While women’s gowns had shrunk considerably since the days of the hoop skirt in the mid nineteenth century, they were still by no means functional. The earlier part of the twentieth century favored an S-bend silhouette. At that time, the ideal shape for a woman was to have a full bosom, small waist, and rounded hips. But, as we well know, few women are born with the natural gift of a body that suits the unreasonable expectations of fashion, so they needed help to achieve this shape. The dress itself would puff outward at the bust into a “pigeon chest”, helping to enlarge the bust. Skirts worn during this period were slim until the knee, where they would fan out and form a train.
However, that only covers the top layer. We must not forget that this silhouette could only be attained through a variety of undergarments. The corset at the beginning of the twentieth century took on a new shape. At the time, it was referred to as the “health corset” as it purportedly put less stress on the abdomen. It consisted of a straight front, which pushed the torso forward and the hips back. Women also had to wear a petticoat, which mirrored the cut of the dress and helped to provide structure to the skirt as well as disguising the shape of the woman’s legs.
Smooth, Sleek, and Chic
A Foolish Fad
Poiret's earlier fashions were nothing in comparison to this (thankfully) short-lived trend called the hobble skirt, another brainchild of Poiret. This dress took the slim silhouette to the extreme. The skirt itself was quite narrow, but it was compounded by the hobble garter forcing women to take dainty, mincing steps, which sometimes led to accidents and even injury. Newspapers of the period bear reports of women falling and sometimes even breaking a leg while sporting this trend.
|The hobble skirt|
To go along with this there was the hobble skirt’s companion: the hobble garter. This piece of clothing was created with the deliberate intent of further limiting women’s natural stride so as to “help” them walk safely in hobble skirts and avoid tearing their gowns.
Thankfully, it's all uphill from here as hemlines rose and corsets faded into disuse. And now, a whole century hence, our clothing would be almost unrecognizable to a Gilded Age woman.