*** long stockings : United States

Long Stockings: United States

American long stockings
Figure 1.--The new style of knee pants for boys became increasingly common in the 1860s. At first they were worn by a wide variety of long stockings, inclusing whire and stripped ones.

Long stockings appeared as a main stay for an American boy in the 1870s when the fashion of kneepants for boys became increasingly popular. This became even more apparent when knee-length kneepants became the standard style. Unlike European boys, few American bpys wore kneepants with short socks. American boys continued to wear lonf stockingsd through the 1910s and did not commonly shift to socks until the 1920s. Long stockings comtinued to be worn into the 1940s, although they were by that time not commonly worn. Long stickings wee made in many different colors. Black long stockings were especially common for both boys and girls in the late-19th and early 20th centuries. Patterns were less common, except for stripes in the 19th century.


HBC has very little written information about long stockings, but has had to sketch out some basic information primarily from available photograps and the information available in mail order catalogs. As far as we can tell, long stockings are a garmet that were commonly worn for about 100 years. They appeared in the mid-19th century as boys began to wear shortened pants styles, especially kneepants and knickers. Long stockings lasted through the mid-20th century when they began to be seen as old fashioned. Boys in the early 19th-century mostly wore long pants. I am not sure about the stockings worn in the early 19th Century, but I believe that shorts socks were much more common than long stocks. Even smaller boys before breeching did not need long stockings as they might wear pantalettes with shorter dresses. American boys began wearing long stockings in the second half of the 19th Century. This appears to have occurred as kneepants began to increasingly been worn by the 1870s. The long stockings that firstvappeared with kneesocks were highly divers. There were white and bright red stockings. There were stripped stockings as well as dark ones. As kneepants became increasing common in the 1870s, most boys began to wear long stockings. Tights were not worn instead they were a pair of long stockings. , but by the 1870s as knee pants became increasing popular boys were wearing long, mostly wool stockings. They were the same long stockings as worn by girls. These long stockings continued to be worn by children, including older boys and girls, throughout the 19th Century. Gradually dark, solid colored stockings became the dominate style for boys. The long stockings were held up with a kind of suspender waist, but I am not sure when this forst appeared. When the new knicker style began to become more popular after the turn of the century, long stockings were still worn as the knickers were worn above the knee. Boys by the 1920s increasingly buckled their knickers below the knee. This tendency and the increasing popularity of short pants caused boys to shift to kneesocks. After the mid-1920s long stockings were not commonly worn in America or Britain, although they did not disappear. Boys might stull wear them for formal occasions, but this was primarily for formal occassions. Long stockings were still commonly worn by American in the early 1920s. Thecrapidly declined in popularity in the 1920s. They were, however, still worn throughout the 1920s and 30s. They were no longer widely worn and the boys that wore them tended to be younger boys 10 years old and under. I had thought that long stockings had largely disappeared in the 1920s. Sears caralogs through the 1940s, however. Show that long stockings and hose supporters were still being sold in the mid and late-1940s. They were being worn by younger boys. I have no evidence however that long stockings were still worn in the 1950s.

Regional Trends

We note american children wearing long stockings throughout the country. This includes the Nort, South, and west. We find very few exceptions in the photographic record. This of course means how children were dressed up. When not dressed up, many of the children would have gone barfoot, at least in warm weather. They were not, however, unlike Europe, worn other kinds of hosiery. There were some regional variations. HBC does not yet have the information to confirm it, but believes long stockings were more common in the colder northern states than the warmer southern states. That is not to say other types of hosiery were worn. Only that children in the South had more warm nonths in which they could go barefoot. Long stockings were not, only worn for warmth. Thus they were also worn in the South. And we almost always see children wearing long stockings in studio portaits during the 19th century with very few exceptions. For some reason we see some portraits with barefoot children at the turn-of-the 20th century. mostly in the early-20th century. . We have no idea why this suddenly occurred. Many of the examples were from the south and tin-type portraits. tin-types were commonly done at temprary studios such at state fairs or low budget studios. Bit with this exceptgion we almost alwayz see children kin studio portaits wearing lobg stockings.


