The Saratoga Walk and Other Fashionable Gaits: 1880s

Parisians Out for a Stroll, 1885 [British Library image]

Parisians Out for a Stroll, 1885 [British Library image]


The Latest Fashion in Gait for Girls, and What a Doctor Says of It.

The fashionable gait of the utter young girl at this season is an importation, like most of her articles of clothing. It is supposed to be an offspring of the utterly utter manners of the London aesthetes, who have set the fashion for languid, willowy, weary wabbles, now the rage at many fashionable gatherings among young women, who, in a spirit of intense unutterableness, gaze into the depths of a new blown lily or rose, or silently study the heart of a field daisy. Upon the avenues, however, the great public sees the aesthetic walk undimmed by the mellow light of a drawing room and unameliorated by the rich colors of Persian portieres and Daghestan rugs. When the aesthete appears upon the front doorstep with her Langtry hat she shakes out the bangles on her bracelets, pushes into better position the Jacqueminot roses at her belt or the field daises in her fourth buttonhole, then shakes out the puffings of her polonaise, raises a balloon parasol with its ivory handle carved like a calla lily, and prepares to get into shape for the fashionable gait. For the space of a minute her body seems to work upon eccentrics. Her insteps go in with a jerk, her hips fly back, her spinal column shoots forward at an angle of about forty-eight degrees and remains rigid, her neck lifts, her chin goes about an inch and five-eighths above its normal line, her nose naturally follows, and perhaps improves upon the incline, her arms to the elbow points hug her sides like the wings of a duck, and the forearms hang like willow branches, while the hand that does not engage itself with the parasol hangs limp and languid. It requires two teeters to give the shape inertia, and off the aesthete goes. Her progress defies accurate description. It has been compared to the amble of the kangaroo, but the naturalists insist that the kangaroo’s movements have some element of grace. Others say it is very like a duck which flaps its wings, but the duck does not have French heels. A man of science says that there is nothing like it in the animal kingdom, although the sea gulls on the Pacific islands have a similar motion in their walk.

“I can only take a medical view of it,” said a physician. “I look upon it as much more dangerous than tight lacing.”

Cincinnati [OH] Daily Gazette 21 June 1881: p. 9

Physicians were dead-set against tight-lacing and high-heels, which made them all the more attractive to the girl of the period.

Fashionable Parisians out for a stroll, 1885

Fashionable Parisians out for a stroll, 1885

The Latest Fashionable Gait.

“Have you observed the new gait adopted by fashionable ladies while out on a promenade?” asked a Fifth avenue modiste of a reporter recently.

Seeing a look of bewilderment on the reporter’s face, she continued: “You know that fashions change in walking just as they do in everything else. Even young men change their manner of walking according to the whims of fashion. A short time ago it was the thing for fashionable young men to poke along on tiptoe in a sort of gingerly way. That was when the dude was in his glory. Now the dude has departed, and his walk as gone with him. I believe a brisk, businesslike stride is the proper thing now. The correct walk for girls, until very recently, was a kind of long, easy lope. I think that Mrs. Potter was the originator of this. It was quickly copied by many actresses. Pauline Hall and Patrice have it to perfection. Anyhow, it was awfully popular last winter on the avenue and has been all the go at the watering places this summer. It was very graceful and pretty, but it has got to go.

“The new walk is neither graceful nor pretty. It is a kind of a waddle. The would-be fashionable young lady now walks as if she had no joints nor firmness to her. Every part of her anatomy seems to shake and wiggle as she goes. She comes down hard first on one foot and then on the other, seeming to rest her body alternately on each of her nether limbs. Her cheeks wabble and so do her arms. I don’t know any better way to describe it than to say she waddles like a fat duck. I don’t know who is the originator of this fashion, but it is evidently going to be the thing this winter. All the girls put it on with their fall bonnets, and all over the streets you can see the little dears trying their best to be ungraceful in their efforts to be up to the latest ‘fad.’” Wisconsin State Journal [Madison WI] 14 October 1887: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One would think that human anatomy would determine a lady’s gait, but upon closer reflection it is apparent that fashionable dress plays an enormous part in dictating one’s walk. Compare the mincing steps imposed by a hobble skirt with the stride of the “Gibson Girl” or the machinations needed to master the hoop-skirt or the court train.  What is baffling is the changing of the gait just for the sake of change. At best it is a short-lived fad; at worst, rhythmic dance.


The Latest Fashionable Gait.

The Saratoga walk is said to be the latest fashionable gait for women. One who describes it says that “the first requisite is to throw your shoulders back, the chest forward, chin up, and stomach in, and then walk—wriggling head, limbs, body, and especially bustle. The aim is to secure a series of revolutions which shall be simultaneous, but opposite. In simple brevity, if your head moves right, your body must move to the left, and before your foot reaches ground you must describe a circle with the entire limb. The gait is practiced in a night dress before the mirror. The part of the business most difficult to master is the proper position of the stomach. Hyde Park Herald [Chicago, IL] 23 October 1886: p. 2


The Sunday Mercury says: “We like to see a young lady walk as though a flea was biting her on each hip, it is so fascinating. She is just the match for the dandy who steps like an open winged turkey traveling over a bed of hot ashes.” Wooster [OH] Republican 20 April 1854: p. 4 [intriguingly also quoted in 1841 and 1842 newspapers.]

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes 

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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