SNARK WEEK: Stop It With the Skirt Hiking

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One of the charming and delightful things about watching frock flicks is being transported back to Days of Yore when ladies wore sweeping skirts and walked along sweeping verandas with handsome beaus … and part of all the ‘sweeping’ means long dresses hanging down, touching the ground. That’s where a long hem should be, at the ground whilst the wearer walks.

But for some reason, that’s a really difficult concept for a lot of modern actresses to grock, and movie/TV directors don’t seem to have any problem with this. Hell, costume designers or set dressers aren’t pitching a fit either when they see actresses bunch up skirts just to walk across perfectly flat ground, despite all the wrinkles and wear and tear it must be causing on those otherwise beautiful gowns.

That’s why Frock Flicks is here to give some learnings to all them out there in HollywoodLand and at the BBC, ITV, and anywhere else historical costume movies and TV shows are being made. STOP IT WITH THE SKIRT HIKING. It looks like shit, it’s bad for the costumes, and it’s not historically accurate.

1890s

Actual photo of actual women in the 1890s doing minimal not-really skirt hiking to walk up steps. Note how all they’re doing is holding their long skirts neatly to one side, out of the way of their feet. No need to bunch big handfuls of fabric up around their waists. THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT.

Women who grew up wearing long skirts wouldn’t constantly need to grab handfuls of skirt and lift it out of the way of their feet in order to walk easily. I’ll admit it helps if skirts are hemmed to the right length with the shoes you’re wearing, but that’s the only slack I’ll cut for costume rentals and lack of fittings due to tight production timelines. The answer is not to hoist skirts up around your waist like you’re about to sprint out the door or leap over a fence.

Skirt-hiking is only really needed if the wearer is actually running, going up stairs, or walking on uneven ground, or if the wearer is a little bit infirm or insecure, such as an elderly lady. So have pity on the taffeta and velvets being endlessly crunched up in all those fists, and just stop!

Knightfall (2017)

This lady in Knightfall (2017) is leaving jail and, what, jumping over a puddle?

Knightfall (2017)

Oh wait, it gets worse. The skirt-hiking in Knightfall (2017) is so stupid, Kendra made a gif for us to mock.

The Whore (2010)

These chicks in The Whore (2010) are walking through filth, but c’mon, their clothes are already falling off their shoulders, so why bunch up the skirts? Seems like too little, too late at this point.

Queens / Reinas (2016)

OK, the ladies-in-waiting in Queens / Reinas (2016) are wearing skirts that are too long. But also, they’re wearing 1860s-style giant hoopskirts in what’s supposed to be a telenovela about Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

The Princess of Montpensier (2010)

Maybe it’s a nervous tick that leads to all this skirt-hiking in The Princess of Montpensier (2010). Because her skirt is neither too long nor is the ground at all uneven.

Juana Inés (2016)

Sarah suffered through the shitty costumes of Juana Inés (2016) to share this stupid skirt-hiking scene with y’all.

The Libertine (2004)

To quote Kendra: “What is all this fabric? Where are my yoga pants?” The Libertine (2004)

Versailles (2016)

We’ve been to Versailles (2016) — the doors are wide enough, you don’t need to hoist up your skirts, honey.

Valmont (1989)

Shitty attempt at a curtsey? Moments before a beaver flash? You decide. Valmont (1989).

Ridicule (1996)

Ridicule (1996) — Well fiddle-dee-dee!

Poldark (2017)

Oh Verity, is it because you’re short and you were only in one episode this season and nobody bothered to hem the rental costume for you? Poldark (2017).

Passione d'Amore (1981)

Why is skirt-hiking always the worst with hoop skirts? I’ve worn hoops plenty of times, and FFS, the whole point of them is to keep your skirts up off the ground! There should be zero reason to hike it up if you’re wearing a hoop and walking on flat ground like this in Passione d’Amore (1981).

Buddenbrooks (2008)

Or here in Buddenbrooks (2008). That street looks pretty damn flat to me. And that skirt is going to be super wrinkly having been bunched up in her hands.

The Vampire Diaries (2009)

The Vampire Diaries (2009) went back in time with the express purpose of skirt-hiking, I guess.

