Vintage Clothing: Support Garments

Figure 1.--This American garment is a typical boy's underwaist with adustable shoulder straps to allow for the boy's growth. It buttons down the front and has reinforcement straps over the shoulder with taped-on waist buttons around the waist line so that short trousers or possibly knickers can be buttoned on.

We have found more support garments than underwear. There were several different types of support garments. These garments became very common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were used to both hold up long stockings and pants. They were also advertised as having value for posture. They garments were especially common in America. We note what looks like an underwaist dating from the early 20th century. One readers has sent us an image of a nainsook suit which was worn by American children in the 1930s. We also note a German World War I paper-fabric Leibchen which was a kind of stocking supporter. We note a cloth Leibchen a few decades later in the 1940s or early 50s. Many of these stocking support garments are American. Long stoclings were widely worn in both America and Europe, but the Europeans were more likely to use make shift arrangements rather than store-bought stocking supporter garments.


Garters (United States)

This item is a pair of Children’s garters or stocking/hose supporters. They are not dated, but we would guess the 1930s. The vintage paper wrapper reads, “Beltx Childrens Hose Supporters, Size D, 4-6 Years” on the back it reads, “Made by “Beltx St. Louis, Style 30.” Wecare not precisely sure how they worked. We think mother would have sewed them on to a waist or perhaps safety pins were uses as illustrated. They consist of a piece of ¾” wide elastic in ivory with a safety pin at the top of each. At the bottom of the elastic is one of those clasps like on suspenders so you can adjust the length. At the bottom are pieces of ivory binding with an antique garter, child size at the bottom, a rubber knob in a metal clasp.

Hickory Garters (United States)

One very popular brand of stocking supporters in America was Hickory. Here we see vintage Hickory brand supporters for children. They were manufactured by Stein and Co. of Chicago and were a household name known to every American family with boys and girls to dress for school. Hickory garters were sold nearly everywhere--Sears and Wards advertised them in their catalogues, and magazines such as Parents, Good Housekeeping, Boys' Life, The Ladies' Home Journal, etc. ran ads for them in their pages. Local newspapers all over the country advertised them as the strongest and most reliable supporters available, able to take the wear and tear, the constant tugging and wrenching of children engaged in active play and games.

Stocking Supporters (Canada)

This is Canadian stocking supporters for boys and girls (size 4-6) for attaching to the garter tabs of underwaists (usually pin tubes, loops, or metal eyelets). The elastic is in the tops. The pendants with the loop and rubber button fasteners seem to be elastic also, but may be non-elastic tape. These supporters were manufactured in Canada, but we can not make out the company. They represent a slight variation on the American type: the elastic strap at the top is shorter and the double pendants are considerably longer. I'm not sure why this change was made in Canada. Having elastic in both the top strap and the pendants made the supporters stretchier and may have help the stockings up more neatly. This image should go on our vintage support page.

Garter Waists/Skeleton Waists

The gater waist was also called a skeleton waist. It served the same purpose as an underwa waist, but was generally preferred by older children, especially teenagers. Some German Leibchen were also garter waists. When four hose supporters were attached to a Leibchen it (usually by buttons but sometimes sewn on), the Leibchen became a Strapsleibchen (i.e., a garter waist). When the garters were attached to the Leibchen by buttons the attachment to the stockings was usually by means of a button sewn onto the stocking top. By the later 1930s and early 1940s German mothers bought commercially made Leibchen which already had hose supporters sewn onto it. The clasps were the usual rubber button and wire loop fasteners that always were used on modern American hose supporters in brands such as Hickory and Velvet Grip.

Beltx Garter Waist (United States)

Here is an interesting example of a vintage garter waist for boys and girls (ca. 1945-47) made by Beltx. Beltx is the last known American manufactuer of garter waists. The construction is all-elastic with a waist belt, suspenders, a cross strap on the chest to prevent slipping from the shoulders and four suspporters--two in front and two in back toward the sides. Ages are not given, but such garter waists were normally available for boys and girls from 2 to 12 years of age. This garter waist is definitely American (as we know from the brand name, Beltx)and almost certainly dates from the middle or later 1940s. The give-away for a 1940s date is the construction of the waist with four individual supporters for the long stockings rather than the traditional two supporters with double pendants, which could be purchased separately with safety pins for attachment to underwaists or sometimes were already attached to garter waists and were unremovable. The color white (no option in black is offered) is also another marker of the date."

