Long Stockings

We do not know a great deal about boys' hosiery in the early 19th century. This is because boys wore long trousers covering what they wore on their legs. We assume that boys during this period didn't need to wear stockings above the knee (since they wouldn't show), but it is possible that in some cases long stockings were worn anyway for warmth. This is a subject HBC needs to pursue. Even smaller boys before breeching didn't need long stockings because with shorter dresses they often wore pantalettes. Our knowledge of long stockings for boys in the second half of the 19th century is considerably fuller for two reasons: (1) the growth of photography provides better evidence about what boys were actually wearing and (2) the increasing popularity of knee pants (approximately 1870 and later) made the wearing of long stockings almost mandatory, at least for boys older than about 6 years old. Bare legs and knees were thought immodest and inappropriate for children older than five or six. Elastic hose supporters for women and children were invented about 1875 and became the commonest means of holding up long stockings, although round garters worn on the upper thigh were sometimes substituted. In the later decades of the 19th century and well into the 20th century, boys normally wore underwaists to which the supporters were fastened by buttons or safety pins. Alternatively, boys wore various kinds of suspender waists or skeleton waists consisting, usually, of shoulder straps with belts or waistbands on which the hose supporters were anchored. Boys did not wear tights with their knee pants. After the turn of the 20th century knicker-style trousers became popular for boys, gradually displacing knee pants. But long stockings were still worn with knickers because the knickers tended to be fastened above the knee. By the 1920s it became fashionable to buckle knickers below the knee rather than above, and knee socks often replaced long stockings. In the 1920s, short pants (less formal than knee pants) came into style and were sometimes worn as an alternative to knickers. Knee socks were often worn with the new short pants (as was the common style in Great Britain). But long stockings did not entirely die out during the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. Some mothers required their sons to wear long stockings with short pants either for warmth or for formal or dress-up occasions such as weddings, funerals, first communions, and the like. And since knee socks were often hard to keep in place (they tended to fall down even when the tops were elasticized or when worn with round garters), some mothers insisted that long stockings with supporters be worn with knickers or shorts for a smoother, neater, and more formal look. Long stockings were almost invariably a single color--black, tan, or beige--and looked more dressy with short pants or with below-the-knee knickers than the sporty, patterned knee socks commonly sold. The stockings also had to be knitted much longer in the 1930s because short pants were being worn shorter and the advertisers made a point of the supporters not showing under the new short clothes. Long stockings worn with short pants, especially for older boys, became much less common in the 1930s and 1940s in the United States, although they were still prominently advertised during this period and were still worn by a minority of boys from conservative families. But by 1945 nearly all American boys had ceased to wear long stockings at any age, and they suddenly disappeared from the clothing catalogs. The style persisted in Canada a few years longer. In Europe, particularly in Germany, Poland, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, long stockings continued to be worn with short pants by schoolboys up until the age of about 14 although knee socks were equally common. Some boys in Germany, in more remote areas, continued to wear long stockings into the 1960s, but they were gradually replaced by tights, which were invented for children at the end of the 1950s. Tights never became popular for boys in the United States.


Figure 1.--Boys in the late 19th century usually wore dark-colored longstockings with knee pants. This boy wears black stockings with his white sailor suit.

Chronology

I am 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 wee 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. Many of the garments studied by HBC have evolved in style over time. Long over the knee stockings are a garment that has entirely disappeared.

Material

Most long stockings in the late 19th and early 20th century were made from wool. Some expensive long stockings for formal events might be made of silk, but boys mostly wore wool stockings. By the 1920s they were also available in cotton. Sears in the 1940s offered long stockings in "good quality" cotton. Sears tells the mpther that "'Everyday'" cotton hose are practical because they give so much wear for so little money. They are firmy knit of good quality cotton ... have flat knit feet for greater walking comfort." Some advertisements specified "combed" cotton. Sears in the 1940s offered silk-looking rayon outside and soft cotton inside. Rayon appeared in the inter-War era. This was the first synthetic product and was mixed with cotton to create a blended fabric. This became commonly used in long stockings and other hosiery. This fabric worked very well in long stockings: no bags over knees or heels.

