The Wannemakers Department store in Philadelphia was a legendary store, the most important and first department store in the city. The Grand Court in the Philadelphia store looked more like a cathedral than a store. Here is a Wannemakers ad for a skeleton waist. Wannemakers does not mention the manufacturer. Newspapers were the principal advertising media used by Wannemakers. The store placed this ad July 24, 1906. These skeleton waists were made for choildren up to age 14 years. We note that many boys than 14 wore knee pants and long stockings. We are not sure why the skeleton waist was only made to size 14. Note that waists for holding up knee pants and long stockings were standard wear even in the hot months of the summer in 1906. Skeleton Waists, by which is meant the Dr. Parker style waist with shoulder straps, belt, and supporters, were especially favored by boys as more masculine than standard "panty waists" (worn by both girls and boys of 10 or younger) because they were lighter in weight and did not involve an additional layer of underwear except for the straps.
Wannemakers does not mention the manufacturer.
Wannemakers was the most important department store in Philadelphia. John Wanamaker founded the store.
He was unable to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Civil War because of a persistent cough. He instead entered patnership with his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown (1861). They founded a men's clothing store in Philadelphia--Oak Hall.
That was the beginning of the Wanamaker's department store. It was the first department store in Philadelphia and one oif the first in America. Wannemaker established a reputation for honesty and service as well as innovation. The company opened a second store in New York. The Grand Court in the Philadelphia store looked more like a cathedral than a store.
After America shifted to the suburbs and malls sprang up, there were eventually 16 Wanamaker's outlets. The company was bought out by Hecht's, another department store chain (1995). Hect was eventually absorbed into Macy's. The renowbed Wannemakers Phiadelphia store is now Macy's Center City.
Newspapers were the principal advertising media used by Wannemakers. John Wannamaker once said, "I know that I waste half of my advertising budget. The problem is I dont know which half!" The ad appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the major newspaper of the city and one of the most important American newspapers. The store placed this ad July 24, 1906.
American children, both boys and girls, commonly wore long stockings in 1906. Virtually all boys up to at least age 16 wore knee pants with long stockings, almost invariably black stockings. The only major exceotion was that some younger boys wore socks or went barefoot during the summer months. Most American boys, however, wore long stockings. This can clearly be seen in the photographic record and in mail order clothing catalogs and periodical advertisements.
Long stockings needed a device to support them.
Underwaists to which hose supporters were attached were somewhat unpopular with older boys, who preferred the more masculine "suspender waist"--a combination of suspenders for trousers and stocking supporters in a single garment that was more athletic in design and less restrictive than an underwaist.
We now notice that the Wolverine Suspender Waist is as early as 1905-06, almost contemporary with the Skeleton Waist in the Wannamaker's ad. Actually the terms Skeleton Waist and Suspender Waist, used loosely, could refer to the same garment. One of the problems in this area is that the terminology shifts a good deal in references to the same, or fundamentally the same, garments. Thus we have "panty waist", "garter waist" "underwaist" and "supporter waist" all used by advertisers at various times for the same basic garment--an underwaist to which supporters can be attached or to which they are
already attached. The terms suspender waist and skeleton waist can also be interchangeable, though not always. Some advertisers use suspender waist to mean any waist with supsender straps (which would include the Dr. Parker waist). On HBC we have tried to distinguish the two by defining the Suspender Waist as a garment that has the suspenders worn
over the shirt and therefore visible when the jacket is taken off, whereas the Skeleton Waist conceals the shoulder straps as part of the underwear. This is an effort to create a standard term for purposes of our discussion. Manufactirers and retailers at the time, however, as we see often used the terms interchangably.
Suspender waists were a support garment to hold up other garments. So-called “suspender waists” were invented at the turn of the 20th century and were popular mainly with boys who wore knee pants and needed a way of supporting their long stockings—almost always black. Although some models of the suspender waist
(such as Kazoo) were manufactured in styles that could be worn also by girls, the main wearers of these waists were boys. They were called “suspender waists” because they combined trousers suspenders with hose supporters and had leather suspender attachments for holding up knee pants in addition to hose supporters
for long stockings. The style did not last very long and was most popular during the 1910s. N.B. Suspender waists are not to be confused with the older style of garter waists (such as the Dr. Parker waist) which also had suspender-like straps over the shoulders, a waist belt (sometimes with waist buttons for outer clothing), and hose supporters. With true suspender waists only the garter part of the waist can be classified as underwear because the shoulder straps would be visible (like ordinary modern suspenders) on top of a shirt.
