I graduated from high school at a time when it seemed everyone, male or female, was trying very hard to look like Cher. I remember very well a class where our teacher was explaining how things come into fashion and then disappear, to be laughed at by the next generation.
One of my serious-minded classmates said, “Oh, I don’t think anyone would laugh at long hair.”
“That’s what we thought about short hair,” he told her. She shook her head in disbelief. I haven’t seen her to ask her about it lately, and perhaps there’s no real need.
Mocking fashion was a habit of postcard artists. The fashionable female figure went through enormous changes in just the first thirty years of the twentieth century, from the demise of the bustle and the impossibly corseted waist to the era when the Boyishform Bra was produced to the rounder silhouettes of the Thirties (welcomed by one postcard gentleman who sang out “Hippy Days Are Here Again!” Someone who was growing up when I did had to look at THAT caption twice.)
Consider, for example, the earth-shaking phenomenon of the Hobble Skirt, an invention of around 1908, which was also a pivotal year in the postcard fad. Inspired, according to legend, by the first American woman to ride in an airplane, it copied the way she tied her skirt around her ankles so it wouldn’t be blown around by the winds in the open-air flying machines of the day.
Tight at the ankle and lacking the sweep of earlier skirts, the hobble skirt was so named because it made walking difficult and running nearly impossible. Some fashion magazines actually suggested women tie their knees together before donning the skirt. Streetcar companies introduced new models without steps so women in hobble skirts could still ride, but some women in the new skirt style died from the inability to get out of the way of oncoming danger. Some designers came up with a modified version which had a slit up the side, for easier locomotion.
Many of the artists who made their living drawing for postcards at this time were men, so the difficulty of walking around took a back seat to other considerations. The dropping of wide skirts and ruffles for the straight, severe lines of the hobble skirt gave women a whole new profile, and THIS is what the artists sought to bring to your attention.
This artist, for example, clearly thought the new styles were so revealing as to be dangerous to passing men.
This artist, on the other hand, simply wondered if the ladies really knew how they looked in the new fashion.
A novelist once suggested that high fashion, male or female, was meant to emphasize the general uselessness of the wearer, since only someone incredibly rich could afford to be of no use to society. Like a lot of things, the hobble skirt did not survive the First World War. Women retrieved the ability to move their legs to take on a more active role in a time of crisis.
Hobble skirts were not the only fashion trend of the pre-war period adored by the cartoonists. But we’re running out of space, so we will have to use another blog to consider, well, those hats.