Until we end up mincing along behind someone with a particularly glacial pace, most of us are unlikely to spend much time at all thinking about the way we walk. Yet, in other walks of life, how you carry yourself can have huge significance.
Last year it was revealed that Vladimir Putin underwent KGB training in order to attain his distinctive ‘gunslingers gait’, while the year before President Obama was criticised by Donald Trump for his ‘inelegant and unpresidential walk’.
Perhaps the most notorious swagger of all is the limp. According to limb lengthening surgeon Dr Guichet, one person in every thousand is born with one leg over 6 cm shorter than the other. This discrepancy is far from a desirable trait, and Dr Guichet has become ‘a pioneer in the field of limb lengthening’ as people are desperate to lose this uneven movement.
However, even a lose knowledge of hip hop will have made you familiar with the limps of old school pimps in the USA. What you may now know, is that the limp has been deliberately adopted by fashionistas and gangsters alike for over a century.
The Victorian Limp
For all it’s repression and ostensible sophistication, the Victorians toyed with some pretty bizarre, roguish fashions. Concealed underneath the dresses of even the most well-to-do women there were nipple piercings and tattoos, and even strangely altered shoes, designed to make the wearer limp.
Alexandra of Denmark was married to the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, they were each established trend setters of their day. Women across Britain would copy Alexandra style of dress and her manner, even adopting a choker necklace which she wore to hide a scar on her neck. Then, in 1867, Alexandra contracted rheumatic fever. Her recovery was complete except for one small detail: a pronounced limp.
Upon seeing this new swagger, women began experimenting with mismatched shoes and exaggerated platforms to try and achieve the same effect. The gait became known as the ‘Alexandra Limp’, and soon there was a high-end market for ladies walking sticks and special shoes to pander to this strange fashion.
The limp had its fifteen minutes of fame before sartorial critics began circulating reviews which declared the trend ‘as painful as it is idiotic and ludicrous’. Two years after Alexandra first, albeit unwittingly, made her limping debut, the craze ended.
Limping to Express Gang Identity
Almost 100 years later in the US city of Philadelphia, the limp had resurfaced amongst a very different crowd. In her book ‘Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community’ Professor Kathryn Geurts discusses how an individual’s walk can speak to onlookers about everything from their beliefs to their neighbourhood.
In Philadelphia during the 1940s and 50s, one’s walk could be used to identify the neighbourhood in the city where they grew up. People raised in North Philadelphia walked differently from the South and West sides of the city. Geurts goes onto to say that this bodily communication was specific to African-American communities.
There have been many gangs since who developed walks or distinctive dances to mark their membership. One of the most notorious being the ‘Crip Walk’ or ‘C-Walk’, which was used by a violent group of gangsters in the 1970s. Since then, ‘pimp rolls’ and ‘gangster glides’ have become a recognised part of gang culture, all of which incorporate a limp.
Behavioural psychologist Dr Peter Collett told the Telegraph how these walks were used to attract attention. The limp provides an ‘illusion of toughness’, onlookers are expected to make assumptions that the individual has had a violent past, or is carrying a weapon.
There are much more entertaining theories in Urban Dictionary which you can check out in your own time, but the link between street culture and unilateral discrepancy has suck fast. Unlike the fast forgotten Alexandra limp.