This Sears catalogue page offered children's hosiery (Spring and Summer catalogue, 1938, p. 245). It's interesting that although this catalogue is obviously for the warmer seasons of the year, Sears still devoted almost an entire page to long stockings for boys and girls from infants (only a few months old) to older children up to the age of about 14. Four grades of long stockings for children from about 6 to 14 are on offer here while only two styles of 5/8th-length socks are available and one style of knee socks for boys to wear with shorts. I think there must have been a separate page for knee socks for boys wearing knickers, which were still advertised widely elsewhere in 1938. There is a separate section at the bottom of the page for infants' long stockings in five different grades (some with part wool content). The Sears page was headed, "For Play—Or Dress-up: Pilgrim Stockings, Longer Wearing, Better Looking, Lower Priced."
The Sears, Roebuck and Co., huge merchandising firm centered in Chicago was founded by Richard W. Sears (1863-1914) and A.C. Roebuck (1864-1948). Sears had begun a career in mail-order business in Minnesota 1886. In Chicago he and Roebuck joined resources and formed a corporation in 1893 as a mail-order business under title Sears, Roebuck and Company. In 1895 Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) bought Roebuck's interest in firm and became president on Sears's retirement 1908. A retail-store system was added 1925. The first foreign store added in Havana, Cuba during 1945 and became the first expropriated store in 1960. The Sears-Roebuck brought the production of industry to the fartherest corner of rural America, opening the cornucopia of the consumer age to rural America. All the new things that were changing American life danced across their pages. Through it, a huge Chicago warehouse offers to modernize the farms and small towns of the Midwest.
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 six
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
The page has useful informatin about color. Although black
and white long stockings are still being sold, the most popular colors
are obviously various shades of tan and brown, ranging from
"champagne", "nude", "French tan" (very light), "beige", "camel tan"
(medium dark), "Dark tan" and "Dark brown". It seems clear that girls
often wore white long stockings for dress-up occasions as did very
young boys (up to about 5 or 6). Black stockings were also worn for
formal occasions, funerals, church ceremonies, etc. And HBC has at
least one photo from the 1930s where we see American boys (aged about 8
or 9) wearing white long stockings for First Communion. Boys involved
in wedding ceremonies might also wear white stockings. But the
predominant color is tan in shades varying from beige to quite dark
camel tan and even brown. When boys wore long stockings with knickers
during the 1930s, they seem to have favored tan or light brown.
These ads emphasize the additional length of Sears long
stockings, "two inches longer than most". Children in the 1930s were
wearing much shorter trousers and skirts and didn't want the
embarrassment of supporters showing. The long stockings of the period
are therefore almost always somewhat longer knitted than was true in
Most of the long stockings shown are of smooth texture and
made of cotton or cotton with rayon plating to make them dressier. The
more lustrous long stockings were obviously made for dressier occasions
and appealed to girls whose mothers wore silk or nylon on their legs.
But the rayon-content long stockings were not exclusively for girls.
Boys wore them also, especially with short trousers suits or dressy
shorts and shirts with neckties. The rayon content of stockings also
made them more durable and more elastic so that they fitted legs more
closely and didn't appear baggy. One grade of long stockings shown
here was wide-ribbed, referred to in the ad as "sports ribbed", which
seems to indicate a greater degree of informality. These stockings
would supposedly appeal to boys, although they are by no means for boys
only. Interestingly, these "sports ribbed" stockings are also the
cheapest in grade. All of these long stockings are relatively
light-weight, as we would expect for the spring and summer months. But
even in winter, children tended to wear cotton long stockings because
of their greater durability and form-fitting elasticity (called
"fine-ribbing"). With more efficient indoor heating, children no
longer needed long stockings for warmth. Mothers wanted to protect
their children's legs in inclement weather, but the main motive for
wearing long stockings in 1938 was fashion. Long stockings were more
popular in continental Europe than in America just before WW II, but
they were still widely sold. Sears would not have devoted almost n
entire page to such hosiery if the wide sales had not warranted such coverage.
The Sears page was headed, "For Play—Or Dress-up: Pilgrim Stockings, Longer Wearing, Better Looking, Lower Priced." It's interesting that although this catalogue is obviously for the warmer seasons of the year, Sears still devoted almost an entire page to long stockings for boys and girls from infants (only a few months old) to older children up to the age of about 14. At the time, the photographic record clearly shows that fewer boys were wearing knickers and the boys wearing nickers mostly wore knee socks. Four grades of long stockings for children from about 6 to 14 are on offer here while only two styles of 5/8th-length socks are available and one style of knee socks for boys to wear with shorts. I think there must have been a separate page for knee socks for boys wearing knickers, which were still advertised widely elsewhere in 1938. There is a separate section at the bottom of the page for infants' long stockings in five different grades (some with part wool content).