Boys connonly wote dark colored stockings, black, navy blue, or brown. This tendency to wear dark stockings lasted through the early 1920s. Light colored tan stockings became more popular in the 1920s, especially after the mid-1920s. They were widely worn by the 1930s. Catalog pages provide a good record of the popular colors. See for example Sears 1924 catalog and Sears 1931 catalog. One interesting fashion detail is that boys did not commonly wear white long stockings in the late 19th Century. Little boys still in dresses might wear white stockings, but not older boys wearing Fauntleroy suits, sailor suits, and suits. Even boys in kilts did not wear white stockings. Even during the summer when boys wore light-weight white sailor suits, they were worn with dark stockings, never white long stockings. Girls wore a greater variety od stockings colored. White was especially popular for girls. One report from the 1930s indicated that the girls were wearing bright colored stockings, but HBC has not yet been able to confirm this.

Figure 2.--American boys almost wore kilt suits with black or very dark long stockings, although this boy appears to have lighter-colored stockings than seen in most such portraits. A HBC reader has noted various details about the boy's clothes and suggested that this portrait be assessed in detail.


Patterned long stockings were quite common in the mid-19th century. We see many children wearing long stockings done in colored bands. We are not sure about the colors. Our information is limited, primarily because we have relatively little 19th century catalog information. As far as we can tell, the long stockings worn by American boys and girls in the 20th century were primarily solid colors. Some stockings had destinctive ribbing, suggesting a pattern, but in fact were solid colors. Patterned stockings were not unknown, but we have rarely seen children wearing them in the photographic record. One of the rare catalog offerings for patterned long stockings that we have noted was in the Sears 1928 catalog. But the patterned long stockings don't seem to have had much commercial staying power. They were sporty looking of course (like the golf style knicker socks), but one of the main reason for dressing boys in short pants with long stockings was for a look of greater formality and conservatism. This is one of the reasons, I think, that they didn't seem to catch on. Conservative mothers might have thought they looked a little too flash-in-the-pan and a bit undignified. Commercially, they seem to have been a bit like the button-on stockings or the combination stockings (long stockings made to look as though they were knee socks). These styles had a brief life, but didn't turn out to sell well enough to remain in the catalogs more than a year or two.


Long stockings were made in various weights. We motice very heavy, thick stockings as well as very light weight lisle or more expensive silk stockings. And of course there were stockings made in wights between these two expremes. This was affected by who was to wear them and for what purpose. The primary purposes for long stockings was for warmth during the winter, modesty, and formal dress. The heavy stockings were quite thick and are very destinctive in photographs. They sometimes look as though the child might be stuffed. This look can be accentuated as children commonly wore union suits or other long underwear during the winter. Children might wear different weights of long stockings when wearing long stockings for modesty. This was most common in the 19th centiry, but we notice girls' schools requiring long stockings into the 1930s. Long stockings were also worn for formality. This was the standard during the 19th century. Younger children might be allowed to wear socks, but they also wore stockings, especially in America. Knee socks or other hosiery actually showing the leg became widespread, but for special occassins they also wore long sockings as showing the knee or leg was considered in appropriate for formal occassions. Generally speaking, for formal occassions, light weight tightly fitting stockings were considered te most suitable. Children would wear silk or less expensive lisle stockings. as part of children's wear. This included seasons other than cold wear. Here we see leighter weight stockings.


We notice American boys of all ages wearing long stockings, but this varied chronologically. Generally speaking younger boys wore long stockings when they first appeared. This was essentially because it was younger boys who mostly wore knee pants or bloomer knickers. Most boys wore long pants in the 1860s and 70s. This included most boys over 8-10 years of age. Long pants were also more common in rural areas where fashion was not as important. Teenagers began wearing knee pants in rge early-90s. A good examole is unidentified Iowa boy, probably in the early-90s. We note even older tennagers wearing long stockings in the late-90s and 1900s. This was again because older boys at this time commonly wore kneepants. Knickers became more common in the 1910s, but they were still worn with longstockings. Older boys at this time began to more commonly wear long pants. By the 1930s when long stockings began to go out of style we again see mostly younger bpys wearing them. An example of a 5-year old wearing long stockings is Floyd Van Horne about 1915. At the time long stockings were very common for boys.


