In the early ’80s, there was a brief fad for vintage-style hobble skirts, which are so narrow that one can only take tiny steps. The term “hobble skirt” was first used in the early 1900s to describe designs by Paul Poiret. (Nowadays, we’d say we were dressing “steampunk.”)
I remembered the hobble skirts last Tuesday when I was wearing my ultra-tight vintage Patrick Kelly gown at the Committee to Protect Journalists dinner. It’s so tight around the legs that at some angles it looks like a catsuit, like it did here. But not in this photo from Getty/Michael Nagler! Thanks for getting this great shot, Mike. I’m trying to figure out how I can use it on my driver’s license and passport. What?! I like to look my best on government documentation!
As I minced along that night, it suddenly dawned on me that I was wearing a full-length hobble dress. Luckily, I wasn’t in a rush. If I had been in a hurry, I would have been better off with the opposite of a hobble: a Bonnie Cashin hitch-up skirt.
Cashin, who died in 2000, was a groundbreaking sportswear designer. You might recognize her name because she designed handbags for Coach, which did some Cashin-inspired pieces last year. How I wish I had a photo of the Coach bag I had in high school! We all had Coach bags with the toggle closure, which Cashin had introduced decades earlier.
She did the same closure on outerwear.
Cashin explained the origin of her hitch-up skirt design in an interview:
“My studio, out in the country, in Briarcliff, in the old carriage house, had steps that went up to a second floor. And I was constantly holding my skirts going up. I entertained a lot. And I’d be running up stairs with a martini in my hand. And so I thought I’d better hitch my skirt permanently.”
Here is an example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art describes the style this way:
The Cashin silhouette … is … achieved with an unusual skirt fastener. She called this favorite device her “dog leash” in recognition of that simple hardware. The effect is to winch up the cloth and make the mohair more layered and luxurious by a profoundly simple hitch.
Orange you glad I didn’t say banana ?
Except, being a good story-teller, she never said the last line. She would come up with something new. It might start out “Orange went to the supermarket and met Peach and Plum …” and continue along those lines for quite a few minutes. All the fruits and vegetables would get in on the action. Orange you glad little children are so cute?
I have a skirt that has a bit of a hitch in the back and I love it even though it bunches right at the butt. Okay, because it does!
Now I want one of those skirts, especially the one on hold. Find me more!
Belle de Ville says
Wendy, super fab post.
I adore those Cashin hitched up skirts.
Wendy dear, I wouldn’t say those illustrations are hobble skirts. The era of the hobble was just before WW I. If my fashion memory serves, I think they went out of fashion when the war necessitated women working out of the home (yep, they did so in both wars). Re: the Cashin skirts–I want to like them, but they’re way too voluminous.
Hmmm… I just grabbed an illustration from the description of hobble skirts here: http://library.thinkquest.org/J0111064/00fads.html
I’ll see if I can find a better picture.
Remember my Cashin score?? http://line4line.blogspot.com/search?q=cashin Lord I love this piece. The woman really liked bright colours.
Sara Rocha says
Your sister was very cute!
Let me tell you I prefer your hobble style to the hitch-up skirt. Although I like it, I think it can only come to a good result if one has long legs and considerable height, otherwise I think it shortens you up… am I crazy for thinking this way?!
Anyway, Hathor’s earrings really stand out in a drop-dead elegant way.
I think you were in a winner look and although it’s tight, we can see you’re glowing! 😉
Again, kisses from Portugal
deja pseu says
We used to do something similar with our Renaissance Faire costumes, where the outer voluminous skirt is hitched up in the belt to reveal the (supposedly clean and newer) underskirt.
Ah, I miss the old Coach!
You look stunning in that photo Wendy! Your hair looks amazing and it looks like you definitely stood out from the other people at the event. Glam lady!
The Bonnie Cashin skirts are awesome, especially the one from the Met. Speaking of the Met, I never visited when I was in NYC all those summers ago. I’m assuming it’s a little like the V&A in London? Definitely on my to-do list whenever I have the opportunity to visit again!
Ashe Mischief says
I’ve seen variations on the Cassin skirt, but never knew who they were credited to and why– I love knowing that now and seeing the originals!
That reminds me that I had a version of a hobble skirt when I was about 13. It was very long and tight to about my knees, then a section was pleated around the bottom. I used to wear it ALL THE TIME.
sharon rose says
Hi my dear-love those hitch up skirts and the orange and camel jacket is just perfect for this season, a lovely post indeed! xx
Make Do Style says
I love that photo – already commented on facebook – just get it on that government documentation!!
Coco's Tea Party says
That photo is amazing, as is the dress. I absolutely love it!
Beautifully Invisible says
Wow, those Cashin skirts are super-voluminous. I love the look of them, but I could never wear one. I’d love to see you rocking one though – if anyone could, it is you!
Thanks for the historical info on the hobble skirts and cashin designs. I knew a bit about the hobble skirts, but most of the Cashin info was new to me.
I love these meandering posts of yours–they’re always full of interesting tidbits. And the old toggle closure Coach bags are experiencing a resurgence in popularity! I found one from a vintage dealer on Etsy that I’ve been using as my everyday crossbody bag.
La Belette Rouge says
Your banana joke makes me think of my monkey joke, “It won’t be long now!”;-)
p.s. You look amazing in that dress.
