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The Victoria and Albert Museum
Skirt grips developed as a means of helping women keep the hems of their full skirts from trailing on the ground. Similarly, these devices served to keep long trains from becoming soiled when not in the ballroom. Fashions of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries dictated very long skirts and trains for a fashionable woman. While very dramatic and beautiful when a woman was posing, standing or at rest, these lengths of fabric (often very delicate and expensive) would quickly become dirty on streets and sidewalks. Skirt grips fastened to the end of a hem or train or sometimes just below the waistband in order to raise the skirt from the top. The clip was attached to a chain or length of ribbon or sting which could be held by a woman, fastened to a ring or clipped to a belt, allowing the skirt to be raised to any (still modest) length and prevent the fabric from being ruined.
By the time this set was made in 1902, women were using them not only in the ballroom, but to keep skirts from trailing the ground when playing sports or riding bicycles. Skirt holders were marketed under names such as “Bicycle,” “Eureka,” “The Grappler,” “Invincible.” “'The Automatic,” etc. and were sold with drawings to help a woman know how to use the clips in different situations.
London inventor B.O. Brendel took out the patent for these skirt grips on April 12 1902, marketing them as “dress suspenders.” These were made to be used with sporting clothes. You see the serrated edges of the clips? These could only have been used on heavy woolen fabrics (those used for sporting clothes) since the teeth would have torn more delicate materials. The dagger-shaped piece of metal at the top would have been inserted into the belt or waistband to keep the skirt grips in place.