How the Wright Brothers Caused a Female Fashion Trend

By Maureen A. Taylor

Sign up for the Family Tree Newsletter Plus, you’ll receive our 10 Essential Genealogy Research Forms PDF as a special thank you!

Get Your Free Genealogy Forms

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

In the early part of the 20th century, three members of the Wright family were among the most famous individuals in the country (if not the world). Orville and Wilbur’s patented flying machine demonstrations on both sides of the Atlantic brought thousands of people to fields to watch them fly.

Their schoolteacher sister Katherine flew more than any woman of her generation. The three of them stand together in this 1910 photo from the Library of Congress. If you want to see the Wrights’ original patent drawings, they’re available online via the Mississippi State University website.

wright brothers history first flight
(Library of Congress)

David McCullough’s book, The Wright Brothers, presents the brothers as ordinary men with extraordinary focus, determination and passion. Many men of their generation tried to perfect manned flight, but Orville and Wilbur Wright were first to actually do it.

Their exploits even influenced a fashion trend. When Mrs. Hart O. Berg accompanied Wilbur Wright on a flight in 1908, she tied her scarf around her dress at the ankles to keep it in place. It’s possible that the French fashion designer Paul Poiret saw Mrs. Berg and Katherine Wright tie down their skirts. He created a short-lived style known as the hobble skirt.

wright brothers history first flight

It was difficult to walk in these narrow skirts. The postcard above calls it a “speed-limit skirt” because women could take only baby steps. If you see a photo of an ancestor wearing a skirt of this design, you’ll have a narrow time frame for an image of 1910 to 1913.

Costumes Parisiens Fashion illustration No.91 from Journal des dames et des modes, 1913, depicting the “hobble skirt” style. (Wikimedia Commons)

Our ancestors had fashion icons that influenced everyday dress. Both Orville and Wilbur Wright dressed neatly for their flights. Wilbur always wore a high-necked collar with a tie, a jacket and a cap. While full-crowned caps were available before the Wrights took flight, they increased in popularity throughout the second decade of the century and beyond. The style of the brim and crown changed in later decades.

Watch for these fashion trends in your family photos from the circa 1910 period. If your ancestor passed on stories of seeing the Wright brothers in flight, be sure to record that in your research!