Long Stocking Supporters


Figure 1.--Boys wore stocking supporters with the many styles of clothes with which long stockings were worn. This Americam portrait looks to have been taken around 1910. Clock on the image for an assessment about stocking supporters.

The boys and girls wearing long stockings in the second half of the 19th Century held them up with various styles of stocking supporters. I believe that boys did not wear these supporters commonly in the first half of the 19th Century because kneepants were not nearly as common. Boys wearing long trousers did not commonly wear stocking supporters. It was not until the 1870s when kneepants became more commonly worn that stocking supporters became widely worn. Both boys and girls wore them. They were several different styles, including over the shoulder and waist styles. They were not very comfortable especially for boys involved in strenous outdoor activities. Notably Lord Baden Powell when he designed the first Boy Scout uniform chose kneesocks so cumbersome stocking supporters would not be necessary.

Chronology

Stocking supporters, as might be expected, followed the fashion for long stockings. We have no indication that stocking supporters existed in the 18th century. I am not yet positive about this, but I do not believe that stocking supporters were worn during the 18th Century. As boys mostly wore long trousers in the early 19th century, long stocking were not commonly worn and there was thus no need for stocking supporters. Long stockings were not worn by boys in the early 19th Century as long trousers, especially as part of skeketon suits, were commonly worn by boys. Even boys wearing tunics often wore long trousers. Long stockings were were most widely worn from the 1870s through the 1910s, but did not disappear until the early 1950s I am not sure just when stocking supporters first appeared. I believe about the 1870s, but have not detailed information on the chronology of stocking supporters at this time. I am not positive just when long stockings appeared or how widely they were worn in the early 19th Century. Nor am I sure just when the first stocking supporters appeared. Boys continued wearing long stockings and stocking supporters in the early 20th Century. Short pants appear after the turn of the century and some boys began wearing kneesocks. Long stockings continued to be worn even with the increasingly common knickers. Boys in the early 20th Century often wore above the knee knickers and mostly wore long stockings and stocking supporters with them. Even below the knee knickers, however, were generally worn with long stockings requiring stocking supporters. The popularity of long stockings wained after World War I (1914-18). Boys increasingly wore kneesocks with both short pants and knickers making stocking supporters unecesary. Long stockings did continue to be worn in some countries, especially in Scandanavia, Poland, and Germany where boys, even boys in short pants, wore long stockings during the winter. Presumably they wore them with stocking supporters, although I have no details on this. Tights appeared in the 1950s and finally replaced long stockings as children's wear, making stocking supporters unecessary.

Manufacture

We had thought that these stocking supporters were manufacured in factories. There is some indication that many as late as the 1910s were made in homes by women and children doing piece work. We see an American family in a tenament, probably in New Yok City producing stocking supporters around the family table. We do not know to what extent this was the case. Nor do we know just what about these stocking supporters made them more uitable for piece work rather thm facory manufacure.


Figure 2.--One type so stocking supporters like this advertisment on a box was the over the shoulder type.

Terminology

We have begun to collect different terms for stocking supporters in different countries. The various terms used for stocking supporters in different countries is complicated. This is in part, the garments used to hold up stockings varied from country to country. American stocking supporters seems more varied and complicated than was the case in many other countries. A HBC reader reports another confussion has arisen in this discussion because of the British use of the term "suspender" to refer to a hose supporter or garter and the American use of the word "suspenders" to apply to a device to hold trousers up. The term "suspender waist" is American, not British, however, and the garment to which the term applies is also American. HBC has no information about suspender waists and are unsure how British children kept their long stockings up. The actual british term for suspenders is braces.

Companies

Several different companies manufactured stocking suporters. At present the only companies we know of are American companies. Several different companies in the United States made many different styles of suspender waists. Many other companies manufactured them in other countries. One of the best known in America was Buster Brown. The famous cartoon character worn his trade-mark tunic style Buster Brown tunic, usually red, with both long stockings and short socks. His long stockings, also sold by the company were both white and colored. It was therefore only natural to sell stocking supporters as well. Knothe Brothers in the United States made the Sampson Suspender Waists, an over-the shoulders-styule of stocking supporters. Beaudry also madre over-the-shouler stocking supporters. There was also the Kazoo waist, but I am not sure about the company that made it.

Age

Long stockings were worn by children and youths of all ages. The age of children wearing long stockings varied over time. During the peak of popularity at the turn of the 20th century we see boys, including older highschool boys, wearing kneepants and long stockings. Older girls also wore long stockings. Thus support devices were needed for children and youths of all ages. There were a variety of such device and there age conventions for wearing them. The devices and conventions varied over time. There were also differences from country to country. It is reklatively easy to determin the ages of the children and youths wearing long stockings as there is a wealth of photographic portraits and snap shots. Somewhat more complicated is developing information on stocking supporter age conventions. Here catalogs and magazine advertisments are our principal source of information.