Weave

We have only limited information at this time on stocking weaves, but have begun to collect some information. Stockings were mostly worn with flat knit weaves. They were also available in heavier ribbed weaves which we also see in old photographs. These ribbed stockings werr especially popular for cold weather winter weather. Rib knits came in wide or narrow rib style. The barrow rib was promoted as offered a more trim fit. The toes and heels in better made stockings were reinforced. Some Sears ads mentions a "seamless feel for comfort". Some long stockings were knit in extra fine gauge "... for trim fit, good look". We have no idea at this time when ribbed stockings first appeared and who initiated. They were a useful innovation. Plain stockings are very limited in extension. Plain cotton stockings were worn by women until nylon stockings but also by children. They were very smooth but also fragile. Ribbed cotton long stockings mainly in the feet can double the lenght and it was possible for the child to wear his or her stockings longer because the ribs allowed the child to wear through growth spurts. But the main factor is that they were hard wearing. The ribs varied in thickness. A Canadian reader who collects vintage clothing tells us, "I have some ribbed stockigs from 1927 which are ribbed 3/1 (largest ribs, the finest being 1/1) and very thick and heavy, the ideal for active boys. But they were not very [?extensive} and do not fit the leg very well. They were worn by boys for active outdoor activities. Like longjohns, those stockings became very popular. But one of the problem with 2/1 ribbed stockings is that they let imprints of rib on he legs which the children didn't like." The popularity of ribbed stockings have varied from country to country and seemed to have been the most populasr in the more northerly countries with colder Winters. There also appear to hve been gender conventions associated with ribbed stockings, but this varried among countries.

Age

Boys of all ages war long stockings. We note a wide age range of German boys. The same seems true in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Long stockings seem to have been most common for todlers and school age children, but we also note teenagers wearing them. The age conventions changed over time and from country to country. Age conventions for long stockings varied over time. We note that in the late 19th and early 20th century that quite old boys have worn long stockings with kneepants and knickers, including the older boys in secondary schools. These conventions can get complicated and varied not only over time, but also by other factors such as color. The long stockings boys wore were usually dark stockings. At the time younger boys might wear three-quarter white socks or white long stockings. A good example of this is an English family and how two brothers were dressed about 1900. After World War I (1914-18), long stockings became worn less by older boys, but younger boys continued to wear them. The prevalence of long stockings varied greatly from country to country and age conventions did as well. Virtually all American boys who wore kneepants wore them with long stockings--except when goung barefoot. We note even older teenagers in America wearing knee pants and long stockings. Sears as boys began to increasingly wear long pants narrowed the size ranges for long stockings to sizes up to 10 oe 12 years of age.Long stockings were less common in England. In France it was quite common to wear three-quarter length socks with kneepants rather than stockings. This changed in the 1920s when socks became more popular. German boys on the other hand very commonly wore long stockings. We notice in many other countries, including Canada, Poland, Russia, Scandinavian countries, and Eastern Europe.

Color

Most long stockings were dark colors in the late 19th century. Children still wearing dresses before breeching might wear white stockings, but once they switched to kilt suits, they began wearing dark stockings. Fauntlroy suits in the 1880s and 90s were mostly worn with dark stockings. After the turn of the century boys began to wear white stockings with a variety of outfinrs, including tunic suits, Buster Brown suits, sailor suits, and Fauntleroy suits--but the dark colors were still more common. As long stockings declined in popularity during the 1920s, lighter, natural colors became more popular--flat tones like tan, dark tan, brownstone, and suntan. These light colors were meant to look more like flesh tones. Dressy stockings were also available in white. Lock stockings were never made in bright colors.


Figure 2.--Long stockings except for the striped (banded) stockings popular in the 1870s were almost entirely flat or soldid colors in sharp contrast to knee socks. We are not ebtirely sure why that was. The rechnology existed since the 1870s to produce stockings with patterns. Here this American boy wears stockings with a patterned weave in the 1920s.

Patterns

We have so far collected very little information on patterned stockings. The most common pattern was horizontal stripes, but this was not the only pattern. They appear to have been popular from the 1860s through the 80s. It does not appear to have been a formal style. Only a few of the images of Fauntleroy suits or kilts show boys in horizontal stripe stockings. These are usually with jackets and kneepants so they were not a casual style, but they do not seem to have been worn with a boy's party suit. The stripes were done in a range of colors. Unfortunately 19th cetury black and white photography of the 19th centur provides few clues as to color.