North and South (1985)

Frankly, my dear, I’m just going to hike my skirt up. North and South (1985).

Cezanne et Moi (2016)

YOUR SKIRT IS SHORT ENOUGH, IT’S NOT DRAGGING ON THE GROUND. STOP. Cezanne et Moi (2016).

Mercy Street (2016)

Fine, whatever, Mercy Street (2016), I know you DGAF about these things.

The Leopard (1963)

But I expected more from The Leopard (1963). How dare you crunch up the master designer Piero Tosi’s work in your petulant little fist. Shame!

Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress (1957)

Oh come on now. This is what I’m talking about with hoopskirts. They totally clear the ground. Unless you have a trained skirt or you’re going up / down stairs, there’s no need to hike ’em. Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress (1957)

Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress (1957)

Just standing around, skirt-hiking with my ladies-in-waiting, as you do. SIGH. Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress (1957)

Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

Let’s close out the show with a wedding gown. Because what’s more romantic than two big unnecessarily wrinkled bunches at your hips? GOOD TIMES. Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

 

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

38 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    The girl in the GIF giggles when she moves. No corset. Treat like a puppy and say ‘bad girl` to both actress and costume designer,.

    Refresh Claudia Cardinale in the Piero Tosi dress, I put it down to nerves.

    Reply
  2. Kathleen Norvell

    There is an interesting on this very topic: “The Wearing of Costume: The Changing Techniques of Wearing Clothes and How to Move in Them, from Roman Britain to the Second World War” by Ruth M. Green. I learned how to wrangle a houppelande from this.

    There is a wonderful 15th century illustration of dancers in which a gentleman has his foot firmly on the train of the lady next to him. So, sometimes you need to grab some skirt. I remember doing an English County Dance in said houppelande and walking up the train when I took a step backward in the dance. Down I went. That being said, in real life, nobody would have been wearing a train doing that kind of dance. Think Elizabethan or Jacobean.

    I suppose people who make movies think you are supposed to hike something if you are wearing a long skirt. Sometimes I have to hike a skirt going UP stairs.

    Reply
    • Queenie

      I quite often dance in an 1880s bustle gown with a train, and the key is in how you cut and trim the train, and how discreetly you can kick it out of the way. :D

      Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I wear long, historical dresses A LOT. I’ve mastered walking in them, navigating long trains, wide hoops, bustles, panniers, you name it — but I have never been able to walk up a set of stairs without falling on my face.

      Reply
      • Alys Mackyntoich

        Oh! I thought I was the only one. 30 years in the SCA and stairs are still my nemesis.

        Reply
  3. Jill

    “How dare you crunch up the master designer Piero Tosi’s work in your petulant little fist…”
    That made my afternoon!

    Reply
  4. Donnalee

    I think it might be a modern-minded actress’s take on a fan, and if they don’t have a fan, they use the skirt as big giant one to imply girliness. If they feel elegant and stately, they might do it to draw attention to the bigliness of it all. Other than that, they haven’t rehearsed enough in costume to know they don’t have to do it to survive. shrug

    Reply
  5. Threeundertwo

    In Nicholas Nickleby, she is on a grassy hillside as I recall, so maybe a little leeway to keep the white dress clean. But is there any sin that North and South did not commit?

    Reply
  6. heatherbelles

    I admit, I have hoiked a skirt up when wearing a victorian. Mostly because it is actually too long, but unless we want it unwearable for anyone else, we can’t hem it.

    (I have to occasionally dress as Queen Victoria for work. I’m short, plump and look rather like the portrait we have of her, so now thats the default dress up for me!)

    In my defence, it’snormally that I’m trying to scurry fast through the site to get somewhere, and it’s.to avoid tripping on the length (or when we were outside, dragging it through the mud).

    Otherwise, yes, I agree, there’s no excuse when it’s made to the right length!

    Reply
  7. Peacoclaur

    Regarding proper skirt length and shoes, I’ve seen much the same with peoples trousers today with good pants often getting ruined because they are too lazy/cheep to get them hemmed properly or their shoes are the wrong height? This meant the bottoms get all ragged and filthy or buggered up at the knees due to all the hoicking to avoid tripping over or spreading dirt everywhere.