Note that waists for holding up knee pants and long stockings were standard wear even in the hot months of the summer in
1906. Skeleton Waists, by which is meant the Dr. Parker style waist with shoulder straps, belt, and supporters, were especially favored by boys as more masculine than standard "panty waists" (worn by both girls and boys of 10 or younger) because they were lighter in weight and did not involve an additional layer of underwear except for the straps. Hence they were cooler in the hot months. Notice that the ad stresses that these waists are "cool things for boys and girls" This waist was on sale, sold for 15 cents instead
of the regular 25 cents. Supporting stockings, trousers, and underwear from the shoulders was considered much healthier for children than from the waist, as the ad implies. The ad also suggests that boys wore knee pants and long stockings at least to age 14.
These skeleton waists were made for children up to age 14 years. We note that many boys older than 14 years wore knee pants and long stockings. We are not sure why the skeleton waist here was only made to size 14. We suspect that after age 14 that the number of boys wearing knee pants began to decline. This would have especially been the case for boys in rural areas and boys who had left school to work. (Many boys in the 1900s left school by age 14 to work.) Thus the manufacturer may have limited production to the ages in which these skeleton waists were most in demand. A reader writes, "This has puzzled me as well. Some boys wore knee pants and long stockings as late as 18, and we have a Kazoo Suspender waist ad about 1920 that specifies sizes as old as 18. But the suspender waists, so named, didn't appear until a few years later. I suspect that for older boys, mothers simply made some home-made device for the
stockings in the early days. We know that this happened in Germany because we have specific reports by German writers who recall that when boys outgrew Strapsleibchen by age 12 at the latest, their mothers sewed various kinds of Strapsgurtels, garter belts manufactured from worn-out corsets and women's hose supporters. I think that the invention of the suspender waist in the United States (examples as early as 1909, I believe) may have come in response to the need for an older boy's
support garment. I haven't checked our catalogue pages on the Wolverine waist and its successor, the Kazoo waist, for precise dates. I'm writing here from memory. But I don't think I'm too far off the mark."
The Wannemakers ad copy read, "15 cents for children's 25 cent Skeleton Waists--cool things for boys
and girls, made of non-elastic webbing with two elastic straps in back, also with buttons attached to button the trousers & undergarments on to, & with supporters for the stockings. They support the trousers & undergarments from the shoulders instead of from the waist [a health feature recommended by doctors of the time]. Sizes 2 to 14 years. (Main
The Wannemakers ad here would not have been very eye catching in the newspaper without an illustration. And the sleleton waist is rather complicated to visualize. A good idea of what this garment looked liked can be seen in a contemprary Sears catalog illustration. It is not called a skeleton waist, but it is precisely what is meant in the Wannamaker ad. Notice that it has all the features described in the ad, shoulder straps, extra buttons for attachment of trousers or underwear, and supporters. This image shows
both a boy and a girl (the ad also refers to boys and girls), but I think in 1906 the garment was dominantly more for boys than girls because of the suspender straps. Girls were more likely to continue to wear the underwaist or 'Panty waist" which sometimes came with lace and other more "dainty" features. Notice that the Wannamaker ad refers to
buttoning on trousers. Later on this style of garter waist became standardized as the "Dr. Parker waist" and was worn equally by boys and girls with a few minor modifications up through the 1940s. Eventually the waist buttons disappeared and the waist was only for supporting stockings.
A reader writes, "I take it that the word 'cool' in the advert was referring to temperature. My garndsons use the word 'cool' to mean stylish. I suspect it is an Americanism. In my days in the USA we used the word 'Sharp'. I
was wondering what other words might have been used by kids over the years. 'Dandy' was used in Britain in the 30s and 40s. I don't think 'chic' was a teenagers word. This is a bit of lateral thinking, but it would be interesting to have
others' comments perhaps." HBC doesn't have a slang page, but our reader is correct that this is an interesting topic. Cool was a popular term when I was a teenager in America during the 1950s and still popular in the 60s. It is rather dated today. When I was in Britain during the 1980s, "wizzard" was a popular term. I also heard "trendy" a lot.
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