U.S. Long Stocking Supporters: Restrictiveness

Figure 1.--

The issue of restriciveness of stocking supporters is one that has to be considered. Many of our HBC pages on garter waists, underwaists, suspender waists, and the like have raised the question of health issues--posture correction, for instance, as well as the "restrictiveness" of supporters for long stockings. One of the most popular styles of garter waists bore the name of the "Dr. Parker waist"--supposedly because it was either designed or endorsed by a medical authority named Parker with the implication that a child's health and posture had been taken into account.

Dr. Parker Waists

One of the most popular styles of garter waists bore the name of the "Dr. Parker waist"--supposedly because it was either designed or endorsed by a medical authority named Parker with the implication that a child's health and posture had been taken into account. We see them offered in both Americam and Canadian catalogs.

Shoulder Brace

The Stein Company which manufactured Hickory hose supporters and garter waists for children also produced a shoulder brace (1940) to correct round shoulderedness in boys and girls. At an earlier point we note a similar product called the Knickbocker Shoulder Brace. The same company also offered the Per-fit shoulder brace.

Costume Deformities

The issue of the wisdom of dressing children in various support devices for holding up long stocking became a medical issue at the turn of the century in the United States, and was discussed by an M.D. called E. H. Bradford, who wrote an article in The prestigious New York Medical Journal (26 October 1901), pp. 679-774, entitled "Costume Deformities." Dr. Bradford studied sources in historical art and sculpture for various kinds of fashions throughout history that resulted in actual deformities of the human body--distortions of the natural physique produced by wearing certain kinds of clothing. He writes:

"The difficulty of preventing the sagging of long stockings has resulted in the use of hose-supporters which exert a strong pull upon the waist and upon the shoulders if the waists are furnished with shoulder-straps, as is usually the case with children. It is difficult to determine exactly the amount of pull exerted in this way, but it is evidently considerable, as is shown by the need of strong clasps upon the hose supporters. The supporters are usually attached to the stocking when the knee is flexed or the body bent forward, and the mere straightening of the figure causes a strong pull upon the waist and shoulders, and this pull increases and varies with the activity and movements of the child. In corsetted women with full hips this strain is borne upon the pelvis, but in children the pull comes entirely upon the thorax and is at times too great a strain upon the growing muscles, often causing distorion. Even where hose-supporters are not worn, the weight of skirts, if buttoned on to a waist, falls upon either the pelvis or the shoulders. Where the hips are not large and the waist is loose, enough drag comes upon the child's shoulders from weight and friction of the clothes to favor a faulty attitude [= posture] in weak-muscled children. . . . The injurious effect of the drag of the clothing upon the upper part of the figure is also seen in the flattening of the chest caused by the pressure of the upper part of a loose waist pulled down by hose-supporters attached to the front, and by the weight of the skirts. [Interestingly, Dr. Bradford does not mention the weight of knee pants also buttoned on to waists, but knee trousers were probably much lighter than skirts.] The loose waist slips down as far as the shoulder-straps will allow, and its upper edge presses upon the sternum, thereby flattening the chest. . . . [T]here is no doubt of the destructive effect of corsets or corset-waists [see for instance the Ferris Corset waist, made for boys as well as girls.] upon the normal shape of the trunk and of the desirability of minimizing this in growing [boys and] girls. . . . Where muscular fatigue is added to the other causes of round shoulders, namely, the drag of the skirts and the pull of the hose-supporters, it is not strange that in growing children the attitude [i.e., posture] needs correction."