Gender

Stocking supporters were needed by both boys and girls as both wore the same long, mostly wool, stockings. I know of no significant gender differences. Some types of stocking supporters, especially the suspender waists may have been more used by boys because they were a way of holfding up a boy's trousers. Dresses did not need to be held up. Skirts did, but dresses were much more common than skirets, especially in th 19th and early 20th centuries. We note suspender waists labeled for boys, we have not noted any labeled specifically for girls but that does not mean that they did not exist. The long stockings held up by the stocking supportes were also commonly worm by boys and girls. They were very common for both boys and girls in the early 20th century. The major differnce was that white stockings were worn more by girls than boys. After World War I it became less common for older boys to wear long stovckings, but many older girls continued to war them.

Color

Originally hose supporters were made in various colors--yellow, red, pink, lavender, pale blue, for instance, as well as black and white. But, for boys and girls, black and white became the standard colors, and black seems to have been the favored color for boys' supporters until at least the mid-1920s in America. Black and white were both available up through the 1950s in the United States, but white became the dominant color for children during the 1930s and 1940s. [Lester and Oerke]

Comfort and Health

The popularity of long stockings in Europe and North America gave rise to a wide variety of support devices to hold stockongs up. Obviously long stockings were not useful if they fell down. And they looked unsightly. This meant support garments/devices were needed. These garments did not only support long stockings. Some also supported pants and trousers. The main function, however, was to hold long stockings. As these various garments and devives became used, they raised a number of concerns regarding comfort and health. The most obvious approach to helding up long stovckings was round rubber garters, but these became the most heavily criticized, giving rise to other approaches. There was great concern about posture in the 19th and early 20th century. Doctors wrote long, learned articles about posture and health. Thus some manufsactures added claims to their advertisements claiming posture benefits in addition to the primary task of holding up long stockings. Stocking supporters in holding up stickings to varying degrees resticted a child's movement. And posture comntrol only restricted movement further. This raised other issues. Children didn't like the restictions and thus comfort became an issue. Children have relatively little to say about their clothing in the 19th century, but this grdually changed in the 20th century. And doctors began to also raise concerns about restrictiveness. We see these varying and condlicting issues play out in the design and popularity of different support devices. And the discussion also appears in the product advertising.


Figure 3.--Many children wore garters to keep their long stockings up.

Types

Stocking supporters were made by several different companies in various styles. There were, however, two basic types--over the shoulder supporters and waist supporters. These supporters were adjustable as the child grew. Some adverised rubber buttons. Many had elastic with real rubber, although I'm not sure just when this inovation ocurred. Different companies advertised the superiority of their supporter designs. Several companies mainatained that older stocking supporters caused children to stoop. Some children wore simple garters. They had clasps to attach to the top of the stockings. They were supported in various ways. Some stocking supporters were over the shoulder supporters. They sypported suspender-like appendages that were attached to the stockings. Another style was a supporter worn around the waist. Suspender-like appendages then connected to the stocking tops.

Purpose

Stocking supporters of course were designed primarily to hold up long stockings. Some stocking supporters were dual purpose garments, designed to also hold up trousers or less commonly skirts. While this was the principal purpose, many ads and catalog listings for stocking supporters suggest that these devices were also beneficial for posture correction. Here there was a great concern for what was called at the time "rounded shoulders".

Popularity

Some believe that the term "panty waist" (a derogatory term for a sissy boy) was derived from the custom of boys wearing suspender waists and hose supporters. But actually, the suspender waist was invented to appeal to boys who had at an earlier age been made to wear various kinds of hose suporters. One fashion historian explains after describing the suspender waists which boys, and especially older boys, prefer, she writes that department stores also carry "pantie waists made of muslin with buttons attached" for the support of both garters and short trousers. She goes on to say, "Boys prefer the skeleton waist, i.e., the suspender waist, because it looks more like regular suspenders such as their fathers wear." [Ringo, p. 84.] A HBC reader writes in connection with two different types of suspender waists. I think the two different advertisements (Samson and Kazoo) illustrate what older boys tended to wear to avoid being called "panty waists" and, although they still wore knee pants and long stockings, were dressed in a way closer to their fathers and therefore felt more grown-up. I believe also that this is why my mother switched me from panty waits at about age 8 to the style of garter waist in the 1930s that had suspender-like straps over the shoulder even though this 1930-40 style usually did not do double duty as both a trousers and hose supporter. The image of the two boys in garter waists from the 1939 Sears catalogue shows the later development of the suspender waist. Of course by this stage, even younger boys could be wearing the garter waits with shoulder straps and sometimes without additional buttons on the waist band for trousers."

Anatomy

Because a young child has no hip to speak of, stockings could be supported with shoulder suspenders. This is also why suspender shorts and skirts were so common for younger children. A waist garter was useful later, at around 12 years old, but rarely before.


Figure 4.--The Buster Brown Shoe Company in the United States not only sold shoes, but stockings and stocking supporters as well.

