U.S. Long Stocking Supporters: Disappearance

Figure 1.--Stocking supporters begin to disappear in catalogs after 1949-50. Here is the last page we noted for an extensive assortment of different styles of catalogs. It comes from the Eaton's (Canadian) 1949-50 catalog. Click on the image for the latest appearance of stovking supporters that we have found, a 1959 box from Canada.

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.

Clothing and Fashion Factors

Of course stocking supporters do look old fashioned to modern readers. These "baroque" aspects of children's underwear and stockings in the first half of the 20th century seems to me to reflect a very modern (and therefore quite different) mindset from that represented by much of the clothing on HBC. A number of factors are relevant here.


There was the concern with frugality. Parents didn't use to take a "throw-away" view of their children's clothing. Money was scarce and they wanted their money's worth when they purchased clothing--hence the desirability of garments that could be expanded to allow for a child's growth such as double buttons on the shoulder straps of waists or waist union suits. Children also wore hand-me-down clothing. A reader writes, "I came from a fairly affluent family, but when my cousin outgrew his union suits, for instance, I inherited them since there was still a few years of wear left in these garments."


As the reader implies, technology made it easier to keep clothes in place. Elastic was already used for supporters and for the gathering of legs in bloomers and in some knickers, but elastic is a rubber product and was more expensive to produce then than now. Elastic waistbands had not yet come into fashion and would in any case have been thought too informal and make-shift in appearance.

Home Heating

Long stockings and long underwear (as represented, for instance, in many waist union suits) reflect the fact that in many parts of America central heating was not common. Mothers had to dress their children much more warmly when they walked longer distances to school and when school rooms and homes were typically much colder places than they are today. But long stockings were not just worn for warmth. Parents considered them dressy and proper and therefore necessary to maintain the appearance of good breeding.


One especiallyimportant factor is that attitudes toward children's personal comfort and formality of dress were quite different. Today children are allowed to dress loosely and very informally--even sloppily--by the standards of the past. Boys deliberately wear shirts and trousers that are too big for them. Even jeans, which used to fit tightly, are made in looser fits. Trousers are allowed to bunch up around the ankles as never would have been allowed in earlier times. Parents allow their sons and daughters to dress in junior versions of what they themselves wear--jeans and tee-shirts and sneakers, for instance. This would not have been permitted in the early decades of the 20th century. Neatness and more complicated, form-fitting dress were considered important. Here standards varied from country to country and over time. Knees needed to be covered and covered neatly, not just for warmth but also for formality. It was often considered improper for boys and girls especially in America to have bare knees unless they were very young (6 years or younger, usually), although, gradually, knee socks became an acceptable replacement for long stockings. But knee socks were supposed to be kept in place--with garters if necessary. Parents did not believe in dressing boys and girls like miniature adults and had to learn that they could not expect the same freedom as grown-ups. The conventions of children's dress were quite strict in most parts of America--even among the poorer classes. Boys had to wear long stockings kept neatly in place and wear suits with formal shirts and ties except for play. So somewhat "baroque" details of dress (especially in underwear, stockings, and neckwear) were just considered normal and "respectable."

Children's Authority

Also children had very little say in what they wore. These decisions were made for them by parents--even throughout their highschool years. A reader writes, "I was born in 1927, for instance, and wasn't allowed to wear long trousers until at least 14 years of age. In earlier decades, boys were kept in knee pants until 17 or 18, and were not allowed to complain about it.

Chronological Trends

The disappearance of this tradition came in the years after World War II when all life in America became much less formal. Actually this process began earlier. Dress standards and life style was still quite formal in the Edwardian age. (King Edward VII died in 1910, but the Edwardian age really began before Victoria died in 1901 and he became king and extended after he died until World War I began in 1914.) The War relly changed everything. An entire generation in Europe had been desimated. Woeld War I was unlike anything Europe had experienced since the 30 Years War in the 17th century. Europe before the War was still largely riled by monarchoes. Some were constitutional monarchies as in Britain others were still absolute as in Russia. The War destroyed most of these monrchies. But even in the monarchies that survived the prestige of the ruling class was undercut. The political consequences were profond. In some countries a more democraric system appeared (America and Britain). In other countries totalitarianism appeared (Germany, Italy, and Russia). There were also very profound social consequences. Fashion became much more utilitarian and casual during the War. There was no going back to the old formality after the War. Long stockings and stocking supporters were still very common in the 1920s, but less so in the 30s. Here there were variations among countries. The impact of World War II was further changes in live style and fashion. Servants in middle-class households disappeared, dress-codes at the family dinner table relaxed, and life became much less concerned with protocol. Children were suddenly allowed to call their parents "Mom" and instead of "Mother" and "Father." Children weren't required to say "Sir" adult men or "M'ame" to ladies. But of course the huge revolution in such atters occurred in the 1960s when nearly all dress codes for children (except for school uniforms at private or Church schools) went down the drain. The main concern was comfort for children, not neatness, respectability, and dressy appearance.

Compulsory Education

One of the results of World War I and World War II was expanded comulsory education. America and German states pioneered free state education and compulsory education. One of the resultsof World War I as we have mentioned was expanded democracy in some countries and totalitarian states in other countries. Ironically, both democratic and totalitarian states put a considerable emphasis on education, both making education available to even poor children and passing laws requiring parents to send children to school. The result was social mixing of poor children and middle-clsass children which unlike the situation before the War. This process went even futher after World War II. This mixing had societal and fashion consequences. A French Canadian reader has provided us an assessment of the impact of compulsory education.

Collateral Fashion Changes

Stocking supporters and related garments like waists not only held up long stockings, but also pants/trousers. We note that otherapproaches to trouser suspension excisted. Suspenders existed in the 19th century and were common for older boys and men. Approaches for boys included bib-front overalls (coveralls) and suspender pants. Another approach was button-on clothing, but with button on the pants for the blouse which held up the pants. Earlier the buttons were on the waist which held up the pants. We believe that the gradual decline of long stocking and stocking supporters had the affect of stimulating thes alternative approaches. Here we are not entirely sure. Assessing these trends is complicated. Not only are a variety of factors invilved, but there are differences from country to country. In America suspender pants were not commonly worn with long stockings and button-on outfits were popular. In Britain suspender trousers were not very popular nor were long stockings widely worn. In Germany we see boys wearing suspender shorts with long stockings.


Related HBC Hosiery Pages:
[Return to the Main stocking supporter page]
[Return to the Main Underwear Garment List]
[Knee socks] [White knee socks] [Long stockings]
[Striped socks] [White stockings] [Tights]

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Created: 10:11 PM 7/1/2005
Last updated: 9:28 PM 7/4/2005