Design Impact

Dr. Bradford does not suggest any immediate solution to the problem of deformity caused by the wearing of waists with heavy skirts and hose supporters attached. But his objections to the customary waists and hose supporters worn by virtually all children of both gender until their middle teen years in 1901 seems to have had some effect on the design of children's underwear in succeeding decades. The fact that such discussion appeared in prestigious medical journals show that the doctor's advise was taken seriously. Both boys and girls continued to wear garter waists, underwaists, and hose supporters up through the mid-1940s, but support garments gradually became lighter in weight and more flexible, partly because the weight of the clothing to be supported also became lighter. Most children began wearing cotton stockings rather than the heavier woolen ones. The trousers and skirts were also lighter in weight and could be buttoned onto waists with less strain on young bodies. Hose supporters were made of less thick elastic and had greater flexibility and more stretch than earlier products. So strain on shoulders, chests, and waistlines was naturally reduced.

Design Innovations

Some of the improvements in children's waists and garters may have been initiated by the manufacturers in the following ways. Perhaps the objections of medical authorities such as Dr. Bradford in 1901 had at least an indirect effect on the clothing. (1) Waists gradually became lighter and less restrictive. Some were made in athletic styles with large arm holes, and the reinforcement straps were strenghened to relieve pressure on the shoulders. See the illustration of Sears underwaists in 1929. (2) Many older-style waists had the supporters attached in front which caused the pull of the garters to make the child bend forward. See the so-called Fuller Waist with the supporters attached in front. By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, most underwaists were designed so that the supporters could be attached to the sides (supported by straps under the armpits) so that there was less strain on the shoulders. The underwaists sold by Wards in 1926-27 illustrate this point. (3) Although shoulder-style garter waists (with the strain of supporters borne entirely by the shoulders) were still manufactured and sold, they seem to have been less popular than garter waists designed with built-in belts or waistbands. The use of a belt with supporting shoulder straps helped prevent the garters from pulling the child's frame forward and made it easier for him to stand upright. See the garter waists sold by Sears in 1939. These Sears garter waists were called "Free Play" waists that were designed to be much less restrictive to the movements of active boys and girls. Notice the lighter weight of these waists. (4) Manufacturers, such as Wards in 1936, started to stress the point that their modern waists were sturdy enough to resist "the strain of 'garter pull'." The implication here is that the newer style garter waists were more comfortable and designed to minimize the drag of hose supporters on young bodies. What emerges from these examples is that the wearing of waists and hose supporters by boys and girls from the 1880s until the mid-1940s caused comment by pediatricians and those in the medical profession concerned with the relation of fashion to children's health. Dr. Bradford represents a common opinion among American doctors that the fashion of children's waists and hose supporters was potentially damaging to growing bodies. On the other hand, the manufacturers of children's underwear were alert to the criticisms of the medical profession, and got doctors such as Dr. Parker to design or at least endorse a style of hose supporters for boys and girls that was not damaging to their bodies. And as the 20th century got into the 1920s and 1930s, styles of waists and hose supporters became available for children that satisfied mothers' concerns about health and specifically posture. Interestingly, some garter waists were advertised as actually promoting good posture in children. For example, Sears offered a style of shoulder garter waist (Kern's "Dandy")in 1937 that actually claimed to "allow perfect freedom of movement" and that served in addition "as a shoulder brace." Shoulder braces also continued to be sold to prevent round shoulders in boys and girls. So the question arises, were garter waists and hose supporters the cause of bad posture (as Dr. Bradford asserted) or were garterwaists (like the Kern's Dandy sold by Sears) a means of preventing round shoulders?

Health/Posture Concerns

Both the American and Canadian mail order catalogs (together with related advertisements) show the concern that manufacturers of support garments for long stockings had about health issues (such as posture) connected with the practice of children wearing hose supporters. Round shoulders as a result of the strain of garters, garterwaists, suspender waists, and the like was one concern. A related concern was the effect of making a boy or girl stoop forward from the pull of the supporters and the possibility of damage to growing muscles in the upper body. So relieving the strain on young shoulders and waist lines (Dr. Bradford's warning) seems to have been a major objective in the design and manufacture of support garments.


Related 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]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossary] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: 5:27 AM 6/28/2005
Last updated: 5:53 AM 4/2/2007