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Author Topic: Victorian Strangeness: The bizarre tale of the ladies who limped  (Read 1315 times)
Siliconous Skumins
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« on: July 19, 2014, 01:24:02 am »




With the honourable exception of Lady Gaga's frock of meat, it was the most thunderingly daft episode in the entire history of fashion, says author Jeremy Clay.

In the well-heeled streets of London, something peculiar was afoot. In Edinburgh too, things were askew.

Before long, the phenomenon had worked its way across the land, passed from town to town like a contagion, leaving hobbling knots of sufferers wherever it went.

But in an age of ailments, from potter's rot to chimney sweep's scrotum, there were no physical grounds for the spreading infirmity. It preyed on the young, the capricious, the suggestible and the status-obsessed. Or, to put it another way, the fashionable.

They called it the Alexandra Limp and it was quite possibly the only fad to be born in a sick bed.

Alexandra of Denmark was the bride of the Prince of Wales, and a 19th Century fashion icon. The clothes she wore were copied as well. The chokers she wore to conceal a scar on her neck were copied. And when a bout of rheumatic fever left her with a pronounced limp… Well, that was copied too.

In the well-do-do hotspots of Britain, toadying women began clumping about in a style that suggested they'd recently stood barefoot on discarded Lego.

At first, it was a DIY affair. Women would simply grab odd shoes to help them totter effectively. But canny shopkeepers soon realised there was a pretty penny to be made from what otherwise would be retail's most unshiftable line - wildly mismatched footwear, with one high heel, and one low.

What did ordinary people make of it all? Not a great deal, if this 1869 report from the North British Mail is anything to go by. "A monstrosity has made itself visible among the female promenaders in Princes Street," it seethed. "It is as painful as it is idiotic and ludicrous.

"Taking my customary walk the other day, observant of men, women and things, I met three ladies. They were all three young, all three good-looking, and all three lame! At least, such was my impression, seeing as they all carried handsome sticks and limped; but, on looking back, as everyone else did, I could discover no reason why they should do so.

"Indeed, one decent woman expressed her pity in an audible 'Puir things!' as she passed, but I was enlightened by hearing a pretty girl explain to her companion, 'Why that's the Alexandra limp! How ugly!'"



Alexandra of Denmark was a trend-setter in the 1860s


The Dundee Courier and Argus was no less contemptuous. "Some remarkably foolish things have been done in imitation of royalty," the paper tutted, "but this is an act which involves a spice of wickedness as well as of folly.

"There must be a line at which even fashionable folly may be expected to stop short," it said, and this line ought to be drawn "at the caricaturing of human infirmity".

And then, as is the way of these things, fashion moved on. The game was probably already up by the time a race-horse was given the deeply unpromising name of Alexandra Limp.

"A fashion journal announces that the Alexandra limp is to be discontinued forthwith," reported the Western Daily Press. Cue great sighs of relief, which will have lasted right until the reader reached the following sentence: "The skirt of the season, we are informed, is to cling closely round the feet, in consequence whereof ladies will be obliged to walk as if their feet were tied together."


Link to original story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-28357269
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Arabella Periscope
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« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2014, 08:57:27 am »

Thanks for that great story!  Better than the Anne Boleyn sleeve that hid her extra finger and became a fashion.  There is a book by Connie Willis called 'Belwether' about how and where strange trends begin -- often with a single individual -- such as a peculiar fashion in the 'twenties for flappers to wear galoshes with their laces untied.  Sometimes these can be traced to people who are not royal, but, like the one sheep in the flock that always leads the way, are followed in really peculiar fashions by others and imitated, sometimes across the world.
 
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« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2014, 09:50:58 am »

I really enjoyed this. Thank you. Smiley
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Fairley B. Strange
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« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2014, 11:16:43 am »

That really is one for the books.

Although I would suspect that aping the poor girl's infirmity in her presence would have skirted awfully close to mocking the handicapped - and a crowned head - rather than just following fashion.

