Long Stockings: Chronology

Figure 1.--American boys in the early 1920s still commonly wore long stockings. This illustration from the 1922 Montgomery Wards catalog shows a boy putting on his long stockings in the morning. Click on the image to view the catalog page and for information on the stockings advertised.

HBC is not yet entirely sure about the chronology of long stockings, but we have begun to develop a basic time line. We are not sure about the stockings worn in the early 19th Century. When boys were wearing mostly long pants, as was the case in the early 19th century, long stockings were not needed. By the 1870s, as knee pants became increasing popular, boys were wearing long, mostly wool stockings. They were the same long stockings as worn by girls. These long stockings continued to be worn by children, including older boys and girls, throughout the 19th Century. Long stockings continued to be worn in a few countries even after World War I (1914-18) when knnepants went out of style. Some European boys even wore them with short pants. They did not begin to decline in popularity until the 1910s. Even in the 1910s and early 1920s, however, knickers were still commonly worn with long stockings. Long stockings rapidly declined in popularity after the mod 1920s as both boys and girls turned more to knee socks. This was especially true in America--although they were still available as late as the mid to late 1940s. They continued to be more commonly worn in several European countries such as Germany, Poland. Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries as cold weather wear. A new style appeared in those countries which competed with long stockings--tights.

The 18th Century

Men and boys commonly wore knee breeches buckled or buttoned at the knee in the 18th century, both in America and Europe. Many boys went barefoot, primarily boys from poor or working-class families. And in the 18th century this meant a substantial part of the population. Boys that could aford shoes wore hisiery that covered the lower leg up to the where the knee breeches began. We do not notice knee breeches being worn with short socks. We do notice some artists depicting boys with their stocking falling down. The stockings were often white or home spun off-white coloes. There were also black and sometimes colored stickings, but the white and off-white stickings were the nmost common. The stockings worn with knee breeches reached several inches above the knee and were usually held in place by ribbons that were tied around the leg above the knee to serve as garters. Elastic had not yet been invented. Iammuel Kant, the philosopher, wore an early version of hose supporters. These were ribbons or non-elastic straps connected to the stocking tops and attached to the waist or shirt. When knee breeches are worn nowadays for ceremonial purposes, as in British court dress, or in theatres or films, the wearers always wear tights underneath knee breeches as they look better. Knee breeches tend to be tight and sometimes reach only to the knee but not below, so that the knees of the stockings can be seen when the wearer is sitting down.

The 19th Century

Boys wore long stockings with first knee pants and then knickers and short trousers for a period of about 100 years—-broadly speaking from about 1860 to 1960. This varied somewhat from country to country. Before and after this period, the fashion was we think almost unknown, although the prevalence of long trousers and the paucity of photographic images makes this difficult to assess. It seems that in central Europe, boys did not wear long stockings and knee pants much before the 1860s and kneepants did not become really prevalent until the 1880s. After this date, trousers became shorter and the wearing of long stockings became very common, in American virtually manditory. The knee pants became very fashionable, commonly chosen by fashoion concious mothers. The long stockings were just as fashionable and even more common than in Europe--except for the northern countries like Scadinavia.

The 20th Century

Long stockings were commonly worn in Europe an North America during the early 20th century. Long stockings were seen as appropriate for formal occassions. There were variations among countries. Knee socks became popular in England. Long stockings continued to be very common in Germany and Scandinavia. Long stockings were also very common in America and Canada. Black stockings were very common. We see some boys wearing white stockings, but these were more common for girls. We see long stockings being worn with both knee pants and knickers. Long stockings continued to be worn in a few countries even after World War I (1914-18) when kneepants went out of style. Some European boys even wore them with short pants. They did not begin to decline in popularity until the 1920s. American boys still commonly wore long stockings in the early 1920s. Black was still the most common color, but brown was also worn. White stockings were available, but not commonly worn by boys. Long srtockings were rapidly declining in popularity after the mid-1920s as both boys and girls turned more to knee socks, but this varied from coyntry to country. American boys by 1940 mostly wore either ankle socks or kneesocks. Long stockings, however, had not entirely disappeared. They were still available as late as the mid- to late- 1940s in America and into the 60s in Europe.


Related HBC Hosiery Pages:
[Return to the main Main long stocking page]
[Knee socks] [White knee socks] [Long stockings]
[Striped socks] [White stockings] [Tights]

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Created: March 24, 2001
Last updated: 6:56 AM 3/30/2009