Underwear: Waists/Waist Suits

Figure 1.--These two waists were offered in a 1915 catalog. There were different styles for boys and girls.

The waist or waist suit is a support garment. Historically children’s waists had multiple functions—the holding up of various garments such as underpants or panties, skirts, short trousers, and long stockings. Gradually the principal function became the support of long stockings although some of the later models still continued to provide waist buttons for other functions. We note a variety of bodices or underwaists which have more or less the same function--a garment to support other clothing (shorts, skirts, garters, stockings, underpants, etc.). The terminology for waists and associated garments can be confusing. We note both types of waists as well as different names for the same garment as well as different terms in various countries. These were garments for children and women. I suppose the "liberty bodice" is the British equivalent of the German "Leibchen" and of the American "waist".


The waist or waist suit is a support garment. Historically children’s waists had multiple functions—the holding up of various garments such as underpants or panties, skirts, short trousers, and long stockings. other items of apparel were attached by buttons or clasps. HBC does not fully understand how the waists were used and just what clothes were secured on the buttons of the waists. One HBC reader comments, "From the attached Stuarts ad dated 1915 it is clear that waists had buttons to hold up clothes. The drawing of the boy on the bottom row with a waist over his underclothes suggests that maybe shirts with buttons at waist to hold trousers or shorts were called waists, shirts without shirtails were called blouses and shirts were called shirts if they had shirt tails." Sometimes mothers used pins to attach stockings to regular underwear rather than a specialized waist. Gradually the principal function became the support of long stockings although some of the later models still continued to provide waist buttons for other functions. But by the 1930s and 1940s a waist, if worn at all, was worn to hold up long stockings and therefore the term waist became virtually synonymous with “garter waist” or “hose supporter”.


The terminology associated with waists is a somewhat confusing. Any serious discussion of “waists” must first deal with the confusing use of this word to refer to several different garments. The problem is that contemporary sources odten just used the term "waist" or a variety of different terms. Readers must use the context to determine what item was meant.

Shirt waists

Shirt waists were worn by children and adults at the turn of the 20th century. There were shirt waists worn by younger boys wore in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries. These were usually for boys aged 12 or younger and were called waists because they did not have shirt tails like adult men’s shirts but had buttons at the waist for the attachment of short trousers or knickers. The term "waists" was commonly used which means that the same term was used for these waists as for underwear waists. Onlt the context indicates which type of waist was meant. HBC already has a page showing such shirt waists for boys [add link here]. A reader writes, "Yes, women also wore shirtwaists. The boys' version was usually just called a waist, even though it referred to a kind of shirt. The boy's "waist" (= shirt) is just an abbreviated form of "shirtwaist". The term shirtwaist would be understood mainly as a women's garment." In fact shirt waists entered into American history because the best known industrial accident in America was the fire at the Triangle Waist Factory in New York City where girls and young women were laboring for minimal wages to help their families survive. The Triange fire was not just a horific inductrial accident, many see it as the beginning of the New Deal. Sears offerred boys' waists in 1902. Latter we notice Sears offering button-on waists for boys in 1930.


The term “waist” as we are dissusing it as an underwear garment referred to a sleeveless child’s undergarment or bodice which covered the upper body and had buttons around the waist line for attaching other garments such as skirts, short trousers, underpants or panties. These underwaists also had garter tabs for the attachment of hose supporters or else had the hose supporters already built in as part of the garment. If the garters were not already part of the construction (as usually they were not), these underwaists had tape loops, eyeleted tabs, or pin tubes at the sides so that separate hose supporters could be attached at the hip. An example here is the Sears underwaists in 1929. This ad shows the variety of underwaists made, illustrates some of the gender implications.


These underwaists for younger children, both boys and girls, were often referred to as “pantywaists” because of their provision for the buttoning on of underpants or panties. Older boys objected to wearing them because their playmates would often ridicule them for having to wear a garment that they considered too girlish and feminine—hence the term “pantywaist” as a term of derision for a boy who was kept too long in the unisex underwaist as a means of supporting his long stockings and other clothing.

