Boys' Hosiery: Stockings, Socks, and Tights


Figure 1.--Ankle socks became increasingly common in the United States during the 1920s and by the 30s had become the primary hosiery worn by American boys, with both long and short pants as well as knickers.

Hosiery or hose are tailored coverings for the feet or legs worn with shoes or sandals. The extent to which legs were covered and not just feet depended on the fashion trnds of the era, especially the hem length of pants, skirts, and related garments. The history of stockings dates back to pre-history, although hosiery is generally associated with the rise of civilization and established agrarian society. Modern hose are made of knitted or woven fabric, but this has not always been the case throughout history. Hoisery in American usage is synomous with hose, but in Britain may refer to any machine-knitted garment. The discussion here refers to the American usage. Wool was once a primary material for hosiery, but today cotton is much more common. Several different types of stockings and socks as well as tights have been worn by boys and they have changed significantly over time.

Historical Background

The history of stockings dates back to pre-history, although hosiery is generally associated with the rise of civilization and established agrarian society. Modern hoisery is associated with woven or knitted garments, but early man used animal skins as primitive hose. The first knitted socks have been found in Egypt. A first cloth was just wrapped around the legs and held tight by garters or bindings. Actual woven hose appeared in Europe about the 11th century and were the predecessor of modern hoisery.

Boys' Stockings and Socks

The stockings and socks worn by boys have changed significantly over time. Over the knee white stockings were worn with knee britches during much of the 18th century. Short ankle socks, often white, were generally worn by boys for dress at the beginning of the 19th Century. Boys in dressy skeleton suits often wore slippers, white ankle socks and pantalettes or long pantaloons. As boys grew out of skeleton suits and smocks it was common for boys through mid-century to wear various styles of jackets, primarily with long trousers or pantaloons. After mid-century it became increasingly common for younger boys to wear knee pants. Boys in knee pants during the mid-19th century, wore long dark-colored over the knee stockings. Even the fanciest Little Lord Fauntleroy suits were usually worn with dark stockings during the 1880s and 1890s. Long stockings were held up with a kind of waist belt with clasps. Boys wore stockings with horizontal strips during the 1970s-80s, but usually not for formal occassins. Some mothers in the early 20th century turbned to white stockings and socks when dressing boys in Fauntleroy suits or other dressy outfits instead of the dark socks common before the turn of the century. As boys after World War I increasingly dressed in knickers or short pants, knee socks became common. British boys who referred to knee socks as turn over top socks, often wore grey knee socks with their school colors or a pattern at the top. American boys liked to wear argyles with their knickers. After World War II, American boys generally wore ankle socks with argyles or horizontal patterns. White athletic socks were worn with shorts or for port. During the late 1970s, tube socks, or long white athletic socks with color bands at the top became popular as American boys showed greater interest in basketball and soccer.

Girls' Hosiery

Girls hosiery conventions have changed over time and varied among countries. There are also important age conventions. Generally boys and girls in the19th century wore essentially the same, often identical hosiery. We note changes in the 20th century, especially after World War I. At first the primary difference was color. Over time the type of hosiery also changed. There were important differences from country to ciountry. A major difference was color. White stockings and knee socks became more common for girls than boys, but their were variatioins from country to country and the the time line varied. White hosiery was most common for girls in America and Britain, but we see German and French children wearing white socks, including knee socks. American girls in the1940s became known as Bobby Soxers because of their destinctive white socks. Major differences developed in the 20th century concerning both knee socks and tights. Knne socks conventions were once similasr, but gradually gender differences devrloped. There have been differences in tights since they first appeared after World war II, but this varied from country to country. We have developed some hosiery pages with gender information.

Chronolgy

Men and boys in the 18th century wore knee-length white stockings with knee breeches. Short socks appeared for boys at the turn of the 19th century to be worn with long pants skeleton suits. Longer lengths were not needed with long pants. I'm less sure about the hosiery worn with tunics. As knee pants became increasingly popular after the mid-19th centurry, boys increasingly wore long over-thr-knee stockings. Horizonal stripe stockings were popular for a time, but dark long stockings were most common. After the turn of the 20th century, long white stockings were worn. Kneesocks also increased in popularity. Three quarter stockings became popular in France during the late 19th century and were widely worn by younger American boys in the early 20th century. Short ankle socks appeared in the in the 1920s, but trends varied from country to country. American boys began to widely wear ankle socks in the 1930s. British boys more commonly wore kneesocks while in France both ankle socks and kneesocks were worn on a seasonal basis. After World War II, most boys have worn ankle socks. Knee socks were worn t some extent in Britain and other countries, but most boys wore ankle socks. Younger boys wotre tights in Germany and some northern European countries. American and Japanese boys wore knee-length tube socks during the 1970s and 80s. In the late 1990s some boys began wearing shortened length sport socks.

