Stupid Contagion: The Limping Ladies of London – REWIND

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Originally released April, 2021. Upper-class ladies in Victorian Era England put on a fake limp as a fashion statement. It was just one of many ways they emulated the beautiful Alexandra of Denmark, Princess of Wales who went on to become Queen of England, wife of King Edward VII. In this episode, we talk about the “Alexandra Limp,” some other stupid fashion contagions and then we quiz Dan R Morris from the “Tracing the Path” podcast. 

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The Cobra Effect

There are several stories that I’ve heard over the years that are similar to this. Here’s a particularly gross one. In France, King Louis the Fourteenth reigned from 1643 until his death in 1715. He was known as “The Sun King” or “Louis the Great.” And the guy had butt problems. Specifically an anal fistula. Listen – don’t google that. Just understand, it’s a butt problem. And at this point in history, physicians didn’t perform surgeries where they cut into people. But barbers had blades they used to cut hair, so a barber named Charles Francois Felix created a special blade-like tool that he called “The Royal Probe” and used it to perform a surgery on the Sun King to cure him of his anal fistula. It was a huge success, Louis was fistula-free and the result is that his courtiers and subjects who wanted to appear king-like tried to get the surgery too – whether they had the ailment or not! Even people who didn’t get the surgery wrapped their butts in swaddles to appear as if they’d gotten the surgery. 

That’s maybe the grossest example of a monarch becoming a trend-setter. Cleopatra had all of the upper-class women in Rome wearing their hair in a bun at the back of their neck, and wearing eyeliner. If you know the rule about men’s three-button suit coats? You know, Sometimes, always never? Meaning you never button the bottom button on a suit coat? That goes back to King Edward the seventh when he was Prince of Wales and he was too fat to button the bottom button. It started a trend that exists today. 

So I guess it’s not surprising that a trend started by a monarch had women walking irregularly. 

Let’s go back to the guy who couldn’t button the button. England’s King Edward the Seventh. His wife was Alexandra of Denmark, so she became Princess of Wales, then Queen of England. She was a beautiful woman, she was known to be very charming and joyful person. When her 3rd child was born, she was stricken with rheumatic fever and almost died. After the birth, she had to use walking sticks to get around, and after a year, had began to walk again without the crutches and – for the rest of her life – had a permanent limp.

Alexandra of Denmark had already become a trend-setter as Princess of Wales. She was a huge fashion influencer and the women in England would copy everything she wore. She had a small scar on her neck from a childhood surgical procedure and she often wore choker collars and jewelry high on her neck to cover the scar. English women started wearing similar style chokers. And -just as they had been influenced and tried to mimic royalty before, they did so with her. Even going so far as to imitate her permanent limp. 

Here’s a quote from an 1869 Edition of the North British Mail newspaper: “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.”

It was the “Alexandra Limp” and it caught on like wildfire. A faked limp that was put on by women in the upper-class areas of London in order to appear more like Alexandra of Denmark. Women would walk with a pronounced limp and go so far as to use a cane that they didn’t need. They didn’t have any ailment. They faked it. And in order to do so, they started wearing shoes of two different types – one high heel, one low. 

The writer in the North British Mail continued, “”A monstrosity has made itself visible among the female promenaders in Princes Street. It is as painful as it is idiotic and ludicrous.”

But for shoemakers, they saw an opportunity. They began selling pairs of women’s shoes with mismatched heels, so that walking in them would make the wearer hobble. 

There is a happy ending to this story. Fads, by definition, fade away and get replaced with something else and that’s the story with the Alexandra Limp. Women of London could soon walk normal again. That is, until the next fad. As the Limp went out of style for ladies of London, a popular fashion journal reported the following: “The Alexandra Limp is to be discontinued forthwith. 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.

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange to be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they've recently learned and he gets to the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.


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