Waist union suit

A "waist suit" or "waist union suit" (the two terms are interchageable) is a sub-category of "union suit" for children between the ages of 2 and about 14 (although some waist suits were made for boys as old as 16). Ordinary union suits for children were simply smaller versions of the union suits that adults wore. These came mostly with long legs and long sleeves although some models had short legs and short sleeves. They were one-piece underwear that combined undershirts and drawers in a single garment and had a buttoned flap opening in the rear or else a buttoned drop seat. They were popular with both children and adults because the one-piece garment had no bunching up or double layering at the waist as separate undershirts and drawers did. Ordinary union suits had no provision for the attachment of other clothing. The waist suit (or waist union suit) was like an ordinary union suit in all respects but one, but it almost always had reinforcement straps over the shoulders to support other clothing such as shorts, skirts, and long stockings. Most waist suits had additional buttons at the sides for holding up trousers or skirts plus pin tubes or tape loops for the attachment of hose supporters. The advantage of the waist suit was that children didn't have to wear a separate garter waist if they were wearing long stockings. The waist suit went out of style by about 1945 because by then boys and girls, at least for the most part, had stopped wearing long stockings, which had been replaced entirely by knee socks or ankle socks.


At this time we do not have details on the chronology of these garments. We believe that they appeared in the late 19th century, but we have few details at this time. We notice the term "union-suit" being used in the 1890s. We notice the term "waists" or "waist-suits" in reference to underwear being used in the 1910s, but are not sure yet when the term was first used. They were commonly worn through the 1910s, but began to decline in popularity during the 1930s. By the 1940s the onkly waist-type garment still worn were long stocking supporters, but even these had become increasingly rare.


We note two basis types of waists, over-the-shoulder waists and suspender waists. There were other styles and associated garments such as garter waists specifically designed as stocking supporters.

Over the shoulder waists

Over the shoulder waists were waists styled like a kind of undershirt. The Stuart's 1915 waists seen here are examples of these waists. Other examples from Canada were offered in the Eaton's 1919 catalog. We notice similar stykes offered in the Wards 1922 catalog. Underwaists came in various styles. Some, buttoning down the front, were designed mainly for boys. Some slipped over the head and had no closure at all. Some were designed to be buttoned in back. These latter were apparently more popular with girls. But many underwaists were unisex and could be worn by either boys or girls. A few had a button closure at the shoulder to allow for a child’s growth. Some were made of cotton jean material. Others were of knit design and had the advantage of being warmer and stretchier. Most had detachable hose supporters or attachment devices for adding the garters. But a few had built-in garters. See, for instance, the 1919 Eaton’s summer waist for boys [image attached separately].

Suspender waists

Because of the unpopularity of the traditional underwaist with older boys (usually those ten years of age or older), “suspender waists” were developed that proved more acceptable to boys from about 10 to as old as 16 or 17 (and even in a few cases 18). These were harness-like garments with over-the-shoulder straps and a waist band from which hose supporters descended. From about 1880 to 1920 boys older than 6 years of age usually wore long stockings with their knee pants or knickers and needed a more adult means of keeping up their hosiery. HBC shows different versions of these “suspender waists” (two of the popular brand names were Kazoo and Samson). [HBC link here] Boys liked them better than the childish underwaists they had worn as small children because they had suspender straps over the shoulders to hold up their trousers (like the suspenders their fathers often wore) while serving also to support the long stockings that had to be worn with knee pants. (Up until the World War I some boys as old as 17 and 18 were still wearing knee pants). The over-the-shoulder style waists, however, were also sometimes worn by younger children, both boys and girls, although the girls’ versions, for obvious reasons, were not designed to hold up trousers.