Country Trends

Most of our information and all of the published accounts about stocking supporters is from American sources. We have very little information about stocking supporters in other countries. This is in part beause HBC has better access to American sources,especially catalogs. Sear and Wards catalogs provide detailed information on hosiery and stocking supporters over the years. HBC has no comparable source for European countries. Here the photographic record provides information on hosiery, but not on stocking supporters. Another factor is that long stockings were much more commonly worn in America than in European countries. A French reader tells us that the elaborate susspender waists worn in America were unknown in France. French children used buttons to keep up their stockings. A German reader repports that stockings in the 20th century were held up by informal devices like pins. We have no 19th century accounts.

Vintage Support Garments

We have found more support garments than underwear. There were several different types of support garments. These garments became very common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were used to both hold up long stockings and pants. They were also advertised as having value for posture. They garments were especially common in America. We note what looks like an underwaist dating from the early 20th century. One readers has sent us an image of a nainsook suit which was worn by American children in the 1930s. We also note a German World War I paper-fabric Leibchen which was a kind of stocking supporter. We note a cloth Leibchen a few decades later in the 1940s or early 50s.

Personal Accounts

I so far have few details on what the children who wore long stocking supporters thought of them. One problem here is that most HBC readers never wore themn as boys. While they were still sold into the 1940s, they were wore by fewer and fewer boys at this time.

Japanese boy (1930s)

One personal account from a Japanese boy at an exclusive private school (Gakushuin) during the 1930s. The school required the boys to wear short pants and over the knee stockings wrote:

It was well into the winter of my second year in middle school. By then we had become accustomed to long trousers and to calling each other by unadorned surnames. (In lower school we had never been permitted to leave our knees bare below our short pants, not even in the height of summer, and thus our joy at first putting on long trousers had been doubled by the knowledge that never again wold we have to garter our thighs painfully. In lower school we had also had to use the formal form of address when calling each other by name.)
The passage was written by Yukio Mishima's and appears in his autobiographical novel, Confessions of a Mask.

American boy (1930s-40s)

I was born in 1927 and grew up mostly in the northeastern United States during the 1930s and 40s when long stockings were commonly worn with short trousers by school boys. My stockings were always cotton, fairly light weight, usually tan or light brown in color, and long enough to reach almost all the way up the leg as shown in the ads from the Sears catalogues.

Canadian boy

I wore myself short pants and heavy wool stockings as it was usual in French Canada at that time. At that time too, boys and also girls held up our long stockings by elastic garters. I remember myself using those rubber rings instead of suspenders because easier to put in and off. Just rolling the garters to feet when pulling off long stockings or pulling up the stockings with elastic ring at the top. No embarrasment like suspenders which need time and effort . But I remember that the Government of Canada advised mothers to avoid the use of garters because it compressed blood circulation in legs. Girls were taught to use suspender belts which was considered a woman garment. In Canada, the problem with garters was not only a problem of health but also of cold weather. In Europe, snow is scarce even in Germany. Because of our cold winters here in Canada, boys needed to wear longjohns under the stockings. It was really ugly. Appearance was especially important to mothers. While many seemed to think children wearing long stockings was attractive, long cotton >> stockings were a good alternative for mothers to see their kids wearing them. But in winter, a kid looked really ridiculous with our long johns on. As a boy, I asked my mother to wear knickers. In French we called them "breatches??" which were also horrible but at least more boyish. Then came the time after World War II when longs pants appeared and stayed the common attire for boys until today. This happened when daddies who were considered heroes began returning home after having fought on European battlefields. So around 1950, long stockings vanished with short pants which simply were called "shorts" for boys and girls. With the miniskirt appeared for the girls in the 1960s, long stockings went out of style for girls. In 1967 began the era of the tights and jeans for girls. Except for some sports or classical dance, boys never wore tights."

Disappearance

A HBC reader writes, "All of these means of suporting stockings and trousers seem dreadfully baroque. Do you somewhere have a list of the reasons that all of this stuff disappeared? What were the key inventions that made this junk obsolete? Was it elastic in socks and waistbands? Was it ready-to-wear clothing in a wide-enough variety of sizes that children didn't need to use external means of support? Was it the fact that clothing became affordable enough that it didn't need to be bought three sizes too big and last thru many stages of a child's growth?" Our reader raises some interesting questions. The primary reason that stocking supporters disappeared of course was that long stockings went out of style. But stocking supporters appear in many different types and not only held up stockings, but psants and skirts as well. We notice that as stocking supporters disappeared that garments such as suspender shorts and later shortalls appeared. Here there are differences from country to country. So the full story of the disappearance of stocking supporters and the impact on children's fashions is an interesting one tht we are just beginning to understand.

Sources

Lester, Katherine Morris and Bess Viola Oerke. Accessories of Dresss: An Illustrated History of . . . Frills and Furbelows of Fashion (Peoria, Illinois: Manual Arts Press, 1940).

Ringo, Fredonia Jane. Men's and Boy's Clothing and Furnishings (A.W. Shaw Company: New York, 1925).






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Created: May 12, 1999
Last updated: 5:42 PM 12/1/2008