Children's Leggings: Country Trends


Figure 1.--This French mother in 1901 thought leggings a good idea for Autumn and Winter outings to the park for the children, both her son and daughter. I'm not sure about the material here. Notice that thr boy's and girl's leggings, as well as their shoes, appear to be identical. Also notice the white gloves. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

We have some limited information about leggings in different countries. As in many countries, leggings were worn by American soldiers, beginning in the 18th cetury. I know that leggings were commonly worn in America by children from affluent familes. They were commonly worn by boys and girls. I have noted children wearing them into the 1940s. We note Scouts wearing an abreviate version after long pants were introduced in the 1940s. I'm less sure about how common they were in other countries. I believe that they may have been more common in America than Europe, but can not at this time substantiate this. The Belgian army wore gaiters of webbing back in the 1960s. I can't recall any sight or picture of a Dutch or Belgian boy in the higher variety (beenkap) but I have occasionally seen Belgian boy scouts wearing the lower one, probably bought from an Army and Navy Store. They were not part of the regular uniform but many boys liked to add something military to their scout uniform. A Dutch boy in Belgium tells us, "I for example was very proud of my British ammo boots and many a Scout had an army belt, worn in stead of or over his regultion Scout belt. We also preferred army backpacks to the regulation rucksack of the Flemish Scouting movement." Leggings were best known in France as a military garment. The French Army was still wearing them in the 1970s. French children wore leggings made out of a white material, I think canvas. There were also knited leggings. They were never made in leather. Leggings by the 1930s, however, no longer commonly were commonly worn in France. Unlike America, leggings were never worn by girls in France. A German reader tells us that he wore leggings in Northern Germany during the late 1930s. "They were dark blue. They seem to have been considered somewhat elegant by the parents, only affluent children wore them, and rarely. I liked them a bit because they had a similarity with stockings which I liked more." There were two kinds of leggings in the Netherlands. Beenkap and slobkous are different in Dutch: the former is worn a little higher up the leg, from just under the knee to just above the ankle and is more often made of some stiff material like leather. One of my father's gardeners, a very old chap, had a pair made of wood. The latter are from mid-calf down over the ankle and to the instep and are usually of softer fabric like canvas or webbing.

America

We notice many photographs of younger American children wearing leggings in the late 19th abd early 20th centuries. We notice lartherleggings in the 19th century, but more commonly cloth leggings in the 20th century. As in many countries, leggings were worn by American soldiers, beginning in the 18th cetury. I know that leggings were commonly worn in America by children from affluent familes. They were commonly worn by boys and girls. I am not sure if there were any regional variations. One reader believes that they were especially common among affluent families in New York and other northeastern cities. I have noted children wearing them into the 1940s. We note Scouts wearing an abreviated version after long pants were introduced in the 1940s. I'm less sure about how common they were in other countries. I believe that they may have been more common in America than Europe, but can not at this time substantiate this.

Belgium

The Belgian army wore gaiters of webbing back in the 1960s. We believe that they were worn in the late 19th and early 20th century by children from affluent families as in France. century I can't recall any sight or picture of a Dutch or Belgian boy in the higher variety (beenkap) but I have occasionally seen Belgian boy scouts wearing the lower one, probably bought from an Army and Navy Store. They were not part of the regular uniform but many boys liked to add something military to their scout uniform. A Dutch boy in Belgium tells us, "I for example was very proud of my British ammo boots and many a Scout had an army belt, worn in stead of or over his regultion Scout belt. We also preferred army backpacks to the regulation rucksack of the Flemish Scouting movement."

Canada

Leggings seem to have been common in Canada. Of course the cold winters must have been a factor here. One Canadian reader in the 1950s remembers them. He writes, "My parents insisted I wear wear long leather leggings in the cold weather when I was a toddler. I remember that they were rather stiff and the padded legs made it difficult for me to run. They were light brown and easier to pull on than the pants to my snow suit." In Canada, leggings were commonly worn over long stockings. A canadian reader tells us that the Red River outfit was widely worn in Canada and leggings were a prominent part of that outfit.

Denmark


England

We do not think that leggings were very common in England, but in fact we have very little information. England's relarively moderate climate may be a factor here. Some wealthy children may have worn them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but we think they were not commonly worn. We note Little Lord Fauntleroy illustratins with leggings, but this may reflect American rathr than English fashions. We also note nostalgic English Christmas cards with leggings, so they may have been worn to some extent in the 19th century.

France

Leggings were best known in France as a military garment. The French Army was still wearing them in the 1970s. We have little historical information about French children wearing leggings, but we assume that they began to become popular in the 19th century when boys began to wear kneeoants. We have some information beginning at the tirn of the 20th century. French children wore leggings made out of a white material, I think canvas. There were also knited leggings. They were never made in leather. They appear to have been quite common at the turn of the 20 century, at least for children from wealthy families. After World War I, dresses and pants became much shorter. Children wearing them during the Winter would experience very cold legs, especially as few children worn long stockings in France--unlike Germany. An American sociologist, after having lived in Provence for one year was surprised to see kids with frozen uncovered legs while their faces were hidden by scarves. Leggings were thus useful for French children in covering the leg without having to wear long stockings. Leggings by the 1930s, however, no longer commonly were commonly worn in France. One source tells us that, unlike America, leggings were never worn by girls in France, but we note quite a few images of French girls wearing leggings.

Germany

We notice quite a few portraits of American children wearing leggings, both learther and cloth leggings. We see very few examples of German children wearing leggings. We have not yet noted leather leggings which were worn in the 19th century. We have found a few images of children wearing cloth leggings in the 20th century. It is difficult to tell is this is a good reflection of the actual degree to which they were worn. Our archive of 19th century images is limited, so our assessment is probably not yet valid. We do have a fairly extesive archive of 20th century images and we think they do accurately reflect the fact that German children did not commonly wear legging. In fact we often see Grman boys wearing short pants during the winter, although commonly with long stockings or knee socks. Perhaps the fact that long stockings were so common is why leggings were not commonly worn.

Hungary

Leggings are a garment that we do not know a great deal about. We have one image of an Hungarian boy in the 1920s wearing leggings, but we are a little confused as the leggings look to be worn under rather than on top of the pants. Perhaps it is just that American boys did not commonly wear short pants with leggings. Girls of course did not wear leggings over dresses. We are not sure, however, how common leggings like this were in Hungary.

Italy


Japan

We do not notice leggings in Japan.

(The) Netherlands

There were two kinds of leggings in the Netherlands. Beenkap and slobkous are different in Dutch: the former is worn a little higher up the leg, from just under the knee to just above the ankle and is more often made of some stiff material like leather. One of my father's gardeners, a very old chap, had a pair made of wood. The latter are from mid-calf down over the ankle and to the instep and are usually of softer fabric like canvas or webbing.

Norway


Sweden


Switzerland

A Swiss reader has described wearing tights in the late 1930s. He may have been desribing "Gamaschen". They were a little different than tights. A better translation may be leggings. These were woolin garments without feet. Chikdren might wear long stockings under them.





HBC






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Created: July 22, 2003
Last updated: 8:56 PM 2/27/2008