The Alexandra Limp: A Strange Fashion

There were plenty of strange fashions in Marie Antoinette‘s time, but one of the most interesting fashions occurred long after the Queen had been guillotined. Alexandra of Denmark married the Prince of Wales in 1863, and as a princess, her every fashion decision was admired by English women who copied her, including what became known as the Alexandra limp. She acquired the limp in 1867 after suffering an illness that “threatened to contract her leg and make her a cripple.”[1]

Alexandra of Denmark for who the Alexandra Limp was named for.

Alexandra of Denmark. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Whenever Alexandra appeared in public she used a walking stick and exhibited a slight limp. Her infirmity was soon copied by “distinguished people, and the ‘Alexandra limp’ was adopted by various members of fashionable society.”[2] In fact, her limp became so popular Victorian people everywhere — even in foreign countries — were greeted by limping women, and proponents claimed it would supersede “chignons, panniers, wasp-waists, and the Grecian bend.”[3]

Grecian Bend from 1868. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One newspaper reporters noticed the imitators and stated:

“[A] monstrosity has made itself visible among the [Edinburgh] female promenaders in Princess Street, viz., ‘the Alexandra Limp!'”[4] The reporter also maintained that “Grecian bends and preposterous mincing steps as of a duck on hot plates have been common enough … [on] our fashionable exhibition streets; but this newly acquired affectation excels them all.”[5]

One witness to the limping women noted that when he took his customary walk:

“I met three — ladies … all three good-looking, and all three lame! At least such was my impression, seeing 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, except the hideous puffing out and leaning forward which has been part of the educational deportment of … our young ladies.”[6]

One woman expressed her pity at the sight of limping women, and another young girl exclaimed to her companions:

“Why that’s the Alexandra limp! How ugly!”[7] Yet, critics used stronger words than ugly when describing the strange fashion. They described the Alexandra Limp “as painful as it is idiotic and ludicrous.”[8]

Fashionable women through the U.K. did not think of the limp as idiotic or ludicrous. In fact, they purposely tried to achieve the Alexandra limp by wearing mismatched shoes, which they sought out from a well-known and popular Edinburgh shoemaker who served the Queen. They requested that he reproduce the deformity by creating shoes that enabled them to look as if they had a limp. He did so and then “exhibited in his window, one with a high heel and one without, labelled ‘The Alexandra!'”[9]

Eventually, there were several attempts to replace the Alexandra Limp with other fashions. One of the first was a pronouncement in 1871 that the limp had “given place to the ‘Bismark quickstep’ in London fashionable circles.”[10] Apparently, the quickstep didn’t replace it because another announcement was made in 1873 by a fashion magazine declaring, “the Alexandra limp is to be discontinued forthwith by ladies who go in for fashions,”[11] and they touted the replacement to be a skirt so clingy and tight, women were forced to walk as if their feet were tied together. One person suggested the new walk should be “styled plainly ‘the prison gait,’ and in addition it is hinted that the wearing of chains round the ancles [sic] … would both compel adoption of the gait and … [draw] attention to the shapely limbs so ornamented.”[12] But these skirts did not catch on before another replacement for the Alexandra limp was suggested.

The next suggestions was offered by a Professor Ferrier of King’s College Hospital. His suggestion had to do with snuff and head colds. He had tried everything to cure his head cold and compounded a “curious sort of snuff, of which he valiantly took a powerful pinch. The effect was worthy of the occasion, he sneezed his cold right away and [it] became a perfect cure.”[13] The Luton Times and Advertiser thought Ferrier’s idea likely to be popular with the fashionable set and claimed “there will arise a manufacture of elegant ladies’ snuff-boxes to hold the precious mixture.”[14] Of course, the newspaper also believed royalty would accept the fashion, stating, “we shall be regaled with the sight of exquisites of both sexes affecting to be suffers,” which they concluded would be a “decided improvement on … the Alexandra limp.”[15]


  • [1] “Strange Foibles of Fashion,” in Western Morning News, 12 January 1934, p. 6.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] “Middle-class Education for Girls,” in Croydon Advertiser and East Surrey Reporter, 10 May 1873, p. 5.
  • [4] “Canadian Clouts and The Alexandra Limp,” in Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 11 December 1869, p. 6.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] “The Ladies of Edinburgh and the Alexandra Limp,” in Dundee Courier, 9 December 1869, p. 4.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] —, in The Falkirk Herald, 13 July 1871, p. 3.
  • [12] —, in Western Daily Press, 6 June 1873, p. 2.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] “Et Ceteras,” in Luton Times and Advertiser, 19 November 1880, p. 6.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] Ibid.

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  1. Tina on February 23, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    In my youth, I remember the slicked down, symetrical curls of hair on either side on the forehead, below the center part. Much like the woman on the Carol Burnette Show. This was so unactractive but wearing it felt so stylish 😀

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