Long stockings were worn by both boys and girls. In fact the same stockings were worn by both genders. I know of no significant gender differences for many years, except that white stockings were worn more by girls than boys. Images from the 19th century show most boys and girls wearing long stockings. Some younger boys wore white stiockings, but even for them the darkstockings were more common. As long stockings began declining in popularity during the 1930s, I think that girks were somewhat more likely to wear them than boys, but our information is too limited at this time to make any definitive assessment. Many girls began to see long stockings as unfasionable, even dowdy and didn't want to wear them. Boys were less concerned about fashion, but more their image so for the most part only hyounger boys wore them. In addition the increasingly usage of long pants made them less important to keep wore than had been the case when knickers and short pants were more common. This may be part of the reason why girls who mostly wore skirts wore long stockings more commonly than boys.

Clothing Garments

American boys wore long stockings with a wide range of clothing. Conventions for wearing long stockings varied from country to country. In the late 19th century, American boys wore long stockings with dresses, kils, and kneepants. In the early 20th century they were mostly worn with kneepants and knickers. After the early 1920s they were mostly worn with short pants. The hosiery worn by boys with dresses varied with the age of the child. Younger children up to about age 5 might wear short white socks during the warmer summer months. Older boys still wearing dresses would normally wearlong stockings, although often their dresses were relatively long. American boys in the late 19th century commonly wore kilt suits. Almost always they were worn with long stockings. Highland kilts were worn with kneesocks, but they were not common in America. The kilt suit, however was very commonly worn into the 1900s. The length of the kilt varies. Most were knee length or longer. The stockings worn were usually dark long stockings. Boys in the late 19th century wore long stockings that went above the knee with knee length pants. By the 1870s most boys were wearing kneepants and they were almost always worn with long stockings. The stockings were mostly black in the late 19th century or some dark color. A fashion of horizontal striped stockings was fashionable in the 1860s-70s. Boys usually continued wearing wore dark stoclngs with the knickers that for the most part replaced kneepanrs during the 1910s. Knickers became increasingly popular and by the 1920s were increasingly worn with knee socks. Hosiery styles changed after the turn of the century. White stockings appeared instead of just black or dark colored stockings. Short pants became increasiungly popular in the 1920s, especially in Europe. The early short pants came to the knee and during the 1910s were worn with both long stockings and knee socks


Long stockings in America were intially worn for both warm and modesty as it was not considered proper for boys or girls, except for the vary youngest, to go bare legged. And even many toddlers wore long stockings. We see them being worn for all occassions. Most of the late-19th century photography was studio phorography with children dressed up for the portraits. But children did not just wear long stockings when dressing up. We see children wearing long stockings to school as well as casual circumstances, even playing around the home. Thus long stockings were not specifically dresswear, schoolwear, playwear, or even seasonal wear. Long stockings were simply the standard type of hosiery worn by children. This was not nearly as true in Europe. After the turn of the 20th century this began to change. We see some of the boys wearing tunic suits with socks rather than stockings (1900s) and we begin to see youngdr boys wearing knee pants with socks (1910s). Long stockings continued to be more common were more common, especially for school age children in the early-20th century. With the apparance of short pants after World War I, it became increasingly accptable for boys to appear first with bare knees and kneesocks and eventually bare legs with three-quater and and ankle socks. Long stockings begame mostly winter and cool weather garments to help a child stay warm or for firmality. Long stockings were occsionally worn even into the 1930s. Apparentlty some mothers thought long stockings more appropriate for formal wear. We see long stockings being worn for First Communion. A ood example is two unidentifed siblings about 1920. Thus Rose Kenny dressed Teddy in long stockings with his short pants suit when they went to Vatican City to see the Pope.