    It’s not just a costume thing either regarding skirts – I’ve seen far too many starlets abusing good dresses in much the same way described in the article on the red carpet in this day and age.

    (this was really problematic back before skinny jeans came into fashion – anyone else remember the bell bottom revival or, gulp, skater jeans for girls? I do and am not too proud to admit to partaking in the trend as well)

    Reply
      • Peacoclaur

        It’s not a lost art in my family. I also suspect that this is the reason why rolling hems up and cropping came back in as well. People just got sick of wet and dirty pants. :)

        Reply
        • Nzie

          I think it’s definitely a lost art. Also, I think the information out there is a bit confusing or lacking. I tried to find out where I should hem my professional pants to or a guide for the sleeves on my suit jackets, but a lot of the info is for men. And even that is a bit confusing… I do not know how the whole crease-on-the-shoe thing works. I hope to figure it all out eventually.

          Reply
  8. Amanda

    Ever since y’all pointed out Olivia de Havilland’s skirt hiking in My Cousin Rachel, I can’t unsee it; my goddess is tarnished! In Ridicule, though, isn’t there a plot reason she’s gripping her skirts? I seem to remember her brushing her hem against flowers to covertly collect pollen. (Doesn’t justify those bangs, though.)

    Reply
  9. shellieeyre

    I wear my skirts long and the only time I ever have to grab them is going up and down steps/stairs. Going in either direction I sweep them to one side, not up. This is essential when going down stairs if one is to avoid catching ones heel in the hem and making a very ungraceful descent. I speak from bitter experience.

    I remember someone recalling, when Dior’s New Look was in vogue, that he was transported back to his childhood when he walked up some steps behind a woman who gathered her skirts to the side; he recalled seeing his mother doing exactly the same thing at the start of the century but had not seen the gesture for many, many years.

    Reply
  10. Nzie

    I am so impressed you managed to notice the skirt hiking on those monstrosities of costumes in Knightfall. Also, note to self: hiked shirts look ridiculous.

    Reply
  11. Krishna

    Maybe it’s a hand thing – What do I do with my hands while I’m walking that will give my hands something to do instead of just flapping around on the ends of my arms. Or maybe it’s about the Drama, because nothing says drama more that hiking your skirts up!

    Reply
  12. Pina

    I might be mistaken but doesn’t Game of Thrones (of all shows!) get this mostly right? I know more than one of my friends have commented on the seemingly recurring image of Sansa Stark dragging her skirts nonchalantly through Winterfell grounds (which may be a case of “Reality is Unrealistic”, since people seem to expect ladies in historical costumes to hoist their skirts up).

    Reply
  13. Hawke

    I wonder if it’s a mix of a)instinct to grab it because there’s a lot of fabric there and b)just….not being sure what to do with their hands?

    Reply
    • themodernmantuamaker

      I’m wondering the same. Women aren’t really accustomed to wearing long, voluminous skirts; they can’t easily see their feet/the hem so to play it safe just grab some skirt to make sure they don’t step on it not understanding it’s not needed. And yeah, it also gives you something to do with your hands when you don’t know how historical people moved and posed themselves.

      Reply
      • Kersten

        Yeah I was also wondering if it has something to do with not being able to see your feet. I do it instinctively when I’m wearing floor-length dresses. We’re so used to being able to look down and see where we’re stepping in the modern era. But seriously, the wardrobe director on all these shoots should be reminding actors not to do this. It goes with the territory and if I were an actor I’d definitely want to be able to accurately portray the character.

        Reply
        • Anna Held

          This reminds me of a quote from Patrick Stewart — he was the only one on the Star Trek set who knew how to wear the uniform, since they didn’t have pockets, and no one knew what to do with their hands. His work as a Shakespearean actor meant he knew — you do nothing!

          Reply
  14. Janette

    Skirt hiking isn’t even necessary when going up stairs. The waitresses in the theme park where I worked as a teen could manage to carry trays up the stairs by kicking out the skirt mind that took practice but was more effecting than hiking it as that only makes way for more fabric to come swirling down. The trick when walking is small steps not great strides. the actors clearly aren’t being taught how to walk properly.