Length

Long stockings were initially available in the same length as kneepants. Long stockings were eventually made in various lengths. All were above the knee. Some were made to extend to just above the keee while others went well above the knee up the leg. Sears mentions some styles that were knit longer "... to cut down on strain at the knee". While few details arevailable at this time, it may be that early long stockings were made at klengths extending just above the knee. These may be because the kneepants boys wore usually at knee length or lower, rarely above the knee, so long stockings did not have to be longer. Actytually it may be that they were made longer in the 1920s. Boys wearing them with short pants needed them to be made longer so they extended up beyond the hem of the boys' short pants.

Type

We use the term "stockings" or "long stockings" for over the knee hosiery lengths. This is a little different than the actual dictionary definition. As we understand the standard dictionary definition, socks would be included as a type of stockings, although socks are the shorter lengths. We use the term for over the knee lengths. This is because manufacturers while they used various terms for the shorter lngths, generally referred to the over the knee lenghs as stockings. And the standard dictionasry definition does identify socks as the shorter lengths of hosiery. Stocking colors have varied in popularity over time as well as patterns. We also note country differences. Stockings have varied in length. Some just came to avove the knee. As shorter lengths of pants and skirts were worn, longer lengths were offered. There were even button-on stockings that covered the entire leg.

Iron Clad

A Mr. Cooper one day reminised about his recollections of the knitting business. "I started in the hosiery business at the age of 19, that was 39 years ago. My father and my brother, Willis W. Cooper, and myself were roped into the business; that is, we did not really go into it voluntarily. My father was a superannuated Methodist preacher. They used to call ministers preachers in those days. He had never been in business. An oily, smooth talker came along and got him to think there was money in the hosiery business.We used to close the toe of the seamless socks by hand, the girl using a needle. About that time we made an attempt to use a machine for that purpose and for use on the machine we bought about a thousand pounds of soft but strong thread. The machine we had was not successful for that purpose and the thread we had bought was useless. It laid in our warehouse for some three years. I used to take the inventories personally and after weighing up this same yarn year after year for three years, I determined to make use of it and get our money out of it. I had it brought to the Knitting Room and knit into boys' long-legged stockings, and dyed them black. The stockings were very heavy, very hard, very tough and strong so much so that when I was labeling the samples for sale I marked the cards "Boys' Iron-Clad." This name seemed to make a hit and was the origin of the trade-mark "Iron-Clad" of Cooper-Wells & Company. This stocking, which you might say made a hit by mistake, or, at least, was marketed without a great deal of premeditation, soon came to be the standard stocking for boys with short pants, and the trade on this class of garments grew to great size." Mr Coope went on to focus more on the underwear business, specializing in union suits.

Gender

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."

Purpose

Assessing the function of long stockings is a complicated exercize. There seem to be three primary purposes for long stockings as opposed to other styupes of hosiery. These include modesty, fashion, and warmth. The importance of these different factors have varied over time and from country to country. We are not tet sure how common long stockings were in the early 19th century so assessing this pedriod is complicated. We first see longstockings in modern times during the mid-19th century when shotened-stryle pants for younger boys and girls came into fashion. We suspect that both modesty and fashion were the major factors here. We know that the victorianns were very shy about legs, even children's legs. The popularity of brightly colored stripped stockings suggest to us that fashion was also involved. As kneepants and knickers became standard for boys in the late 19th century, we suspect that modesty became less important and warmth began to become more important. Wenote that at this time that long stockings became much more common in northern Europe than southern Europe. Surely climate much have been a major factor. After the turn of the 20th century we notice short pants appearing as well as three-quater length socks leaving the leg bare becoming more popular. Long stockings were more common in the Winter, but we also note them being worn for formal events. The convention appears to have been that for formal events that it was proper fofr even children to cover their legs. We see children for events like First Communion and Confirmations wearing long xtockings. We note Teddy Kennedy when his mother took him to an audience with the Pope wore long stockings. This was a paradox anout long stockings. They came to be seen as stogy and old fashioned and primariluy not very attractive cold-weather wear. A good example here are the commercial postcards popular in the early 20th century. They often pictured children in very stylish clothes--and very rarely wearing long stockings. Yet they were also worn with stylish outfits for formal events.


Figure 2.--Knickers in the 1910s and 20s often were made to be buckled above the knee. Older boys often preferred to rebuckle their knickers below the knee.

Comfort

Long stockings must not have been very comfortable. Some were were made with wool or wool-cotton blends. Long wool stockings against the skin on a hot summer day sounds very uncomfortable indeed. They were most common in Winter, but worn in both the winter and summer. Here there were variations among countries and over time. Children, except for the very youngest, did not begin going without stockings or with shorter socks until about the turn of the 19th Century, although this varies from country to country.

