Long Stockings: Gender Trends


Figure 1.--Here we see children at an unidentified school having a First Communion dinner, probably in the 1930s. Notice both the boys and girls wear long white stockings. Generally white stockings were seen as girlish, but for special occassions like this, boys sometimes wore them. Click on the image for a fuller discussuion of the First Communion scene here.

Long stockings were worn by both boys and girls. In fact the same stockings were worn by both genders. I know of few significant gender differences. There were color differences. White stockings were worn more by girls than boys. There seems to have also been weave conventions. 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. A reader writes us, "I'm hoping you can help point me in the right direction, here. I am a freelance writer currently doing research on the history of hosiery. Historically, it looks like hosiery was mostly for men, or at least for men AND women. But now I think most people would agree that hose are for girls. I am curious as to what you think may have caused the (fairly recent) shift in cultural preferences that made (nylon/spandex) hosiery into the requisite dress code for working women in the Western world."

Chronology

HBC has not thoroughly investigated early historical periods, but it seems only recently in historical terms that long stockings or over-the-knee hosiery became chiefly a woman's fashion. Long stockings were worn by Europeans for centuries. There were gender differences over time and in the modern era among countries. We have only limited information on clothing during much of this period, especially the early medieval era. We have especially limited information about gender conventions. We do know they were commonly worn by men and boys and for many years were an important part of their clothing. We know more about men and boys than women and girls because male fashions did not cover the legs and the stockings were thus a very importmernt article of clothing. We know much more about the modern era, especially when photographic images become available. Long stockings became widely worn by both boys and girls after the mid-19th century. The availability of photographic portraits have enabled us to develop a good bit of information on gender conventions even though we have been avle to find little written information. This is a period in which both boys and girls commonly wore long stockings, although there were variations from country to country. While both boys and girls basically wore the same stockings, there were some gender differences. During the late 19th and early 20th century long stockings were worn by both boys and girls. In fact the same stockings were worn by both genders. Countless images show both boys and girls wearing them. We have developed some basic information on the gender conventions over time. For children, long stockings were eventually replaced with tights beginning in the late 1950s.

Gender Popularity

Long stockings were commonly worn by both boys and girls. We note countless portraits showing both boys and girls wearing them. Some portraits show all the children in the family wearing them. In some cases boys wear long stockings and girls wear socles. In other photographs we see just the opposite. Here it is difficult to discern any real pattern. We have no idea why long stockings were worn in some instances and not in others. In fact, we wonder why parents would dress some children in long stockings and other children in socks for the same occassion. We seem to note boys and girls wearing long stockings to a similar extent in the 19th and early 20th century. After World war I both boys and girls continued to wear them, aklthough we seem to note fewer older boys wearing them.

Specific Differences

We know of few significant 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.

Historical Trends

A reader writes us, "I'm hoping you can help point me in the right direction, here. I am a freelance writer currently doing research on the history of hosiery. Historically, it looks like hosiery was mostly for men, or at least for men AND women. But now I think most people would agree that hose are for girls. I am curious as to what you think may have caused the (fairly recent) shift in cultural preferences that made (nylon/spandex) hosiery into the requisite dress code for working women in the Western world." [Therrell] HBC is not expert on hosiery, especially ladies hose. As our HBC site covers the full gamit of clothing, it includes many topics on which I have only a marginal knowledge. HBC relies heavily on its many readers for expertise on a wide range of topics. Now as to your first question. For much of European history I am unsure what ladies wore under their dresses, but it would seem logical that hosiery was more important for men than women because their legs until the 19th century were not covered up like those of women. Only after the begnning of the 19th century did men begin wearing long pants. Now as to your next question that hose in the modern era are for women. I am not entirely sure what you mean by hose, but am guessing you mean nylons or long stockings. Well long stockings were commonly worn by children both boys and girls through the 1930s in America. By the 30s they were becoming less popular among American boys, in part because of the restrictive supporters worn to keep them up which boys found bothersome and uncomfortable. Some boys also did not like the supporters because they seemed girlish--like the garments worn by women to support nylons. Long stockings were worn longer in some other countries such as Germany and Russia. They did not finally disappear until inexpensive children's tights began to appeared in the late 1950s (later in Eastern Europe and Russia). While in America only girls wore tights, this was not the case in some other countries like Germany and Russia. Nylons are just for women (and not girls until they reach their teens). I assume this is because they are sheer hose designed to show off the leg which in our modern age is accepatble for women and not men. Of course the early hosiery worn by men during the Medieval era and Renaissance was designed to do just this this.

Sources

Therrell, Lane. E-mail, January 9, 2006.







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Created: 12:50 AM 1/10/2006
Last updated: 4:00 PM 11/9/2008