Eaton's Stocking Supporters (Canada, 1918)

Figure 1. Canadian children commonly wore long stockings througout the 1910s. We notice an A.T. Eaton catalog page offering a variety of stocking supporters in 1918. Unfortunately it is a small image and we can't read the ad copy. Illustrations show us, however, some of the styles.

Canadian children commonly wore long stockings througout the 1910s. We notice an A.T. Eaton catalog page offering a variety of stocking supporters and other support devices in 1918. As in many older catalogs, there is quite a jumble of items. Unfortunately it is a small image and we can't read the ad copy. Illustrations show us, however, some of the styles. A HBC reader has worked on the text and we think that we now have a reasonably accurate version of the text.


T. Eaton's was a well known Toranto department store. Their catalogs provide a good indication of the styles popular in Canada at the time. This Canadian retailer began publishing mailorder catalogs in 1881, at least that is we begin noticing them. We have catalogs from the 1970s, although we do not know about the company's current status. The 1970s catalgs were full of clothes which look like American styles. Timothy Eaton, founder of the huge all-Canadian department store chain bearing his name, was an Irish immigrant born on a tennant farm in northern Ireland. He was born in 1834 and followed his brothers to Canada in 1854. His brothers had opened a small dty goods store in St. Marys. Timothy Eaton began his business with a small dry goods business in Toronto during 1869. He built a giant retail store in Ontario’s capital city along with a country-wide mail-order business and a big new branch store in Winnipeg, by the time of his death in 1907. The Winnipeg branch was the first of many branches. Eaton Company business establishments eventually spread all across Canada when Timothy’s family successors extended the Eaton empire. Timothy masterminded the company during the crucial period of its early development, spanning nearly 40 years. It was Timothy who implemented the concept of the "Department Store", in Canada, a concept which were already flourishing in London, Paris, and New York.

Stocking Suporters

The boys and girls wearing long stockings in the second half of the 19th Century held them up with various styles of stocking supporters. I believe that boys did not wear these supporters commonly in the first half of the 19th Century because kneepants were not nearly as common. Boys wearing long trousers did not commonly wear stocking supporters. It was not until the 1870s when kneepants became more commonly worn that stocking supporters became widely worn. Both boys and girls wore them. They were several different styles, including over the shoulder and waist styles. They were not very comfortable especially for boys involved in strenous outdoor activities. Notably Lord Baden Powell when he designed the first Boy Scout uniform chose kneesocks so cumbersome stocking supporters would not be necessary.

Stocking Suporter Types

We do not have the actual Eaton's page here, only a poor copy imge. At first we thought we couldn't read the text for the stocking supporter models and other support devices shown here in 1918. As in many older catalogs, there is quite a jumble of items. We have been working on it, and we think (by hook or crook) we've now managed it. The problem wasn't quite as bad as we had at first thought.

Skeleton waist (top left)

Unfortunately the image for the skeleton waist is cut off at the top left. The Eaton's ad copy read, "25 F 240. Skeleton Waist in sizes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 years for boys or girls. This waist has supporters attached and feels comfortable. Ask your young folks what they think of it. State size when ordering it. 42 c." [This belt with hose supporters closes in front and has adjustable shoulder straps as well as supporters that can be adjusted for length.

Skeleton waist without supporters (top center)

The same waist as above without the hose supporters is shown at the top center. It is is shown being worn by a girl with a hair bow. This was not to indicate that the skeleton waist was for a girl because it was for both boys and girls. The Eaton's ad copy reads: "25 F 247. Skeleton Waist without supporters in sizes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 years for boys or girls. 24 c." The waist without supporters may simply be for the support of underpants, panties, knee pants, skirts, etc. although no additional buttons for this purpose are mentioned in the ad copy. But additional buttons may simply be assumed. Waist buttons appear to be located on each side of the waistband just under the shoulder straps although the illustration is somewhat indistinct. This waist presumably has straps that cross in back like ordinary suspenders for trousers.

