Fashion Myths – The hobble skirt and Coca Cola

1915 trademark Coca-cola bottle

1915 trademark Coca-cola bottle

I only heard this story for the first time a few years ago – on the Wikipedia history of the hobble skirt. Although the entry has now been somewhat modified, the story survives and is being repeated as fact. The story asserts that the shape of the Coca Cola bottle was either inspired by the hobble skirt or visa versa. However, the term ‘hobble skirt’ bottle was only invented by Coca Cola collectors sometime in the 1980s to describe the beverage’s trademark bottle shape, and the legend was born from an assumption that the bottle and the skirt style were somehow historically connected.

Comic postcard os a woman with her skirt bound by an elastic, c. 1910

Comic postcard of a woman with her skirt bound by an elastic, c. 1910

The term hobble skirt was invented in 1910 to describe a fad for a skirt with such a narrow hem that a woman’s ability to take natural strides was impeded. The style itself was a bit of myth, with the only real examples appearing on comic postcards or in sensational news reports with staged photos. Period fashion reports suggested the style was originally called the ‘aeroplane’ skirt, inspired by how some early female aeroplane passengers had tied their skirts below the knee with a cord or elastic to keep their petticoats in place during flight.

Irene Castle dancing in a 'hobble' skirt of draped silk, allowing full movement of her feet, c. 1912-1913

Irene Castle dancing in a ‘hobble’ skirt of draped silk, allowing full movement of her feet, c. 1912-1913

A narrow hem style was a fashion but not in 1910. By late 1912, skirts were being draped so as to give the illusion of a narrow hem, primarily for evening dresses and wedding gowns. However, these styles were not inspired by aeroplanes, but rather orientalism — a trend being championed by Paris couturier Paul Poiret at the time. The fashion was inspired by the line created by Turkish harem trousers and tightly draped saris, and the look of kimono-clad geishas taking mincing steps. In reality, the hobble style of 1912-1914 was not hobbled at all — women could take normal strides because of hidden slits and modesty  panels beneath the skirt’s draping.

As for the Coca Cola bottle — In an attempt to standardize packaging and create a trademark identity for coke, a bottle design was created in 1915 that was based on the cocoa bean. The coca leaf and the kola nut, were uninteresting, however, the cocoa bean (which produces chocolate – an ingredient absent in the Coca-Cola recipe) has a bulbous, ribbed shape and was the true inspiration for the 1915 patented bottle design. The first examples of the bottles appeared in 1917 and by 1920 the bottle was universally in use for Coca Cola.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian. He was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. He has amassed a collection of nearly 8,000 items dating from the mid 17th century to the present, and has written various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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3 Responses to Fashion Myths – The hobble skirt and Coca Cola

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  2. Daniel Milford-Cottam says:

    I’m not so sure. I have a midnight blue dinner dress (sadly not in the best condition) which although I’ve not seen it in a while, I vividly recall having a ludicrously tiny hobble hem, that I’d date to about 1913. The skirt’s peg-topped with metallic embroidery and beading, and the hem is REALLY small – no slit or split or anything to enable easy walking. I have also recently been given an amazing, pretty ultra-fashionable 1912 dress which also has a pretty jaw-dropping hobble underskirt (although the overskirt is wrap-over and trained, the underskirt IS very, very narrow and has a sheer chiffon flounce around the hem which would have allowed a veiled peek at the ankles. Again, no sign of a slit or hidden movement-enabling features. It’s a incredible dress. I have to say that I do believe that 1910s hobble skirts did exist, though they were certainly in the high fashion minority.

    • Jonathan says:

      I would love to see the dresses you have. The only dress that I have ever seen that could be considered a true hobble, was a wedding dress worn May 1913, and although the skirt was draped, creating an illusion of a very tiny width at the ankle, the hem underneath the drape was also narrow. However, a wedding dress being worn down an aisle didn’t require a lot of ease in the skirt to take measured steps, and this is in the day when the reception was probably a champagne breakfast not a dance. If you find those dresses and get a chance to measure the opening at the ankle I would appreciate it. It’s hard to separate the real from fictional fashion reportage in the Edwardian era, which tends towards the hyperbolic!

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