Perhaps accessorising with a walking stick would have been going far enough - although in 1860s skirts, even just using one as a prop or a swagger-stick would have been awkward enough without the fake heel.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2014, 11:20:56 am by Fairley B. Strange » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2014, 12:52:41 pm »

And here is the darker take on the story. One that you will likely never read as it's now only told by historians or folks informed by elder relatives who were around at the time. It was apparently understood by some, that she was being physically abused. Something spoken about even less openly then than it is now. Hence women everywhere began "limping" to show support. Needless to say the press could do nothing but pour aspersions, after all, who in the media was going to admit a Prince could be a wife beater?
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« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2014, 02:23:52 pm »

Thanks for that great story!  Better than the Anne Boleyn sleeve that hid her extra finger and became a fashion.  There is a book by Connie Willis called 'Belwether' about how and where strange trends begin -- often with a single individual -- such as a peculiar fashion in the 'twenties for flappers to wear galoshes with their laces untied.  Sometimes these can be traced to people who are not royal, but, like the one sheep in the flock that always leads the way, are followed in really peculiar fashions by others and imitated, sometimes across the world.
 

Bellwether is one of my favorite books! And certainly a good insight on fads...
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Arabella Periscope
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« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2014, 08:43:17 pm »

There is a darker side to the 'Bellwether' effect (it is a great book!), which is, of course, the 'Judas Goat.'

   

   

If you can hire one of these natural bellwethers or trendsetters to promote a political or commercial agenda people still follow, which is the unsettling aspect of the phenomenon.  But I hope Argus is wrong about Bertie.  He was dominated by his mother, and got away with being a good-time fellow on a vast scale for his entire life, unimpeded by royal duties or much wifely scrutiny.  His letters to Alex are very affectionate, and his terrier loved him; in the photograph, it looks to me as though he were muttering something and she trying not to laugh.  I would hate to think otherwise.


   
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Fairley B. Strange
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« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2014, 10:40:43 pm »

And here is the darker take on the story. One that you will likely never read as it's now only told by historians or folks informed by elder relatives who were around at the time. It was apparently understood by some, that she was being physically abused. Something spoken about even less openly then than it is now. Hence women everywhere began "limping" to show support. Needless to say the press could do nothing but pour aspersions, after all, who in the media was going to admit a Prince could be a wife beater?

Well, that version does seem more plausible as a silent protest than merely the faddish aping of an infirmity.

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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2014, 12:20:09 am »

It doesn't necessarily mean that it's true. It could have been a false rumour that spread around at the time (these things do happen), but if so you have to wonder who started it and why. The chances are we may never know, but still it's just something I heard.
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« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2014, 11:17:07 am »

It doesn't necessarily mean that it's true. It could have been a false rumour that spread around at the time (these things do happen), but if so you have to wonder who started it and why. The chances are we may never know, but still it's just something I heard.

When discussing the past, I often wonder how retrofuturists in a hundred years time ("Millenniumpunks?") will look back at us.

For example, in 2114 do you think people will be discussing the outpouring of public grief following the death of Lady Di and someone will suggest "Of course, at the time everybody knew she was bumped off by the royal family..." using the mad ramblings of the Daily Express as 'evidence'.
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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2014, 12:07:31 pm »

Very possibly, of course in Diana's case a little bit more than mere rumour has occurred, I seem to recall there was a full public investigation. In fact it's possibly all about to get dragged up yet again given current circumstances, but let's not go there.

I'm afraid I'm someone who has a tendency to suspect there is no smoke without fire. It's just kind of interesting that even now, the papers are reporting on what the papers said at the time, rather than anything else. Fashion can indeed be folly, there was I recall a hobble skirt at one point. Still, In the case of Alexandra and Albert, there can be little doubt it wasn't an ideal match. It seems it was quite well known that they became estranged, that he was something of a drinker and all round hedonist (a fact that won the French over when he later became king), that he was involved with other women yadayada. There were also conflicts of interest with her family and nationality etc, It's all here

People may have just put two and two together and come up with five, and again they may not.
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« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2014, 12:08:22 pm »

Millenniumpunk - I like that. Smiley
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