The beginning of the 20th century was a confining time for many women, as short corsets with names like Adjusto and Reduso were employed to squeeze the female form—as seen from the side, anyway—into the shape of the letter S. The favored Gibson Girl look was very top-heavy, with big hair and hats up top, a padded bust above a narrow waist, and plenty of junk in the trunk.

Not all designers were so cruel. Paul Poiret created hobble skirts that could be worn with longer, more forgiving corsets. He eventually advocated that women drop their boned undergarments altogether in favor of bras. Ironically, Poiret’s hobble skirts got their name from the taper they came to at the ankles, which was often accentuated by a fetter that kept the ankles together and prevented more than small steps. By 1910 women were standing straighter than they had been at the beginning of the decade, but they could barely walk.

In the 1910s, trousers became acceptable in some circles, as sportswear for games such as tennis demanded freedom of movement. Still, the fashion trends were of two worlds, at once looking back to Edwardian excesses and forward to the Flapper era to come.

Once again, Poiret seemed to encompass both impulses, this time in his Minaret tunics, which combined hobble skirts with crinoline-reinforced lampshade-like dresses on top. Some women coordinated the color of their hair with the hues of these so-called tango frocks, be it green, red, or even blue.

The second decade of the 20th century is, of course, also remembered for World War I, as well as the flu epidemic of 1918, which took even more lives than the dreadful conflict. But women of means still wore coats trimmed at the collar, cuffs, and hem in fur, or waistless dresses with kimono-like sleeves. Tulle veils were favored beneath feathered felt hats, while tiered pinafore dresses revealed two-tone button-up boots.


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