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Hundred-Year-Old Fashion Fad: The Hobble Skirt

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In 1914, the hobble skirt was all the rage. To eyes used to seeing women's bodies enveloped in yards of fabric, these skirts were a shocking reminder that women had ankles, legs, and derrières.

While rumors surround the moment when women's skirts went from heavy and billowing to light and tight—even the Wright Brothers claimed they came up with the fashion when they tied a string around an early passenger's flapping skirt—nobody knows for sure who invented this trend. The skirt's popularity can be traced to Paul Poiret's 1908 designs for select French clients, which featured dresses designed to be worn without petticoats or corsets. "Yes, I freed the bust," he wrote, "but I shackled the legs."

What hobble skirts' wearers gained in good looks, they sacrificed in mobility. As mass-produced copies of Poiret's new narrow, leg-emphasizing skirts hit American streets, women no longer strode or glided. Instead, they took tiny, mincing steps, wiggling their way into a full-blown fashion scandal.

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Though most women still wore corsets, they were more than glad to trade in their heavy petticoats (which could weigh up to 30 pounds) for this fresh new look. But the petticoat wouldn't go down without a fight. Public figures derided the new fashion and cartoonists lampooned the struggles of women to cross streets and climb into taxis. The New York Times played the guilt card with a huge spread on the economic impact of a world without petticoats—a decline in the textile industry, a rise in the cost of living, and lower wages resulting in a downright depression: "Think of that! Think of 10,000 people turned away from their possible means of livelihood, 10,000 families, perhaps, starving, just because women persist in following an ungraceful and immodest freak of fashion!"

By throwing away a garment long associated with chastity, warmth, and cleanliness, women were making the ultimate fashion statement. Armed with more leisure, more freedom, better educations, and better prospects than ever before, women were ready to do—and wear—what they pleased. They were also, unwittingly, giving ammunition to those who would argue against the growing calls for women's rights. A Chicago minister predicted that the Lord would smite women who wore the skirts. And an unnamed New York Times contributor mocked the fashion outright: "If women want to run for Governor, they ought to be able to run for a car....If they want to be legally free they shouldn't be sartorially shackled. But with the lack of logic that the sex can be counted on to display they have chosen a trammelled figure and shackled ankles when they need most to have them free in the strenuous race for equality with the trousered sex." What's next, pants for women?

Although hobble skirts ruffled feathers and even changed mass transit (the entrances to street cars and trains were dropped to accommodate tight-skirted passengers), their reign didn't last long. The outbreak of World War I brought fabric restrictions and reduced manpower to Paris. In France and America alike, the hobble skirt didn't seem to fit a new atmosphere of hard work, strict economy, and serious times. The hobble skirt was gradually discarded...but not before it killed off the petticoat for good.

References: 'As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising,' by Daniel Delis Hill (Texas Tech University Press, 2007); 'Los Angeles Railway Yellow Cars,' by Jim Walker (Arcadia Publishing, 2007); 'America in the Age of the Titans: The Progressive Era and World War I,' by Sean Dennis Cashman (NYU Press, 1998); The New York Times, "THE HOBBLE" IS THE LATEST FREAK IN WOMAN'S FASHIONS, June 12, 1910 and WOMEN'S NARROW SKIRTS PLAY HOB WITH TEXTILE INDUSTRY, January 28, 1912; The Pittsburgh Press, Advantages and Disadvantages of the Hobble Skirt, July 15, 1910; The Nashua Telegraph, Scores Hobble Skirt, December 13,1910; Petticoats and Frock Coats: Revolution and Victorian-Age Fashions from the 1770s to the 1860s, by Cynthia Overbeck Bix, (Twenty-First Century Books, 2001)

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Why Do Shorts Cost as Much as Pants?
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Shorts may feel nice and breezy on your legs on a warm summer’s day, but they’re not so gentle on your wallet. In general, a pair of shorts isn’t any cheaper than a pair of pants, despite one obviously using less fabric than the other. So what gives?

It turns out clothing retailers aren’t trying to rip you off; they’re just pricing shorts according to what it costs to produce them. Extra material does go into a full pair of pants but not as much as you may think. As Esquire explains, shorts that don’t fall past your knees may contain just a fifth less fabric than ankle-length trousers. This is because most of the cloth in these items is sewn into the top half.

Those same details that end up accounting for most of the material—flies, pockets, belt loops, waist bands—also require the most human labor to make. This is where the true cost of a garment is determined. The physical cotton in blue jeans accounts for just a small fraction of its price tag. Most of that money goes to pay the people stitching it together, and they put in roughly the same amount of time whether they’re working on a pair of boot cut jeans or some Daisy Dukes.

This price trend crops up across the fashion spectrum, but it’s most apparent in pants and shorts. For example, short-sleeved shirts cost roughly the same as long-sleeved shirts, but complicated stitching in shirt cuffs that you don’t see in pant legs can throw this dynamic off. There are also numerous invisible factors that make some shorts more expensive than nearly identical pairs, like where they were made, marketing costs, and the brand on the label. If that doesn’t make spending $40 on something that covers just a sliver of leg any easier to swallow, maybe check to see what you have in your closet before going on your next shopping spree.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Musee YSL Marrakech
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Design
A Pair of New Museums Will Honor Fashion Icon Yves Saint Laurent
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Musee YSL Marrakech

In 2008, the legendary Yves Saint Laurent—the 20th century fashion luminary whose designs were inspired by fine art, menswear, Moroccan caftans, and peasant garb, among other influences—passed away at the age of 71. Now, nearly a decade after his death, fashion fans can pay homage to the iconic designer by visiting two new museums dedicated to his life and work, according to ARTnews.

Morocco's Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech pays homage to the designer in a place he famously loved. (He first bought a house in the city in 1966, and his ashes were scattered there after his death.) In 1980, he and his partner Pierre Bergé bought Marrakech's Jardin Majorelle to prevent its destruction by developers, turning it into an immensely popular public garden. Located near the garden—along a street that is named after him—the new museum's permanent and temporary exhibits alike will feature clothing items like the designer's influential safari jackets and smoking suits along with sketches, accessories, and other archival items.

The Moroccan museum will serve as a sister institution to the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, which is located at the site of Saint Laurent’s historic atelier and office in France. Following an extensive renovation of the building, the Paris institution will house thousands of sketches, photos, and fashion items related to the designer. The first exhibition will be a themed retrospective, “Yves Saint Laurent’s Imaginary Asia."

Both museums are scheduled to open in October. We’re already donning our smoking jackets.

[h/t ARTnews]

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