    Reply
  15. Patricia

    I do think it is an acting affectation, They do not know what to do with their hands or they make an acting choice to show some sort of emotion. Mostly, it is because they have not been trained to wear the costume. I was in an opera, Madame Butterfly, and we were trained by the director how to walk, stand, move, hold our hands, kneel, everything, like a geisha. I still use the training, to this day.

    Reply
  16. MoHub

    I would make an exception in terms of waltzing with one wrist in a dance loop attached to one side of the skirt. But that’s not literally skirt-hiking.

    Reply
  17. Brenda

    I read a comment from Edith Head saying that Grace Kelly was the only actress with whom she’d worked who asked how a particular costume would affect her: Should she move differently in it; how would someone walk in this dress; how would she go up and down stairs? Kelly also practiced descending stairs in costume so she wouldn’t have to look at the steps but could sail regally down them, head high.

    Reply
  18. Lisa

    Disney Princesses do this A LOT, and I think it might have been ingrained in the younger generation that it’s a very ladylike and girly thing to do. It also makes a woman look like she’s getting down to business when she lifts her skirts to move more quickly/get things done.
    I know the working classes, at least in the early modern era, had shorter dresses, but I wonder if the same rules applied to them.

    Reply
  19. Helen Huntingdon

    Weighing in because I’ve worn a lot of long skirts my whole life just because I wanted to.

    Most of my life, I’ve lived in areas where any kind of nature walk or going hiking meant either getting one’s ankles bitten to death or covering one’s ankles in DEET, except, guess what? Long full skirts are the answer. Large amounts of fabric constantly in a swirl about your ankles mean no bugs, no bug bites, no nasty chemicals. Our ancestresses knew what they were doing.

    Now of course what one wears informs how one moves — good luck walking like a typical American while wearing a kimono. So as great a heaven-sent blessing as a long full skirt (to just barely above the ground) is when hiking in so many environments, I don’t recommend anyone try it unless they wear such skirts a lot in their usual environments first, lest they trip all over the forest.

    And no, I don’t spend much of the hike holding my skirts in any way. That would rather defeat the point. I don’t need to see my feet to see where I’m going to put them. The pull to the side shown in the period photograph is the way to go for stairs and certain levels of incline, because it is the way to manage the fabric without exposing an inch more ankle than necessary (recall the skirts are the defense against nasty things like Lyme disease and the Zika virus — you don’t want to be pulling them away from your ankles a second more than you have to). For anything really steep or for a good rock scramble, the lost art of kilting up one’s skirts temporarily is the way to go, followed by dropping them again once past the impediment.

    I hike with thin socks and what are basically thin slippers with a Mary Jane strap on my feet, because maximum foot an ankle motion is how I avoid sore feet and blisters the next day. The long swirling skirts keep the insects away from my feet as well. Plus all that moving fabric circulates air on a hot day, helping perspiration dry.

    None of this is remotely difficult once it has become habit. After all, pregnant women walk without being able to see their feet all the time.

    Reply
  20. Sarah Meadow Walsh

    Deborah Kerr does a HUGE amount of skirt hiking in “The King and I.”

    Reply
  21. Liz

    I hike my skirt or dress bottom up when going up or down steps or on uneven ground if I’ve already slipped or tripped on it. I should hike up more often on uneven ground to prevent that. For instance unevenly cobbled streets. That’s so A) I don’t trip and B) I don’t ruin the hem with dirt or rips. But, I also wear dresses made of satin, silks, velvet and chiffon which drape much differently than the cheap cotton in the photos. Typically I give more care to my higher value clothing. Also, mermaid and trumpet dresses will make you have to walk differently than a long swirling skirt. I only hike up trip hazards. And, I guess I value much more the item of clothing I am wearing than the off chance of upsetting or peeving someone I care absolutely nothing about. I won’t stop lifting my hems a few inches away from my feet just because there might be a bimbo criticizing how far up I might pull up a skirt for a few seconds as I traverse a staircase. May karma please make her trip and fall on her face in a crowded room to teach her the error of her ways.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      And if you read the article, you’d have seen this:
      Skirt-hiking is only really needed if the wearer is actually running, going up stairs, or walking on uneven ground, or if the wearer is a little bit infirm or insecure, such as an elderly lady.
      So we’re not mocking skirt-hiking when it’s needed — but when it’s pointless.

      Reply

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