The Alexandra Limp

Alexandra of Denmark for who the Alexandra Limp was named for.
Alexandra of Denmark, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Alexandra of Denmark married the Prince of Wales in 1863. As the Princess of Wales, Alexandra’s every fashion decision was admired and English women copied her, including what became known as the Alexandra limp. Alexandra acquired the limp in 1867 after suffering an illness that “threatened to contract her leg and make her a cripple.”

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.” 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.”

One newspaper reporter noticed the imitators and stated: “a monstrosity has made itself visible among the [Edinburgh] female promenaders in Princess Street, viz., ‘the Alexandra Limp!'” 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.”

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.”

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!”

Critics used stronger words than ugly when describing the fashion. They described the fashion for the Alexandra Limp to be “as painful as it is idiotic and ludicrous.” Fashionable women thought otherwise. In fact, they purposely tried to achieve it.

To achieve the look, some women began wearing mismatched shoes. They sought out a well-known and popular Edinburgh shoemaker who served the Queen and requested the shoemaker reproduce the deformity by creating shoes that enabled them to look as if they had a limp. Then he “exhibited in his window, one with a high heel and one without, labelled ‘The Alexandra!'”

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.” 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.”

This replacement for the limp was 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.” But these skirts did not catch on before another replacement was suggested.

The next suggestions was proffered 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.”

One newspaper 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.” 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.”

References:

  • “Her Majesty Queen Alexandra: An Anecdotal Sketch, in Sketch, Vol. 33, 20 February 1901
  • —, in The Falkirk Herald, 13 July 1871
  • —, in Western Daily Press, 6 June 1873
  • Et Ceteras, in Luton Times and Advertiser, 19 November 1880
  • “Strange Foibles of Fashion,” in Western Morning News, 12 January 1934
  • “The Alexandra Limp,” in Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 11 December 1869
  • “The Ladies of Edinburgh and the Alexandra Limp,” in Dundee Courier, 9 December 1869
  • “Who Makes a Fashion?,” in Dundee Courier, 11 August 1939

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