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.
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.