Garter waists

Harness-style waists, which served mainly to hold up long stockings, were usually made of white tape (black went out of style by the 1920s) and sometimes had a waistband with additional buttons for additional clothing. But they always had hose supporters attached at the sides, usually of the double strap or Y-shaped variety. See the 1902 Sears ad for a belt with hose supporters attached. These garments, which persisted into the 1930s and 1940s in America, came to be referred to usually as “garter waists”. See the HBC page for Sears suspenders and garters waists (1939). There were several styles of these garter waists, but one of the most popular was associated with the name of a pediatrician, Dr. Parker, and was often referred to in the mail order catalogs as “Dr. Parker’s Garter Waist.” This term was used by both Eaton’s and Montgomery Ward’s advertisers. The same style waist was sold by Sears but usually referred to as “Kern’s Dandy” or “Kern’s Daisy” waist. A good example is the Sears Fall and Winter 1940 catalog . There were similar garter waists in the Wards Winter Fall 1941-42 catalogg. The Dr. Parker or Kern’s style waist was designed for both boys and girls and functioned principally as a hose supporter for long stockings. It was made in sizes from 2 to 14 years, although by the 1930s and early 1940s the older wearers of these waists tended to be girls rather than boys, because it was becoming somewhat unusual for boys older than 11 or 12 to wear long stockings with short pants. Some older boys, however, wore long stockings with knickers during this period and therefore still needed to wear garter waists.

Waist union suits

Another type of waist is the “waist suits” or “waist union suits”. These were union suits for children up to the age of about 13 or 14 (for both boys and girls) that came equipped with garter tabs and waist buttons for additional clothing, thus combining the function of the waist or hose supporter with that of traditional one-piece underwear. Good examples are the different styles of waist suits offered by Sexton in 1921, Nazareth in 1929, and Haines in 1933. Another example is the Sears 1938-39 Fall and Winter catalog Also see the HBC pages on Nazareth and Hanes waist suits (advertised in Parents Magazine).[Links here] Waists suits were made in both winter and summer styles (nainsook, with short legs, for summer; cotton knit, with long legs or short legs, for winter).


This term is sometimes used to refer to waists with hose supporters already attached to them or simply to the garters alone that were sold separately with safety pins at the top so that they could be attached to underwaists or waist union suits. Garters wore out more quickly than the waists to which they were fastened because the elastic gave out with heavy use. Therefore new garters were often purchased to replace the old ones. See the HBC ad for Sears pin-on garters (1939). Some garter waists and all old-fashioned underwaists had pin tubes or metal eyelets for the attachment of supporters. These were sold in various age sizes up to and including age 12 and often came in both black and white although, by the 1940s, white was more popular than black.

Combination Suits

Combination suits are not waists. There are, however, some similarities. Both are under garments. The combination suits or union suits are one-piece garments that include both undershirt and underpants. An example is a comination suit offered by Montgomery Ward in 1923. The combination suits serve some of the same function as wists suits as they often had buttons or other devives to support other clothing items.


Some form of waist was obviously necessary for any boy or girl who wore long stockings unless the child’s mother opted for round garters worn around the thighs. Thus the age of boys wearing waists is similar the the age that wore long stockings and this varied iover time. There were also social class factors. Poorer families sometimes used the round garter option, but it was discouraged because of the discomfort and danger of restricting the blood vessels. Some disadvantaged children in America seem to have worn long stockings pinned directly to their underwear. This also seems to have been common in Europe. This practice was, however, obviously a make-shift measure and impractical because the stockings got torn by the pinning. Most children needed hose supporters if they wore long stockings. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century boys as old as 18 still wore above-the-knee knickers or knee pants and therefore had to wear a waist of some sort. There were different styles availavle and boys of different ages tended to wear different styles. Here we have some information because the catalogs of the period included age ranges with their waist advertisements. The 1915 Suarts catalog offered thgese waists in sizes up to 8 years of age. In the mid-1940s when long stockings for children went out of style, waists were no longer necessary. During the 1930s and early 1940s most younger boys (up to about age 8 or 9) continued to wear the traditional underwaist or “pantywaist” but then graduated to the Dr. Parker’s or Kern’s style waist which was available in sizes up to 14. Some mothers, however, preferred the Dr. Parker style even for very young children, so there was some overlap. Increasingly (in the early 1940s), the harness-style waist with hose supporters became more of a girl’s than a boy’s garment. It is interesting to note, however, that the Sears and Montgomery Wards advertisements for garter waists from about 1937 to 1942 feature boy models at least as prominently—and sometimes more prominently—than girls. This is perhaps explainable as a means of emphasizing the strength and durability of the hose supporters being offered for sale. After World War II, of course, girls continued to wear long stockings, but at about the age of 15 they graduated to adult-style garter belts such as their mothers wore.

Figure 2.--These two waists were offered in the 1915 Stuart's catalog. Both of these waist styles were for boys.