The HBC categories of stocking length--(1) short, i.e. barely over the knee; (2) medium length (mid thigh); and (3) extra long (covering most of the upper thigh) are generally very useful, and, in general, the historical sequence seems pretty accurate. The general movement is obviously from shorter long stockings to longer and longer ones. But there is clearly some overlap. The key factor here appears to be the clothes that boys and girls were wearing with long stockings. Long kneepants and skirts did not require very long stockings. Short pants and shorter skirts mean that longer-length stockings were needed to cover a child's legs.

Rolling Down Stockings

We notice that some children rolled down their long stockings. We seem to see this more with girls than boys, but here our information is still very limited. As far as we can tell this was much more common than cuffing them. We are not entirely sure about the conventions. In some cases this may have been the children's response to a warm day because long stockings could be uncomfortable on a hot day. Another factor seems to have been fashion. Some children, especially older children did not like long stockings. The girls may have seen them as unfashionable. Some boys saw them as childish or even girlish. Yhus rolled down they looked more like socks. Some parents did not mind when their children did this on a warm day. Other parents disapproved of this, for a range of reason. Some mothers thought that they were a healthful and ensured that the children were warmly dressed. Other mothers may have seen them fashionanle are needed for modesty purposes. An exmple here is an Illinois family.

Stocking Suporters

I am not sure whem childrens stocking supporters first appeared but believe regular usage probably began in the 1870s when boys, especially older boys first began wearing kneepants--necesitating stocking supporters. Only some younger boys wore knee pants in the 1860s, but by the 1880s it was very common for boys--even older boys to wear knee pants. As it wasn't considered proper for boys and girls, especially older ones to appear bare legged, these kneepants were mostly worn with long stockings. This led to a problem. How to hold the stockings up. This was a special problem for active boys. To address this problem, stocking supporterd were developed in both shoulder and waist styles.

Figure 3.--This advertisement for long stockings appeared in a major American clothing catalog in the late 1940s. It was one of the last time long stockings were widely advertised in America.


The analysis of long stockings is complicated by the fact that the sizes specified in catalogs and advertisements have no relationship to the age of the child. We are no even sure that there were standard sizes among manufacturers. Some retailers provide customers corresponding shoe sizes. Others provide heighth information. This is further complicated because sizing standards have changed and are differnt from modern standards. Another complication is that there was a numbering system for smaller and larger children which appears to mean younger and older children. We have collected some of these size charts so that readers can assess the ages for which the stocvkings were made.


We note many advertisements for stocking supporters like garter waists. Almost always they show children with their long stockings on before putting on pants and dresses. We rather concluded from that this was the way that children dressed, first putting bon their long stockings and securing them to the type of stocking supporters that mother had selected for them. We then noted a rather unusual ad showing a boy putting on his long stockings after first putting on his kneepants. We are inclined to think that this was more common than is suggested by the many illustrations in magazxines and catalogs. This is because that it better illustrated the stocking supporters and waists if the boy had not yet put on his knee pants or short pants.


Long stockings were worn by young American boys, especially in the colder more northery states through the 1920s and 30s. It is difficult to process details because much of the information on this subject is derived from assessing photographic images. As many American boys wore long pants, it is impossible to determine what kind of socks/stockings they were wearing.

Personal Accounts

Information is available of course in autobiographies and articles written about childhood experiences. We would appreciate it if readers coming accross pertinent references would pass them on to the Webmaster. Some readers have provided their own personal experiences. Most of the information HBC has noted, logically enough come from northern states. HBC has also noted reports accross the border in Canada.


HBC has noted several images of Canadian boys wearing long stockings. This appears to have been quite similar to American patterns in the late 19th century. HBC has noted that some Canadian boys continued wearing long stockings in the 20th century when many American boys began wearing short socks and knee socks. In particular Canadian boys appear to have worn longstockings for dress occasions. This appears to have been more prevalent among French Canadians than English Canadians. HBC has noted French boys wearing long stockings for dress wear as late as the early 1950s. Canadian boys appear to have priarily worn dark long stockings. Ages have varied over time. Quite old boys might wear long stockings at the turn-of-the 20th century, but by the 1940s and 50s it was mostly boys up to 7 or 8 years, probably about 10 years at the oldest.


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Created: January 10, 2000
Last updated: 12:13 AM 12/28/2014