Patterned Stockings

Figure 1.-- This boy in a photograph that appears to have been taken in the 1870s wears horizontal stripped stockings. He also sports very long sausage curls which his mother carefully arranged so they would be visible in the photograph.

I 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.


Patterned stockings appear to have been popular from the 1860s through the 80s. HBC has not noted boys wearing patterned stockings after the turn of the century. I do not have details on this, but is my general impression from a review of available images. There are a variety of factors affecting the chronology. One, advances in weaving allowing multiple-colored yarn to be machine woven. Two, the increasing tendency of boys after the 1850s to be dressed in knee pants (otherwise wearing patterned stockings would be senseless). Currently HBC's efforts to develop a chronology of patterned stockings is limited by the fact that we still have relatively few images and most of the images that we do have are not dated. This topic needs to be researched in dated clothing catalogs. We notice a French boy in the 1880s wearing stripped stockings. There may well be differences among countries. Home knitting may introduce more variery in the chronological pattern than the trends from commercial mills.


I am not positive about the conventions for wearing patterned stripped socks. They do 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. Also I do not know of any conventions concerning the appropriateness of certain patterns for certain occasions or clothing styles. The conventions appear to be generalized conventions for all patterns.


The suits worn by boys with patterned stockings are representative of the plainer suits worn in the 1860s and 70s. One common feature were vertical strips, usually in contrasting colors on the sides of the kneepants. This became less common in the 1880s. Some boys wore long stockings with kiltsuits, but this was not common.

Figure 2.-- This boy in the late 1860s or 70s wears a plain kneepants suit with stripped stockings.


Patterned stockings appear to have been long stockings. The patterned styles were popular at an early stage before suspender waists and other stocking supporter devices were developed. HBC does not know of kneesocks made with such stripes. Also information is no currently available on the lengths of the stockings. as boys at the time wore kneepants and not short pants, it is likely that they were made in lengths to just above the knee.


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.


Horizontal stripped socks were worn by a wide age range. Boys of all ages still in knee pants wore them, both younger boys and teenagers. We hope to eventually determined the sizes for which these stockings were made to help assess the age of the boys wearing them.


We do not yet have cost details. We think, however, that the patterned long stockings cost more than the plain colors.


Striped or banded long stockings were very popular in the 1870s and 80s. We do not see them earlier. We thinks terchnological changes made the mixed colors possible. By the 1890s we see almost entirely solid color stockingsd--mostly black. We do occassionaly see patterened long stockings in the 20th century. They were not the striped stoclkings worn earlier, but a variety of patterns like argyles. The percentage of boys wearing patterned stockings in the 20th century were a tiny percentage of the total. I think the style must have been something of a novelty and that only a few took it up. When the patterned stockings started being shown by Sears about 1929, they didn't last more than a few years--about two or three at the most. Maybe a bit like the button-on long stockings which also seem to have fizzled commercially. The situation in Germany could have been a bit different, but not all that much, I suspect. We are puzzeling over why after the 1880s, patterened stokings were so rare. It is especially puzzeling why patterned knee socks were so common and patterened long stockings were so so common. You would think that the colors and patterns for both would be similar. We have the impression that boys rather like the bright sporty colors of the knee socks. We are not sure why this did not cath on for the long stockings. A reader suggests it mmay reflect parent's preference for formality. . We wonder if cost was a factor? Of course if it was it would presumably affect knee socks as well.

Hair Styles

Given the age range, boys wearing patterned stockings could have hair styles from ringlet curls to close-cropped hair.


We have only limited information on the gende conventions associated wih patterened long stockings. I believe this was primarily a boys' style of stocking. The images here show American boys wearing stripped long stockings. They were not, however, a uniquely boy's style. We have notice girls wearing them--perhaps just not as commonly, but this needed to be confirmed. Gender conventions in America may not have been the same in Europe, although they probably were in the 19th century. We notice another kind of patterened long stockings after World War I in the 1920s. These were a different style--not the bold stripes. Several examples of these paterened long stockings are archived on HBC. An example is an American girl in 1929. We believe that these patterened long stockings were most common for girls. This was certainly the case for boys wearing them with short pants. We are less sure about older boys wearing knickers. It is often not possible to tell if these boys are wearing kneesocks or long stockings. We think kneesocks are more likely, especially by the 1930s.


Most stockings were made of wool. Silk was also used for very expensive stockings, but not generally boys' stockings.


Our information on patterened long stockings is incomplete at this time. Our information based primarily on the photographic record is limited. Our information at mid-century, especially in Europe is limited is limied, This changes with the appearance of the CDV in substantial numbers. We thus have a detailed record beginning in the 1860s. We mostly see plain or solid colored stockings in the 1860s. We are not yet sure about manufacturung technology. It is clear, however, that mills were capable of complicated patterns. We see one French boy in the 1860s with a complicated diagonal crossing pattern. So we know that mills could produce such stockings. The fact that there are so few examples in the photograohic record suggests that for some reason these patterns were not popular. We have not yet seen similar examples in America. But we do begin to see patterned stockings with horizontal stripes or bands. There were a wide variety of striped patterns, but most of the available patterned were stripes. Hotizontal stripes were very common in the 1870s and early-80s. We have noted verical stripes as well, but they were not very common we have noted only a very few boys wearing them. There were also a variety of other patterns used, but they were not very common. A much less popular style was various checkered or plaid patterns. We see them in the late-1920s when brighly patterned knee socks began to become popular. For some reason patterened long stockings did not.

Country Trends

Much of our information about patterened long stockings comes from the United States as we have a larger archive of American images. These stripped long stockings seem especially common in the United sTates. We have also noted them in Europe, although we do not yet have a good understanding as to how popular they were there. A good example is a French boy in the 1880s. Patterened knee socks weee not nearly as common after the 1880s. As far as we can tell, this was a trend in Europe as well as America. Patterened long stockings never disappeaed entirely, either in America or Europe. The photographic record clearly shows examples of patterened stockings, but in all countries they were only a small portion of the long stockings worn. We do not yet have enough information to assess the popularity of specific patterns in individual countries. We have seen several German images. Long stoickings were very common in Switzerland, but at leasd\t in the 20th century, we rarely see patterened long stockings. A rare example is a Swiss girl in 1944. We suspect here that one factor here may have been cost.


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Last updated: 10:18 AM 12/23/2012