Clothing Styles

Boys wore long stockings with many different garments. Younger boys, especially in the 19th century, often wore skirted garments. This included dresses, skirts, kilts, and tunics and to a lesser extent pinafores. Thisd was very common in the late 19th century. Most boys of course, especially older boys, wore long stockings with various types of pants. Boys primarily wore long stockings with pants, most commonly kneepants and knickers. After the early 1920s they were also sometimes worn with short pants. It is sometimes difficult to determine if boys are wearing long stockings. You can not tell if boys in long pants are wearing them, but you usually can tell if boys in knickers are wearing them.

Wear

We do not have much information on wear, but I suspect many boys wore out their stocking at the knee. Active children are also on their knees playing on the floor or running around and falling down. All this leads to holes at the knees. A reader writes, "I suspect that this was a major problem--especially for younger boys who crawled around on their knees a good deal." We believe tht many mothers darned the holes if they were not to large. I'm not sure, however, just how this worked. We note a German boy with holes in his stockings also--but he is somewhat older than we might expect. Notably period catalogs advertized long stockings with reinforced knees. We do not see too much of this in the photographic record, presumably because mum made sure the boys wore their best stockings for the portraits. Also families having formal portraits taken were also the more affluent families or at least families in comfortable stockings. For the most part they could easily afford to replace worn out stockings. Here fmilies may have varied somwwhat. We suspect that even affluent fmilies, especially fmilies with a lot of boys, may have allowed the children to wear worn stockings for play. Some images on HBC are not easy to assess in terms of holes. Some obviously show holes. It is less clear in other images.

White Kneesocks and Pants

One interesting fashion detail is that boys did not commonly wear white long stockings in the late 19th Century. Little boys still in dresses might wear white stockings, but not older boys wearing Fauntleroy suits, sailor suits, and suits. Even boys in kilts did not wear white stockings. Even during the summer when boys wore light-weight white sailor suits, they were worn with dark stockings, never white long stockings.


Figure 3.--This boy in the early 1920s sits on the porch with his grandparents--a typical American scene. He wears a suit with above the knee knickers and long stockings.

Stocking Suporters

I am not sure whem childrens stocking supporters first appeared but believe regular usage probably began in the 1870s when boys, especially older boys first began wearing kneepants--necesitating stocking supporters. Only some younger boys wore knee pants in the 1860s, but ny the 1880s it was very common for boys-- even older boys to wear knee pants. As it wasn't considered proper for boys and girls, especially older ones to appear bare legged, these kneepants were mostly worn with long stockings. This led to a problem. How to hold the stockings up. This was a special problrm for active boys. To address this problem, stocking supporterd were develoed in both shouldr and waist styles.

Country Trends

The popularity of long stockings varied greatly from country to country. A significant factor here may be climate. We have noted ling stockings worn much more commonly in northern countries like Scandinavia and Germany than more southerly countries like France and Italy. Almost all American boys wore long stockings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, unless they went barefoot. Long stockings were especially common during the winter. Seasonality is also an important factor governing whether long stockings wre worn. French boys during the same time very commonly wore three-quarter length stockings, but might wear long stockings during the colder winter months. HBC's information on many countries is incomplete at this time, but we have begun to collect information on several countrues. The chronology of long stockings is basically the same around the world, but there are some minor differences. Differences in colors and weating conventions also varied from country to country.


Figure 4.--Little Japanese boys still wear over the knee stockings with short pants suits. Catalogs in Japan often use Western boys to model the clothes. Note the beret to add a Western touch.

Social Class

One aspect of social class that I am not entirely sure about is social class. Andthe topic is complicated because there seem to be differences from country to country. A German reader tells us that in Germany long stockings were a style assoxiated with affluent families. This may have also been the case in other European countries. We note many Belgian boys, for example, doing their First Communion and Confirmation in new short pants suits and long stockings. Our German reader writes. "Here in Germany, long stockings were most closely associated with long stockings. I assume that in North America that short pants with long stockings were worn more by affluent children than working class children." HBC is not sure that this was the case. One complication is not so many American boys wore short pants. Many boys did wear knickers and in the 1920s they were commonly worn with long stockings. This includes both children from affluebt and woirking-class families. Boys in the 1930s more commonly wore knickers with knee socks, but I don't notice a social class factor here. It is true that boys from affluent families were more likely to wear short pants suits than boys from working=class families, but we see knee socks most commonly being worn with short pants suits. Here the fashion influence I think was Britain where boys mostly wore knee socks rather than long stockings. We have seen boys wearing long stockings and short pants suits, but this was often Catholic boys involved with some kind of church event. Here there was also a social class aspect in that most American Catholics were working class before World War II.