Skeleton Waist (United States)

This garment is a "skeleton waist" or "garter waist" for either boys or girls and was preferred by older children although it was also available in smaller sizes. In the 1920s these waists were often available for children up to the age of 14. In the mail order catalogs we see both boys and girls wearing the identical garment. It consists of a wide cloth belt of sturdy material fastened in front by two buttons and supported by adjustable shoulder straps. At the sides there are two little extensions over the hips with cloth loops through which the pins of the white hose supporters pass and can be fastened. The belt and shoulder straps are of non-elastic material, but the supporters are elasticized so as to hold long stockings up tautly without wrinkling. The supporters are of the usual Y-shaped variety with two clasps for the stocking top. Some garter waists had the supporters permanently attached, but on this model the garters are detachable and can therefore be replaced when they wear out. Skeleton waists were lighter in weight than underwaists and often preferred by boys and girls who were athletic or especially active.

Daisy Garter Waists (United States)

This vintage garter waist, probably daiting from the 1930s, is the typical Dr. Parker style of hose supporter, an example of a skeleton waist. The Dr. Parker style garter waists were also called skeleton waists. It was made for both boys and girls up to the age of 14 years. It consisted of suspender straps with a cross strap across the chest to keep the shoulder straps from slipping. The waist band fastened in front and had additional taped buttons for attaching to short trousers or skirts or (for girls) bloomers. There are metal pinning tubes at the sides to which a pair of double-pendant hose supporters are attached for long stockings. The model is referred to as "Daisy", used by the Kern's Manufacturing Company in Mattoon, Illinois, where children's hose supporters were made. They sub-contracted to Sears Roebuck who advertised 'Daisy' garter waists for boys and girls in their late 1930s and early-1940s catalogues.

Strapsleibchen (Germany)

During the 1930s German manufacturers improved the design of Leibchen for long stockings in several ways. They replaced the somewhat flimsy button-hole garter straps with better quality commerical hose supporters. These straps were typically made of wider elastic webbing, equipped with buckles for length adjustment, sewn permanently onto the bottom of the Liebchen, and featured sturdy metal loop and rubber-button clasps for attachment to the stocking tops of the same kind that women wore on their corsets. The metal clasps had the advantage of being stronger than sewn-on buttons and didn't come undone as easily under the pressures of sports or other physical activity. There were also four rather than two garters, so that the stockings didn't sag on the inner thign and were held up neatly and smoothly on the leg from both front and back. This vintage Strapsleibchen (from the 1950s) shows how the four garter straps were attached. The straps attach with a buckle that allows the child or mother to adjust the length of the supporters to the appropriate height. This design permitted the the stockings to smoothly encase the leg firmly and held in place without wrinkling.


The underwaist was a garment widely worn by American childten. It was a multi-purpose garment that served to both hold up pants and skirts as well as long stockings, It was particularly useful for younger children because of its simplicity. The standard German Leibchen is the equivalent of an American underwaist.

Underwaist (United States)

Underwear could be quite complicated in the late 19h and early 20th century. It is important to assess garments like underwaists to understand how children dressed. Various make shift arrangements were used through the mid-19th century. Clothing companies developed a variety of support garments to meet the needs of women and children. Underwaists were one og the garments developed for children. Underwaists were very commonly worn by American children in the late-19th and early 20th century. And the photographic record does not help us with underwear and support gatments. Images of actual vintage underwear adds thus is very important and adds to the informaton we have collected in the catalog section. These garments were most commonn in America. We notice some of these garments in Europe, but the Europeans were more apt to msake do with makeshify arrangements like pins.

Underwaist with Adustable Shoulder Straps (United States)

This American garment is a typical boy's underwaist with adustable shoulder straps to allow for the boy's growth (figure 1). It buttons down the front and has reinforcement straps over the shoulder with taped-on waist buttons around the waist line so that short trousers or possibly knickers can be buttoned on. There are garter tabs at the sides with metal pinning tubes so that supporters for long stockings can be attached. These were standard garments for children during the 1920s for boys (and also girls) from about age 2 to age 12. Many of the girls' underwaists had lace or other adornments around the neck and often buttoned down the back whereas boys' underwaists were usually plain like this one and had front buttoning.

