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.
The most prominent country where long stockings were worn was Germany. A major factor was of course Germany's northern location and resulting cold climate. This was also in part because German boys mostly wore short pants all year round. Apparently German mothers were more concerned about their boys wearing short pants during the winter than British mothers. Photographs from the 1930s show entire classes of boys wearing shorts and long stockings during the winter months. The fashion continued in Germany after World War II although we have only limited informnation at this time as to how common it was. Preliminary reports suggest that long stockings were worn in the GFR (West Germany) through the 1950s. Tights appeared in the late 1950s and soon replaced long stockings. HBC believes that long
stockings were also worn in the DDR and we believed were not relaced by tights until some years later.
Long stockings were very commonly worn by German children, especially in cold weather. It was necessary to develop some way of holding up the children's longstockings. In several places on HBC pages, there has been mention of the German Leibchen for holding up long stockings, but there are no clear images of these garments, although they have been described by several readers.
The German Leibchen is certainly the equivalent of an American underwaist.
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. If we're talking about a child (either boy or girl) ten years old or younger, the Leibchen worn would be essentially a simple sleeveless bodice, buttoning either in back or in front, with four garter straps--two in front and two in back (although a
few had only two straps in front or on the side). These straps could either have graduated button-holes in them to attach to white buttons sewn on the tops of the stockings or have traditional metal clasps (rubber button and loop) to attach to the top of the stocking. Boys and girls wore pretty much the same type of Leibchen. It was worn on top of other underwear.
The German Leibchen was usually white or cream-colored.
A reader writes, "A problem with leibchen is that it that they could be too large or too narrow, especially with a rapidly growing child. In a large family, the same leibchen might be used by many children. Suspenders were much more adjustable. Leibchen seems to have been very useful in winter because this wool jacket was a warm undergarment. We should remember that schools were not as warm as today during those days."
We do not yet have any information on the 19th century during which many German children extensively wore long stockings. We note different styles of leibchen during the 20th century and have developed some basic information on this period. The boy here wears a Liebchen from the period 1910-25 (figure 1). It is a white cotton sleeveless jacket which buttons down the front, over a long-sleeved union suit. His dark brown stockings are woolen and are held up by garter straps attached to the Leibchen at each side of his waist. This garment was more or less universal for the last decade of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, since most German boys who wore knee pants or short pants during this period wore them with long stockings. We note two different styles of Leibchen from the period of the 1920s and 30s. The images of German Leibchen come from the German Hosiery Museum site. They are undated but are mainly from the period 1930-50. However, the German Leibchen is such a basic garment that I don't think it really changed very much during the first half of the 20th century. The style at the top, made of white cotton material, buttons down the front like the Leibchen in the first image. No hose supporters are shown but they would be attached probably at the sides. We note two different styles of Leibchen from the period of the 1920s and 30s. A HBC reader came across this photo illustrating the a young boy wearing a Leibchen in some discarded pages from an old German magazine. The date is 1943, but the name of the magazine is unfortunately lost. The girl here wears a more modern Leibchen dating from the 1950s. It is a sleeveless vest made of cotton (sateen apparently) with reinforcing straps over the shoulders to which four hose supporters, two in front and two in back, are attached.
The model is a girl (note that the garment is a pale shade of pink), but a similar same kind of Leibchen was made for boys in grey or white shades. The information from Germany tells us that boys were often unhappy about having to wear long stockings with this sort of undergarment because they regarded the practice as too feminine. But German mothers, particularly mothers in the more rural areas, tended to insist of their boys wearing long stockings in the colder months, and this made wearing a Leibchen more or less unavoidable, so the boys had to put up with the practice. Note that this Leibchen comes down fairly low over the hips so that the elastic hose supporters can be correspondingly short.
A girl is shown here wearing a pink Leibchen (figure 2), but the same garment was manufactured in Germany in white or grey for boys.
The girl her holds up a package wwhich reads "Volks-socke". This meand People's Socks. I'm not sure, but this may be a brand name.
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.
German Leibchen from about the 1910s up through the 1940s and 1950s were often homemade garments although they could also be purchased commerically in shops and stores. We note some were crocheted. We do not, however, know how common this was. I suspect the fact that they are home crocheted interoduced some variety in the garments, although there presumably were patterns. I do not know to what extent paterns were used in cocheting these garments. Perhaps German readers will know more about them. We have found a vintage crocheted Leibchen from the 1910s. HBC has several references to crocheted Leibchen in German. Note for example a reference by a German reader describing his underwear.
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. Hopefully our German readers can supply such images.
Novels of course are fiction. They are, however, often written in contemporary times by people who were children in the periods described. Thus they can offer some useful information on period clothing. Actually novels can provide useful information often not covered by fashion historians who usually focus on styles and materials. Novelists can describe reactions to various styles and garments.
A good example here is Monkia Maron. In her book Animal Triste (1996) she descibed the Leibchen worn by boys and girls in the post-World War II era. Older boys in particular objected to wearing them.
Movies are not definitive historical evidence, but they often provide useful images of historical dress. Some are careful about acurate costuming. We have few actual images showing a leibchen, but they are depicted in German films with accurate costuming. We get a bit
of insight into the Leibchen from a few German films. One example is the World War II drama Aimée & Jaguar (1998).
A Dutch reader advises us, "You should be more careful with the spelling of German words.
LIEBCHEN means DARLING, SWEETHEART. The meaning of LEIBCHEN as HBC uses here is a garment. In this case kind of a bodice for children. It also is the diminutive of LEIB (Body).
The German Leibchen discussed here are all the German equivalent of American underwaists and served pretty much the same functions--to hold up button-on trousers or skirts (or underpants) and to provide attachment for garters so that long stockings could be supported. There are a couple of important differences however. The American underwaists always had tape loops, metal eyelets, or pin tubes
so that the hose supporters could be pinned on. The American
supporters almost invariably had a safety pin at the top for this
purpose and then an elastic strap with two pendants at the end so that
every garter had two clasps. American shops and catalogs also sold
underwaists with the garters already pinned on, in which case they were
usually referred to as "garter waists." But the German Leibchen rarely
came with the garters already attached, and the tab for attaching the
garter was usually just a firmly sewed on button. In the 1930s and
1940s some Leibchen could be purchased with hose supporters
(Strumpfhalter) with metal clips already sewn on, but these seem to
have been the exception. Most German mothers bought elastic straps
("Strapse") with button-holes spaced at short intervals so that length
could be adjusted. One end of the strap buttoned onto the Leibchen
button and the other end buttoned on to a large button or "Knopf" sewn
to the top of the stocking. You can see the garter buttons at the
sides of all of these Leibchens, but the garters themselves are not
part of the garment. Another important difference from American
underwaists is that most German Leibchen come down only a little over
the rib cage and don't extend all the way to the waist although there
was some variation in the degree of shortness. If boys wore very long
stockings, covering almost the whole of the upper leg, they needed long
garters suspended from the lower chest rather than the waist. One of
our German readers explains this principle in his account of personal
experiences. See his discussion of wearing long stockings under long
We have noticed a number of individual accounts of Germans recalling their childhood experiences. Several recall the long stockings and Leibchen they wore.
A HBC reader, Hans, has provided us a fascinated account of his boyhood experiences and clothing in Germany. This includes an interesting and very important section on "underwear" which has a valuable description of the German Leibchen. A reader has found several interesting accounts on the internet asnd has translasted some of the German-text sites.
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