General French supporter (top right)

We see part of the illustration for this stocking supporter which Eaton's refers to as a French supporter. The Eaton's ad copy read, "25 F 248. General French Supporters. Note the straps, front and back, to keep the shoulder straps from slipping off. Proper kind for keeping the hose up. In sizes suitable for boys or girls. Small for ages 2 to 4; medium for ages 4 to 7; large for ages 7 to 11. State size required. 30 c." These supporters are shoulder garters similar in construction to the shoulder brace with supporters worn by the boy model in the illustration below. They differ, however, from this style by having the cross straps across the front and back (to prevent slippage) and in being limited to children 11 years of age or younger. The shoulder garters worn by the boy model come in both children's and adult sizes and so would fit boys older than 11. We are not sure about the "General French" name. We thought it might mean a general or generic French supporter. We are not sure why it may have been attributed to France. Another possibility was that it ws named after a military officer--a General French". HBC has no idea who he may have been.was, but I suspect he may have been a military officer from the 18th or early 19th century who invented this support device for soldiers who wore long stockings with knee breeches. This of course is just a guess. But long stockings were almost universally worn by both men and boys when knee breeches were the standard form of male attire. A modern analogy would be the U.S. Marines who wear "stays" with their dress uniforms even today. These are elastic straps with supporter-type clasps at either end. One end attaches to the shirt tail and the other to the top of the soldier's calf-length sock. The device holds the shirt neatly down (so as to avoid blousing) and the sock up at the same time. I think the "General French Supporter" may have a similar military provenance. A reader writes, "I cosidered your speculation about the word "general" just having the meaning of "universal" or "all-purpose". But I think this must be incorrect because there are other Canadian ads for "The General French Hose Supporter" in other issues of Eaton's catalogs. I'm working on acquiring some of these and I think I will be able to supply HBC with additional examples later this summer. I'm now in touch with some Canadian archivists who have agreed to help here. I'll keep you posted. But I'm fairly sure that the word "General" in these ads refers to a military officer."

??? shoulder brace (lower left)

At the lower left is a shoulder brace for women. We can not make out the text. We have made an attempt to recover the text for the shoulder braces on this page, but we are afraid to report failure here. The print is just too blurred. We thought we could use the same system used for the garter waists, but in this case it didn't work.

Shoulder brace (lower center)

The shoulder brace garters worn by the boy at the lower center has the Eaton's ad copy underneath the illustration. It reads, "This shoulder brace with hose supporters comes in handy for the youth who does not like garters fastened at the waist. The brace is made with adjustable loop clasps with buttons [for attachment to the stockings]. Comes in black or white. Children's price 20 c. Misses' price 30 c."

????? shoulder brace (lower right)

We see a shoulder brace at the lower right. It has a name, but we cannot make it out. The illustration kooks to be made for a youth or young man. It certainly looks to be very stoutly made. Here the function seems to be entirely a back support raher than a stocking supporter. Unfortunately we cannot make out the text.

Shoulder Braces

There are two braces advertised here--one for women on the left (mostly cut off in the illustration) and another for men and boys (on the right). The Men's and Boys' brace comes in two sizes with the boys' size being cheaper since it uses less material. These are not back braces, i.e., orthopedic garments for bad backs, although there is a great deal of complexity about the back piece. The main purpose of both braces is to correct or prevent "round shoulders" (We can make out this phrase in the text for the male brace). In the early decades of the 20th century there was a great deal of concern about "round shoulders" and keeping the shoulders back. This was especially emphasized as a desideratum for boys, but it was more general than this, so that shoulder braces were advertised for adults (men and women) as well as for children (boys and girls). These braces are meant to be both corrective and preventive in nature. A reader writes, "I can recall that as a boy in the early 1930s my father was always telling me to "keep your shoulders back." Many of the garter waists that were sold from about 1910 to 1945 promoted the idea that wearing a garter waist with shoulder straps was good therapy for the posture and that posture improvement was a secondary advantage of such garter waists." See for instance "Kern's Dandy" garter waist sold by Sears in 1937 which claims that the waist acts also as a "shoulder brace". We believe that in most cases such claims were specious. Tape shoulder straps for stocking support (as shown on the models of stocking supporters advertised on this page as well as on many other garter waists) would have little actual benefit in keeping a boy's shoulders back. This would be like prentending that wearing modern suspenders rather than just a belt to hold up trousers would benefit a person's posture--a basically untrue claim. But the obsession with posture, especially in growing children, is a culurally interesting phenomenon.


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Created: 10:52 PM 6/23/2005
Last updated: 6:28 PM 6/28/2005