Paper-fabric Leibchen (Germany)

Here we see a vintage German child's Leibchen. This was a kind of stocking supporter widely worn by German children. German Leibchen from about the 1910s up through the 1940s and 1950s were often homemade garments although they could also be purchased commerically in shops and stores. Long stockins were commonly worn by German children, both boys and girls. The purpose of the Leibchen was to hold up long stockings. Thus the chronology of these garments is strongly associated with the wearing of long stockings in Germany. A HBC reader tells us that this is a photo of an actual 1916-17 Leibcehen. It is interesting because it was made from a paper fabric. The World War I Royal Navy blockade cut German off from all sorts of raw materials. One of these was cotton. German scientists managed to develop a rather durable cloth based on paper. The garment shown here is yellowed because of age, but it was apparently white in its original state. Boys wore Leibchen in Germany usually up through the age of 10 years, and in some cases, 12. A number of points are worth discussing concerning the construction of this crocheted Leibchen.

Cloth Leibchen (Germany)

The basic German stocking supporter garment was a Leibchen. Here we see a standard child's Leibchen worn by boys and girls in Germany during the 1940s and 1950s. The Leibchen was a vest-like garment worn under a boy's shirt to which hose supporters were sewn or otherwise attached. The back view shows the buttons opening in the rear. This model has two elastic garter straps (sometimes referred to as Strapsen) attached to the bodice in back with undoubtedly two others, not shown, in front--thus making four garters (two for each stocking). At the right we see an illustration of one of the straps attached to a ribbed stocking with a button sewn onto it. Notice that there are additional buttonholes in the strap (Strumpfhalter) so that an adjustment can be made for the length of the stocking and the boy's height.

Leibchen (Germany)

This photo of a German Leibchen (vintage clothing) shows the standard Leibchen worn by German boys and girls in the 1950s for holding up long stockings. It is essentially a simple armless undershirt with reinforcement straps over the shoulders with four elastic hose supporters fastened in front and and in back to the straps. Notice how short the supporters are--an indication that in the 1950s long stockings were worn very long to cover the entire upper leg. We can see buckles on the leastic straps for adjusting the supporters to the correct length. In the 1950s these Leibchen were essentially unisex garments worn by both boys and girls up through about age 12 years. We have a few statements by German contributors saying that boys as old as 14 yeaers sometimes had to wear these Leibchen, especially on Sundays in the more rural parts of Germany, where suits with short trousers and long stckings were insisted upon by mothers for wear to church and for other dress-up occasions. These statements also tell us that although most boys didn't have to wear short trousers to school after the age of 12 years, many boys still wore long stockings for warmth under long trousers, and would have needed the Leibchen for support.

Leibchen (Germany)

This is a photo of a boy's vintage Leibchen from about 1940. A vintage German "garter shirt" or Strumpfhalterhemd of the type worn by hundreds of German girls and boys up to about the age of 12 (or even 14)for supporting thigh-length long stockings. Some Leibchen had buttons down the front or in back, but the later versions (like this example) were simply slipped over the head and worn like an undershirt. The four elastic hose supporters were adjustable for length so that the stockings were held in place tautly on the legs without sagging or wrinkling. Two supporters were attached at the front and two others at the back but toward the sides so that the wearer didn't experience the discomfort of having to sit on the rubber button and wire loop clasps. These were unisex garments worn equally by boys and girls who needed garter waists to hold long stockings up underneath briefly cut short trousers or dresses. Originally many garter shirts had straps that fastened to the bodice by buttons and to the stocking tops by additional buttons sewn onto the stockings. But commercial Liebchen with professionally manufactured hose supporters (as in the present example) became more and more common during World War II and the postwar period. Boys more or less abandoned wearing long stockings with short trousers during the middle- and later-1950s, although they continued to be worn in some rural areas of Germany. Tights became available in the very late-1950s and in some cases replaced children's long stockings, but many parents preferred long stockings as more economical and practical since children could unfasten the garters and roll down the stockings without getting undressed.

Waist Union Suits

Nainsook Suit (United States)

We have only limited underwear items in our vintage clothing archive. One readers has sent us an image of anainsook suit which was worn by American children in the 1930s. Note the buttons at the waist. These were used to button on other garments, especially pants. This nainsook waist might be classified as an abbreviated union suit. It has waist buttons for attaching outer clothing such as shorts or skirts or bloomers. It may also have garter tabs for supporters at the sides, but I don't see any indication of that feature from the illustration. I guess we can assume that it is a very young child's waist union suit, which probably means that it functions also as a garter waist or at least could function as one if supporters were attached.


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Created: 7:31 PM 7/25/2007
Last updated: 5:15 AM 6/16/2013