The Sears ad copy read, "Our best selling children’s stockings . . . again the greatest values to be found in inexpensive stockings! Just check their features . . . then compare. Combed cotton. Extra fine ribbing. Smooth texture. Two inches longer than most [so that supporters will not show under short trousers and dresses]. Specially reinforced. We know you won’t find their equal at their price. Buy half a dozen pairs at a time. Sizes: 6, 6 ½, 7, 7 ½, 8, 8 ½, 9, 9 ½, and 10. Size scale at lower left [coordinated to size of the children’s shoes in sizes to fit boys and girls from about four or five years old to about fourteen years]. Shipping weight, pair 3 ounces; 3 pairs, 8 ounces. Colors: 86 H 2614—Black, 86 H 2615—French tan, 86 H 2616—White, 86 H 2617—Camel tan, 86 H 1619—Dark brown. Pair, 14 cents, 3 Pairs, 40 cents.
The Sears ad copy read, "They have a silk-like luster . . . and have wear hidden inside. Rayon-over-mercerized cotton with 4-ply mercerized cotton heels and toes . . . they’ll stay smooth, fine, good looking. Finely ribbed—and good full length [to avoid supporters showing under short trousers and skirts]. Colors: Champagne, French nude, French tan or White. Sizes 6, 6 ½, 7, 7 ½, 8, 8 ½, 9, 9 ½ and 10. State size and color. See Size scale at lower left. Shipping weight, pair 4 ounces, 3 pairs 10 ounces. 86 H 2635—Pair, 23 cents. 3 Pairs 67 cents."
The Sears ad copy read, "The finest looking, best wearing cottons for children . . . mercerized! Extra fine-ribbed legs, with 4-ply heels and toes. Good full length for neater fit [to prevent strain on supporters and supporter clasps from peeping out under shorter trousers and skirts]. Colors: French tan, Camel tan, Dark tan or White. Sizes: 6, 6 ½, 7, 7 ½, 8, 8 ½, 9, 9 ½ and 10. State size and color. See Size scale at lower left. Shipping weight, pair, 4 ounces; 3 pairs, 10 ounces. 86 H 2655— 22 cents; 3 pairs 65 cents."
These were wide-ribbed long stockings. The Sears ad copy read, "10 cents a Pair. You just can’t equal these for the money. Long wearing cottons, sport ribbed to the toe. Colors: Beige, French tan, Camel tan. Sizes 6, 6 ½, 7, 7 ½, 8, 8 ½, 9, 9 ½ and 10. State size and color. Shipping weight, pair 3 oz.; 3 pair 7 oz. 86 H 4509—Pair 10 cents, 3 pairs, 29 cents." [Notice that these long stockings are of lighter weight and quality than those advertised above; the economic advantage is the main selling point.]
Other types of hosiery were offered on the page.
The knee socks, for boys only, are patterned and have cuffs with knit-in garters. The ad copy points out that boys tend to lose their garters if these are separate. We know that many mothers
made home-made round garters out of strips of elastic for the purpose of holding up knee socks, but boys tended to misplace them in the rush of getting dressed or undressed. We also know that the knit-in garters
of the period were quite unreliable, especially after the socks had been washed. Mothers and teachers were always telling boys to pull up their socks, and some mothers made sons wear long stockings with
supporters just to avoid the problem of sloppy looking socks with knickers. The Sears ad copy read, "Hey young fellows! Junior Knee lengths: New Patterns, 19 cents. Now younger boys can have Knee Lengths just like Big Brother’s! These have all the zip and dash of regular Knee Lengths and are specially sized for the younger lad. No worry about garters either—knit in garters in the cuffs keep them up—never get lost. Good quality cotton. Colors: Blue, Brown or Gray. Sizes 7, 7 ½, 8, 8 ½, 9, 9 ½, 10. State size and color. Shipping weight, pair 3 oz; 3 pairs 7 oz. 86 H 2856—Pair, 19 cents; 3 pairs, 55 cents. [N.B. These knee socks seem to be designed for “younger lads” up to about age 10 and are shown being worn with short trousers; but the sizes go up to size 10, almost the same as those for older boys who wear knee socks with knickers to about age 14. Knee socks to be worn with knickers are presumably shown on a different page of the catalogue. Notice the point about the knit-in garters that obviate the use of separate garters, which younger boys tend to lose. We know from the experience of many boys who wore knee socks in the 1930s that the knit-in garters were not very effective so that the socks tended to fall down, especially after being laundered, which weakened the elastic. We also know that some conservative mothers dressed their sons wearing knickers in long stockings with supporters precisely because the knee socks of the period tended to fall down after repeated washings.]
These seem to have been designed mainly for younger children. The sizes go only up to 9 1/2 (as opposed to 10 for the long stockings). The photographs show them being worn by girls with skirts.
I suspect they were mainly a girls' fashion, although some very young boys may have worn them also. No gender is specified for any of the hosiery on this page except for the boys' knee socks. The illustrations show girls wearing them, suggesting that they were mosly for girls. The Sears ad copy read, "Keep Them in Style: Five-eighths for boys and girls.
Save Money. 10 Cents a Pair. They’ll be right up to the minute . . . in 5/8’s that are bargain priced! Soft, finely ribbed combed cottons with brightly striped Krinkle tops. Elastic throughout, the top keeps them up. Colors: Navy blue, Brown or French tan with contrasting striped tops. Sizes: 6, 6 ½, 7, 7 ½, 8, 8 ½, 9, 9 ½. State size, color. See size scale below, Shipping weight, pair 2 oz. 3 pairs, 5 oz. 86 H 2850—Pair, 10 cents; 3 pairs, 29 cents.
