The great fashion shift of 1908 brought important changes to both men's and women's silhouettes, the outline of the body that is the basic form of a new style. One of the most important changes was the introduction of a tapered look from the hips to the ankles. Before 1908, for example, the silhouette for women called for an S-shape, with protruding breasts and buttocks, and bulky, flowing skirts. After 1908 the silhouette became much more natural, with clothes staying closer to the actual shape of the body. But the clothing of this period was not altogether natural: pegging, or creating width in the hips and closeness at the hem, introduced a look that was very popular from 1908 up to the beginning of World War I in 1914.
Men had worn peg-top trousers off and on since trousers became more widespread beginning in the nineteenth century. These trousers had an abundance of material at the hips, which gave a baggy look. Pleats and panels allowed the trouser legs to narrow dramatically to a close-fitting hem at the ankle. These styles came back into fashion for men, adding a rare spark to the rather dull men's clothing of the time. When women went into factories in great numbers during the war they often wore peg-top trousers, which fit a woman's shape better than straight trousers and added a stylish touch to otherwise drab outfits.
The peg-top look was most striking with women's clothes, and it was used with both skirts and suits. The peg-top look could be subtle, with soft billows at the hips narrowing to a close-fitting but not restrictive hemline. But the peg-top look that got the most attention was anything but subtle. Large pleats and carefully tailored panels could make the skirts balloon outward at the hips, giving the appearance of large saddlebags, or covered pockets, and then taper severely to a tight ankle. When worn with a close-fitting jacket as part of a peg-top suit, the look was quite dramatic.
Peg-top clothing for women marked a real break from older styles, but it hardly gave women freedom to move with ease. In 1912 a tailor providing guidance on sewing such a skirt warned that if a woman in a peg-top suit found herself in an emergency the only way she could move quickly was to hop like a kangaroo. Like the hobble skirt, which it resembled, peg-top skirts and suits went out of style by 1914. Pegging, or restricting the width of a hem, returned at various points in the century as a way of changing the shape of garments.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
[ See also Volume 4, 1900–18: Hobble Skirts ]