Both boys and girls wore them. Some of these waists were made for boys or girls. Other were gender specific. Some were obviouly made for girls. These might have ribbon and lace trim. Others were quite plain. These could be worn by either biys or girls. Waists were made in several different styles. HBC has noted different trim and detailong that was obviouly made for girls. There were actual design differences as well. As a result we notice waists made specififivally for girls as well as other specifically for boys. In addition there were other waists made for children that could be worn by both boys and girls.

Brand Names


HBC does not yet have complete information about waists. One 1915 catalog adverties waists made in cambric, cambric jean, jean, and twill material.


We note some differences in these garments in different countries.

America: Waist Suits

As late as the early and mid 1940s, Sears was still advertising a wide variety of children's waist suits, worn by both boys and girls (sometims in different models for the two genders but not always). These suits were mostly union suits with both long and short legs (some also having short sleeves) that were designed not only as winter underwear but also with buttons for attaching outer clothing such as short pants and skirts and with garter tabs for attaching hose supporters so that long stockings could be worn without the use of a separate garter waist. (This is why they were called waist suits.) Most of these suits were meant for children between the ages of 2 and 12, but one model of waist union suit was advertised for boys and girls as old as 16, which shows that at least in a few cases boys as old as 16 still wore long stockings. We note waist suits being offered in the Sears catalog during 1941

Britain: Liberty Bodice

The "Liberty Bodice" was the British version of the German Leibchen. This garment was fairly standard for children in the United Kingdom from about 1908 until the later 1920s although it was more favored by school girls than by boys. It was a bodice made of heavy cotton with reinforced straps over the shoulders that came all the way down to the waist. Buttons were usually sewn onto the straps for the support of other clothing. It didn't normally come with hose supporters already attached, but elastic tapes or "suspenders" (the British term for hose supporters) could be fastened onto the straps by means of buttons for the support of long stockings. Most schoolboys older than 8 or 9 years began wearing knee socks with short pants shortly before World War I and therefore no longer needed the "liberty bodice"; but girls continued to wear them up through the 1930s and 1940s until about the age of 14 because their uniforms often required long black cotton stockings. May girl scout uniforms in Britain included black stockings.

Germany: Leibchen

One garment discussed in the German clothing section was a "Leibchen"--a vest-like garment worn under a boy's shirt to which hose supporters were sewn or otherwise attached. (I don't believe the German boys had safety pins at the tops of their garters as the American boys usually did.) The Leibchen ordinarily buttoned up the back and was apparently made of some sturdy material (jean cloth?) that would take the strain of the attached hose supporters. This may be the garment which the two cyclists in your pages on German Long Stockings are wearing although one of your German contributors in "Long Stockings: Length" mentions that older boys "had shorter garters fixed at a waist belt similar to that worn by their mothers, but of course without all the adornment of women's garter belts." Note that the stockings are very long in these pictures and that the supporters fasten very high on the leg under very short shorts. Some of these Leibchens appear to have only two garters in front--one for each stocking--while others seem to have four garters--two for each stocking. This latter is apparently the case with the cyclist pictured in "Long Stockings: German Trends--figure 4.¯ You mention that it would be very helpful to obtain pictures of these Leibchens or more grown-up garter belts from some German catalogue of children's clothes from the 1940s or 50s. Perhaps one of your German readers can supply such images. We have few actual images showing a leibchen, but they are depicted in German films with accurate costuming. One example is the World War II drama Aimée & Jaguar (1998).


One of the best sources of information on waists are clothing catalogs. Unlike most other garments discussed by HBC we can not use photographs, one of our primary sources, to assess this type of waists. Thus the primary source of information is clothing catalogs.

Stuart's 1915 catalog

Stuarts in 1915 offered several styles of waists for boys and girls. The illustrations suggest that they were widely worn by both boys and girls. Most of thecstyles on this page were for children from 2 to 8 years. HBC is waists were offered on other pahes for older children.

Ward's 1922 catalog

Wards in 1922 several styles of waists for boys and girls. The plavement on a girls' underwear page suggest that they were primarily worn by girls. At least one style, however, was deemed suitable for either girls or boys.


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Created: 9:21 PM 9/16/2004
Last updated: 6:33 PM 12/28/2005