See the Smart Cuffs, 19 cents a Pair. Just about the best looking 5/8’s we’ve ever seen! Mercerized cotton in clearer colors, finer, more lustrous texture! Four colors in the patterned cuffs. Lastex in the cuffs. Colors: Medium blue, Tan, Brown, Navy. Sizes: 6, 6 ½, 7, 7 ½, 8, 8 ½, 9, 9 ½. State size, color. See size scale. Shipping weight, pair 2 oz.; 3 pairs, 5 oz. 86 H 2854—Pair, 19 cents; 3 pairs, 55 cents.
Sears offered a variety of hosiery for babies. The heading read, "Soft Fine Qualities [of long stockings] For Baby." We are not entirely sure what age Sears meant for babies, but it seems to be about
1 month to 2 ½ years.
17 cents a pair, 10 % wool. The sears ad copy read, "Baby’ll be warm in these! Part wool with rayon for luster and fine cotton for wear. Color: White. Sizes 4, 4 ½, 5, 5 ½, 6, 6 ½. State size. Shipping weight, pair 2 oz; 3 pairs, 5 oz. 86 H 2739—Pair, 17 cents; 3 pairs, 72 cents."
16 cents a pair. Rayon plated. The Sears ad copy read, "Rayon over fine ribbed cotton. Sizes 4, 4 ½, 5, 5 ½, 6, 6 ½. 86 H 2701—White, 86 H 2702—Pongee color [apparently light gray or matte shade; pongee was a silk-like material originally imported from China]. [HBC note: Japan invaded China in 1937. This made trade with the United Sttes increasingly difficult.] Pair, 16 cents; 3 pairs, 46 cents."
8 cents a pair. Combed cotton.: Te Sears ad copy read, "Our best sellers . . . one of the biggest sellers in all America. Fine ribbed combed cotton. Flat knit seamless feet. Colors: Nude, Pongee color, Black, White. Sizes: 4, 4 ½, 5, 5 ½, 6, 6 ½. State size. Shipping weight, pair 2 oz, 3 pairs 5 oz. 86 H 2703—Pair, 8 cents; 3 pairs, 23 cents."
50% Wool. 25 cents a pair.: The Sears ad copy read, " Colors: White or Buff. State color. Sizes, shipping weights, as above. 86 H 2742—Pair, 25 cents, 3 pairs, 72 cents.
Mercerized Lisle, 15 cents a pair. The Sears ad copy read, "Extra fine guage. Sizes 3 ½ , 4, 4 ½, 5, 5 ½, 6, 6 ½. State size. 86 H 2715—Nude, 86 H 2717—White, 86 H 2718—Pongee color. Pair 15 cents; 3 pairs, 43 cents."
We have transcribed the entire Sears page including the rather complicated sizing information at the bottom which divides children into three categories (Younger children, older children, and babies).
This is because the stocking sizes are geared to shoe sizes, and shoe-size ranges for the three groups are all different and therefore a bit confusing (if you try to match stocking size to age). The Sears ad copy read, "Stockings that are the right size look better, feel more comfortable, wear extra long. [Stockings should not sag or be too tightly gartered but should look smooth on the leg from ankle to upper thigh.] It’s easy to get the right size stockings for your children . . . just consult the Size Scale below. Remember, children grow fast. They may need a larger size stocking than you last ordered. [The age scale, including babies, is about 2 months to 14 years. The charts for younger children, older children, and babies overlap a little bit, but each of these groups has differing shoe-scale sizes because size ranges of shoes for younger boys and girls are different from the size ranges of older children, and different again from the shoe sizes of babies, here calculated up to 2 ½ years. Generally speaking, babies’ stockings are sized from 3 ½ to 6 ½ (only a month or two old to about 2 ½ years. Younger children from about 3 to 8 ½ or 9 years wear stockings sized from about 6 ½ to 8 or 8 ½; boys and girls from about 9 ½ to 14 wear stockings sized from size 9 to size 10.]"
Size scale for small children: Size of shoe 6-7 takes hosiery size 6; shoe-size 7 ½-8 takes size 6 ½; shoe-size 9 ½-10 takes size 7; shoe-size 10 ½-11 ½ takes size 7 ½; shoe size 12-13 takes size 8.
For larger children: Shoe size 1 ½ takes hosiery size 8 ½; shoe-size 3-4 ½ takes size 9; shoe-size 5-6 takes size 9 ½; shoe size 6 ½-7 takes hosiery size 10.
Scale of Sizes for Babies’ Hosiery: Average age 1 month takes hosiery size 3 ½-4; age 3-6 months, shoe-size 2-3, takes size 4 ½ hosiery; 1 year, shoe-size 4-5 takes hosiery size 5; 1 ½ years, shoe-size 4-5 takes size 5 ½ hosiery; 2 years, shoe-size 7-7 ½ , takes size 6 hosiery; 2 ½ years, shoe-size 8-8 ½ takes 6 ½ hosiery.
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