Historic Trends

While long stockings generally went out of fashion during the 1920s, they continued to be worn in several countries (Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, Poland, Scandinavia, the Soviet Union, and others) into the 1950s and even 60s. For details see the country long stockings page. These were mostly northern countries, so clearly climate was a factor, but not the only factor. Political and religious conservatism appear also to have been factors, explaining why long stockings were more popuklar in French than in English Canada and in East than in West Germany. Also the lesser importancecgiven to fashion in the Communist countries as well as social conservatism may explain why long stockings continued to be worn there after they jad gone out of fashion in the West. A HBC reader writes, "I too am curious about the similar long stocking tradition in disperate countries such as Canada (Quebec), Ja[an, Germany, and the Soviet Union. There does not seem to have been much direct influence between these countries. Maybe the conservative religious tradition has something to do with it--but this can't be the whole story. Long stockings were also very common in non-religious countries like the Soviet Union. And northern Germany is Protestant and pretty secular. Perhaps social conservatism and religious conservatism are not very different things. I have a sense that the wearing of long stockings in both Quebec and Germany has something to do with perceptions of social class. Mothers insisted on their sons wearing long stockings because they thought this was what properly brought up boys from good families did and that going without them was likely to make boys look more lower class. I think that here in America that this was my own mother's attitude. It was not specifically related to religion although my parents were High Church Episcopalians and followed the Anglican or Anglo-Catholic tradition in worship. Maybe some of HBCs readers in Canada and Germany can comment on this point. I found the remarks of your most recent Canadian reader on long stockings very enlightening--especially the point about the government recommendation to mothers about the way the garters should be worn. It would be interesting to have a precise reference to this document for further research."

Current Trends

The fashion of wearing long stockings in Gemany has not completly disappeared. They are still worn by smaller boys in the winter, but now mostly under long pants. This fashion continues in Germany for little boys, but is more common in Russia and the Scandinavian countries. The fashion evolved into footed tights instead of the long stockings since inexpensive tights for children became available in the 1950s. The primary place where long stockings are currently worn with short pants is Asia. Long stockings or tights during the winter are commonly worn by little boys and girls in China, Korea, and Japan. Short pants suits are not common in China or even Korea. They are widely worn by elementary-age boys in Japan, in some cases as part of a school uniform. Interestingly, advertisements of short pants suits with both long stockings and knee socks often use Western boys as models. This is common in Japan where Western models are widely used to give products the cache of Western culture.

Personal Experiences

HBC has noted a few accounts of boys actually wearing long stockings. Often they remember the stocking supporters that were worn to keep up their stockings. Such memories are sometimes included in autobiographies. It is not the type of imformation commonly included by biographers im actual biographies. Some HBC readers have provided some personal accounts. This topic has proven to be of interest among HBC American, German, and Russian readers. While long stockings passed out of style in most countries by the 1940s, they were worn in some countries until the 1950s when tights replaced them. Thus we have personal accounts from relatively recent times.

Vintage Long Stockings

Long stockings were worn in both the 19th and 20th century, but went out if fashion during the 1940-60s. The precise chronology depended on the individual country. As they are relatively bmodern, we have managed to find quite a few examples of vintage long stockings. Most are from America and Germany where long stockings were particularly popular. As the example we have found are fairlt recent from the 1920s-40s, many are light brown shades. Light shades like tan and beige were not worn in the 19th century, but were particularly popular after World War I. These vintages stockings are helpful in showing both the length and colors hue variations. This is information that is difficult to determine from the photographic record. Stockings were worn unlike socks so you can not see the tops. And the black-and-white photographic record provides few clues as to color. While we can often identify tan stockings in photographs, there are many shades of tans/beige. The range of hues can only be seen from vintage clothing. Catalogs list dizzying variety of colors, but it is impossible to know just what hues weee represented by the different color names.







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Created: November 1, 1998
Last updated: 8:49 PM 11/3/2014