Hosiery Types

Boys have worn a wide variety of hosiery over the years. Today boys mostly wear different types of ankle socks, but many different types of hose were worn in the past. The different types of hosiery are primarily distinguished by the length of the various garments. This was primarily determined by both seasonal and stylistic factors such as types and length of pants and trousers. Hosiery types have varied as much in length as possible. They have varied from tights and long above the knee stockings to the shork sport socks that just cover the portion of the foot covered by a shoe.


Figure 2.--British and European boys commonly wore knee socks with short pants. Kneesocks were also worn by American boys, but mostly with knickers.

Countries

Hosiery trends in European countries had been similarities among countries. There do not appear to have been many destinctive country hosiery styles and trends. Throughout Europe men and boys wore knee-length stockings, often white, with knee breeches. There was still considerable similarity through much of the 19th century. More differences began to appear in the late 19th century. American boys commonly wore long stockings. Kneesocks were worn in the early 20th century, but did not prove as popular as in Europe--especially Britain. French boys wore three-quarter length stockings in the late 19th century. Kneesocks were worn in the 20th century, but largely on a seasonal basis. German boys wore a larger range of hosiery and long stockings were very common in the winter. After World War II, some boys wore tights during the winter. Since the 1960s, knee-length socks became less common, except for tune socks that were popular inA merica during the 1970s-80s. A new style of very short sport socks appeared in the late 1990s, first in California. Some reports from Europe indicate that boys there in the 1990s are wearing their socks as close to their shoes as possible.

Material

Our information on the material used for hosiery is still quite limited. The material used as varied among civilizations and over time. Wool was a primary material for hosiery for millenia. Once the Chinese developed silk, it became used as hosiery for the wealthy. The wealthy might wear silk stockings. Linnen was also used. Cotton was primarily confined to the Indian sub-continent. It was used for clothing oyutside the India, but was very expensive. This changed in the space of 100 years between about 1730-1830 as a result of three major developments. First the Industrial Revolution created low-cost methods for manufacturing cotton yarn and fabric (mid-18th century). Second, the invention of the cotton gin sharply reduced labor cists, making cotton a profitable crop (1793). Third, these first two developments fomented large-scale plantation cultivation of cotton in the American South. This significantly expanded cotton production. (This had two side effects in the United States. It largely financed the industrialization of the Northern states. It also revitalized the economic importance of slavery in the Southern states.) Cotton became the primary fabric used for hosiery. Today cotton is the primcipal material used for hosiery, sometimes in a variety of blends with synthetic materials. Nylon and other synthetic fibers are used to make sheer women's hosiery. Elastic is used in some hosiery, especially at the top of kneesocks to hold them up.

Weaving

We do not yet know much about hosiery weaving. There are several important factors that we have not yet developed. We do not know, for example, just when hosiery began to be produced mechanically rather than woven at knitted at home. Another important question is when mechanical weaving permitted the use of different colored yarns to produce colored bands and other patterns. Of course this is associated with the Industrial Revolution, but we do nopt yet have details converning weaving of hosiery. Another important aspect of weaving is the type. We notice various weaves. The two most important are plain or flat weaves and ribbed weaves. There are other more fashion based weaves such as cable-knot weaves which have been proven popular for kneesocks.

Outfits

We note different tyes of hosiery worn with various outfits. We are just beginning to assess the hosiery trends worn with the various garments. We are working on rompers, smocks, dresses, kilts, tunics, Fautleroy suits, sailor suits, shortalls, short pants suits, knicker suits, and other outfits. The hosiery types for these different outfits varied chronologically and by country.

Wearing Hosiery

An HBC reaser has noted substantial variations not so much in the specific type of hosiery a boy might wear, but in how he wore that hosiery. In most cases this dealt with socks as there were fewer alternatives ways in which tights and long stockings could be worn. Our reader erites, "One of your HBC pages remarked that a boy was wearing his knee socks cuffed. Is there any significance to HOW a boy wears his socks?" HBC believes that is indeed a signicance as to how a boy wore his socks. There is a reason behinf every conscious human activity. It might not be coherent or reasonable, but there is a message being sent by how a boy wears his socks or indeed how his mother insists he wear them. We believe that we know some of the reasons involved, but would appreciate readers providing whatever insights they may have.

Sizes

Hosiery sizes seem to have varied from country to couutry. We are not yet sure about the sizes indicated in catalogs and what the age comprisons are. There do not seem to be an international standard, although some countries were especially important, including America, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. We have not found muvh infomation on this, but will load that information as we find it. And we will provide links here. We think the Canadians may have used U.S. sizes, but still have to confirm this.







HBC






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Created: May 23, 1998
Last updated: 8:17 AM 12/4/2010