My favorite joke EVAH!
La Belette Rouge says
My favorite part about you and that joke is how you would always forget the punch line. Just thinking of it is making me laugh out loud.:-)
Still have my first Coach bag from high school. (And I use it, too!)
Emma at Daily Clothes Fix says
That photo of you is amazing – you look beautiful and the light is wonderful.
I have a maxi dress which is a bit like a hobble skirt. Nearly fell over when I tried to run in it. Geisha steps only. I also have a hitch-up skirt which I love.
Penny Dreadful Vintage says
PHWOAR to that photo. So amazing, you have your own halo. Actually, it looks a little like a Wendy B paper doll. You should bring a book out.
x Corrine/Frock & Roll x says
I’ve never heard of the term ‘hobble skirt’ before and now immediately want to own one. Or three. Or ten. They’re gorgeous!
I like your hobbleskirt photo, it reminds me of one of my favorite joke bits.
“I like my women as I like my coffee…”
“Tied up and thrown over a donkey by Juan Valdez.”
Same way I like my men!
Wow, you are radiant in that photo, Wendy!
Do you think that hobble skirts will be the next new thing?
Nah! They don’t make people angry enough.
you look stunning and glamorous in that dress! i love your earrings of course:)
I LOVE all of Cashin’s designs, i’m definitely going to that etsy store that sells the handbag 🙂
well well well… you’ve just given me an idea for some shoes. i’ll keep you updated 😉
Can’t wait to see.
OH MY GOODNESS WENDY!!! You look incredible in that dress, the whole look is perfection and I’d be so angry at you if you decided to never wear it again! Ahhh, you’re officially my new hero.
In that 80s decade, I made myself a grey wool hobble skirt with buckles on each side. I loved it. I looked smashing. I couldn’t walk at all! I wore it with a buttoned down men’s shirt, grey or brown tights, and pointy slim brogues from the 60s. I don’t think my style has actually changed since I was 15.
I didn’t know about Cashin!
And you do look smashing. Next time have your evening’s escorts take turns carrying you. That way you can wear whatever you want.
That's Not My Age says
You look fabulous – think I need to get myself one of those Cashin hitched-up skirts then I can run around with a Martini in my hand, and no fear of tripping up, throughout the party season!
I’ve always liked those turn-key closures. You need a special machine to attach them… big headache. I’m loving those voluminous skirts. I haven’t heard that little riddle in ages! Made me chuckle.
Now I’m getting to wonder about these anti-spam words or yours. The post mentions Terribb and my anti-spam word is TERRIBB. What gives here?
Part of my evil plan to drive you crazy.
I was wondering about that halo around you and now see that there is someone taking a picture from you in the background. What’s the odds that both cameras go off at the same time? I think I’ll have a martini (my anti-spam word) and ponder that.
Yep, that’s Bill Cunningham from the New York Times taking the other photo.
Abigail Ny says
Loving the hitch up skirt, the pink one is amazing!
well your dress is still my favorite item in this post!
You look absolutely stunning in your leopard print dress – knockout! xx
Bonnie Cashin is my all-time favorite American designer – I am lucky enough to have two leather trimmed wool coats (one solid camel, one oversized olive and magenta plaid)and two leather coats (one tangerine, one pistachio), as well as an ankle length, long sleeved, cowl necked, fitted, 100% cashmere Cashin dress – in bright orange, of course – all scored for ridiculously low (none topped $50)prices on Ebay. If you really know what you’re looking for, sellers who take blurry photos but respond to questions can be a goldmine. And snipe, naturally.
If anyone could pull off that look, you could!
What a fabulous article. Hitch up skirts and Bonnie Cashin. My Mom had a parade of the twist closure style of Coach purses when I was growing up. Great to learn about the woman who introduced them!
That dress you are wearing is ridiculous—hot tamale!
I love this post!
I wish you’d get one of those skirts, it would show off your lovely legs, and it would be a change of pace for you, just like those giant sailor pants you got a few months ago.
Cashin was so clever; everybody’s ripping off that toggle closure now, and that snap hitch on the hitch skirt was all over Coach goods for a long time.
Julie Anne Rhodes says
You are beyond stunning in that leopard print va va voom number!
Now that’s timing – I actually told THAT VERY KNOCK KNOCK JOKE to my nieces last Friday while we were chillin’ during intermission at the theatre. They were delighted.
I love those hitch dresses. I would wear one in a heartbeat.
Love how removing the shoulder-pads modernized that dress a bit. That’s such a fun photo. I think I want a hitch skirt now…I like voluminous!
Joanne Martin says
Love you blog and the insight into the history of fashion (which is also a passion of mine). I remember wearing a hobble skirt complete with a bubble hem – no need to guess the era. Your Patrick Kelly gown is a standout. As long as you don’t wear it to one of those events that needs a quick getaway, the inability to walk is a small price.
I came across your page while researching current trends in tween fashion in Australia, particularly hitched up skirts and dresses. I’ve linked to your blog so my readers can see some examples of Bonnie Cashin’s work. Hope you don’t mind and I’d love to read anything you have to say about the current trend in fishtail/mullet dresses which I’ve written about here http://wp.me/p1W65R-1g.