Long stockings were worn by both boys and girls. There were, however, some gender differences. Here there are some differences over time and among countries. We notice differences associated with color, weave (ribbing), and seams/contours. There were color differences. White stockings were worn more by girls than boys. Younger boys wore white stockings, but they were not very common for older boys. White stockings for dressy occassions are illustrated in a photo of unidentified Brooklyn children taken in the 1920s. One major destinction seems to have been that long stockings for older girls and women seem to have been a back seam. That was for older girls only--lisle cotton before they were allowed to wear stockings that were more sheer and grown up. Seamed stockings were never worn by boys and only by quite grown-up girls. Seamed stockings were shaped stockings, made to fit the contours of the adult female leg, whereas children's stockings (for both boys and girls) were unshaped
There were other differences which we will address as more information becomes available. There seems to have also been weave conventions. Obvioussly ribbed stockings were more popular with boys--more masculine in appearance, or at least so considered by boys. The heavy ribbing gave stockings a more sporty look that boys liked, whereas the more smoothly knitted stockings, although worn by boys for dressier occasions, appealed more to girls.
There were color differences.
Most of the photographs we have are black and white. We have only a few color photographs to show the color shades of long stockings worn in the 20th century.
When long stockings came into favor for boys and girls in America and Europe
in the latter part of the 19th century, a certain variety of colors obtained.
Although black and white stockings tended to predominate, we notice a number
of children wearing striped stockings. We can't be sure what color the
stripes were because the photographs are all black and white. A reader writes, "I suspect blue stripes were popular, but we can't be sure." HBC has noted mention of colored stockings such as red, but we are not sure how common they were nor are we sure about the gender conventions. By 1890, however, black stockings had become virtually universal for boys older than about 6 years old except for very special occasions. White stockings were worn more by girls than boys. Younger boys wore white stockings, but they were not very common for older boys. We see quite a few younger boys wearing white long stockings in the early 20th century. An example is two unidentified American children, probably about 1905. White stockings for dressy occassions are illustrated in a photo of unidentified Brooklyn children taken in the 1920s. Another example is the 1930s First Communion seen here (figure 1). Girls on the other hand often wore white stockings. Black stockings for school children, both boys and girls, were standard wear up through the 1910s in the United States. By the 1920s tan, beige, or brown stockings had begun to replace black as the dominant color although black was still available for more formal occasions. Tan stockings were closer to flesh color than black and apparently became popular as formality gradually relaxed during the 1920s. They showed soil more easily, of course, but methods of laundering in middle-class families had become more modern so that tan stockings could be changed more often. Sporty patterned stockings for children appeared at the end of the 1920s briefly but don't seem to have had a very sustained popularity. See the Sears ads for this period. By the 1930s tan or beige cotton stockings were the most common color. You could still purchase black or white long stockings, but it is obvious from the Wards and Sears catalogs that the lighter colors represented something like 95 percent of the market. Darker colors such as dark brown could be obtained. See the unidentified American girl in a 1939 photograph wearing chocolate brown long stockings), but most children wore tan up through the 1940s at which point children's long stockings more or less disappeared from the fashion scene. Tan and brown long stockings continued, however, to be worn in Europe. Notice the German boy in
1962 whose long stockings are apparently tan.
There seems to have also been weave conventions. Obvioussly ribbed stockings were more popular with boys--more masculine in appearance, or at least so considered by boys. The heavy ribbing gave stockings a more sporty look that boys liked, whereas the more smoothly knitted stockings, although worn by boys for dressier occasions, appealed more to girls. I think this distinction between ribbed and unribbed stockings mattered less when both boys and girls wore mostly black stockings. But the distinction began to be more important when the predominant color changed from black to brown, tan, and beige. One of HBC's pages on Canadian long stockings makes the point that boys thought their stockings should be ribbed instead of "plain" (a predominently girl's style). If you notice the stockings worn by the Barad twins, you will see that they are ribbed--the
right style for American boys in 1931. On the other hand, the long stockings
advertised in the Sears catalogs in the late 1930s and early 1940s seem to
make no gender distinction, and here we see boys wearing plain-knitted long
stockings, so perhaps the distinction was less important in America than in
Canada. I think, for instance, that we hardly ever see ribbed white stockings
because these were for dressy occasions such as first Communion where ribbing
would have been too sporty and informal. Later on, the same thing would apply
to black stockings, also reserved for dressy occasions by the middle 1930s in
the USA and Canada. I don't think the ribbed-unribbed distinction applied in
Europe, however, or had any particular gender connotations in such places as
Germany, Russia, and Poland. Many HBC pages show children wearing both ribbed and flat weave stockings. The Barad twins wear ribbed long stockings (1931).
Here is an illustration of the plain (flat weave) knit stockings advertised for both boys and girls in the Sears catalog (1943-44). The choice of ribbed and plain knit stockings is illustrated in another Sears catalog (1942). A Canadian reader tells us that in Quebec there was a gender distinction between ribbed and plain long stockings. He tells us, "ribbed stockings were always a requirement for boys" and that boys who wore "plain stockings" would have been considered sissies.
One major destinction seems to have been that long stockings for older girls and women seem to have been a back seam. That was for older girls only--lisle cotton before they were allowed to wear stockings that were more sheer and grown up. Seamed stockings were never worn by boys and only by quite grown-up girls. Seamed stockings were shaped stockings, made to fit the contours of the adult female leg, whereas children's stockings (for both boys and girls) were unshaped--
i.e., they had the same width from the ankles all the way up to the thigh.
They conformed to boys' and girls' legs because of the elasticity of the yarn,
whether cotton, wool, or some mixture of these yarns with synthetics such as
nylon. Stockings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were less
elastically knit, and therefore weren't as form-fitting as later stockings for
children. But by the 1920s children's stockings had become much neater
looking because of their built-in elasticity. Many of the ads for long
stockings mention the elastically knit feature. Ribbing also made the
stockings more elastic because the ribbed knitting allowed for greater
expansion and contraction. Children wore long stockings all year round, but they were most common in the colder months, especially for boys. Thus the more sheer stockings were more common for girls wearing them during the summer. An exception here was formal events for which boys would also wear the more sheer, form fitting stockings.
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