is a skirt with a narrow enough hem to significantly impede the wearer's stride, thus earning its name. A knee-long corset is also used to achieve this effect. A dress consisting of such skirt is called a hobble dress.
Although restrictive skirts first appeared in Western fashion in 1880s, the term was first used in reference to a short-lived trend of narrow skirts in around 1910-1913. The Parisian fashion designer Paul Poiret is sometimes credited with the design, inspired by the widespread Oriental influence on Western culture, but in fact the extreme hobble skirt is an evolution of the narrowing skirt seen in fashion since the turn of the century.
The archives of the New York Times between 1910 and the beginning of the First World War contain many detailed accounts of the hobble skirt wearers of the era. It seems that some New York fashion houses may have asked their dressmakers to interpret too literally the slim styles depicted in Paris fashion illustrations. Many women and their admirers subsequently discovered quite accidentally the delights of the geisha-like way of walking which such narrow skirts create, and the hobble skirt, impractical though it was, achieved tremendous popularity.
Although the term is sometimes used in reference to narrow ankle-length skirts in the early 1910s, some skirts of this period, although called hobble skirts, had slits, hidden pleats, and draping that lessened the restriction on a woman's ability to move freely, because in this period women were becoming more active in various activities which would have been impossible to do in a hobbled hemline. The most restricting extant styles from this period, which truly do hobble the wearer, are either evening wear or are found in wedding dresses when a woman was only required to take small measured steps down the aisle of a church.
Long tight skirts reappeared through the century in various forms, particularly in evening gowns, as well as daytime pencil skirts popular in the 1950s. A more literal interpretation of hobble skirts became a mainstay in bondage-oriented fetish fashion, often made out of leather, PVC, or latex. For example, they were a regular topic in the 1950s John Willie fetish magazine, Bizarre.
Hobble skirts are still present today in goth and BDSM communities, but are also sometimes used as evening gowns and wedding dresses and sometimes in other occasions although rarely due to restricting properties. Like other skirts in western civilization they are almost exclusively worn by women.
Advantages and disadvantages
There are several advantages and disadvantages of hobble skirts.
- Some people enjoy the feeling of legs being "hugged" together by the skirt.
- Due to their tightness and close proximity to the body, hobble skirts can make the wearer feel very warm, without having to wear bifurcated legwear.
- May be seen as protecting the wearer's modesty by largely eliminating the chance of unexpected exposure of undergarments.
- They shorten the wearer's stride.
- They render the wearer unable to run
- It is impossible to do things which require spreading legs or having an object between the legs
Appearance in popular culture
Movies and television series
- The Addams Family — Morticia commonly wears long, black gothic hobble dresses
- Dick Tracy — Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) appears in a shiny black skintight gown
- Ugly Betty — in Icing on the Cake episode Amanda (Becki Newton) wears tight silver rubber hobble dress named the "Amanda"
- What a Way to Go! — Louisa May Foster (Shirley MacLaine) is seen in shiny red pencil skirt.
- Love Religion — U96
- Fetish clothing
- Fetish fashion
- Gothic fashion
- Flickr Tight Skirts and Dresses Group (Hundreds of pictures of long tight skirts, a Yahoo address is required