German Leibchen: Personal Experiences

Figure 1.--

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. These accounts are valuable reminiscences of the German Leibchen, and, in one case, also of the sailor suit in Germany.

Specific Individuals

We have found these accounts from individual Germans.

Ursula Dickreuther (1930s)

One of these accounts is by a girl who was part of the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth (the League of German Girls), Ursula Dickreuther. Her remarks have been translated by Chris Crawford: During the Third Reich "both girls and boys were equally tortured by the so-called Leibchen, which was a white undershirt with long elastic bands buttoned onto its sides that, in turn, buttoned onto the long stockings. The stockings were held up on the outside of the leg and hung down on the inside of the thigh, which was very uncomfortable. It was a big improvement when they introduced shirts [in the late 1930s] with four garter straps that held the stockings up equally." This statement is part of a description of children's clothing on a website devoted to everyday life in NAZI Germany.

Professor Reinhardt Rudel (1930s)

We have an even fuller account of boy's clothing in 1937 in Swabia by Professor Reinhardt Rudel, who reminisces about the Bleyle sailor suits that he wore as a boy in 1937. The firm of Wilhelm Bleyle manufactured boys' sailor suits in the 1920s and 1930s in Stuttgart--sailor suits that were widely worn all over Germany, especially by middle-class and upper-class boys. When the Bleyle factory closed many years afterwards, Professor Rudel was moved to write a valuable and highly detailed account of his boyhood clothing and how he disliked having to wear a Bleyle sailor suit with long stockings. Our HBC reader has freely translated or in some cases paraphrased the most > interesting parts of Rudel's lengthy account below.

Some German parents wanted to dress their offspring in the style of the last German emperor, William II, who wore sailor suits and established the fashion. German mothers appear to have regarded the sailor suit for their boys as a sort of official decoration from the royal family which they wished to pass on to their sons. I found the costume absurd but still had to put up with it because it was the typical suit for Sundays and holidays but not something one would ever wear to school. The short trousers of the Bleyle sailor suit scratched horribly, and one's thighs after only an hour of wearing them itched constantly. My brother, who was three years older than I, had already joined the Hitler Youth and had acquired the military uniform of that organization. His uniform had broad belt loops with a thick aluminum buckle with "blood and honor" inscribed on the metal. But the Bleyle shorts in contrast had a built-in elastic srip around the waist (like underpants), which made the short trousers even more constrictive to wear.

The winters were always very cold, so one had to wear long stockings with the Bleyle sailor-suit shorts. The long stockings were an ugly shade of brown and made from wool so that they were scratchy also, but not as bad as the trousers because one could not scratch oneself under the stockings as one did under the shorts. The worst part of the stockings was how they were attached. They were fastened to hose supporters or straps which extended in front to the upper part of the leg. And what were the supporters fastened to? A garter belt possibly? No, to a Leibchen! I recall that I often unfastened the garters as soon as I was out of range of my mother's sight. The stockings were then rolled down below the knees, which must have looked rather wrinkled and untidy. But we boys preferred this style to the stockings pulled all the way up our thighs and attached to our garters.

The Leibchen that we had to wear was like a brassiere for boys but of course flat-chested. It was made of white double linen and fastened in front with three large white buttons, metalic disks, that were covered with thin canvas. One wore it fastened on top of an undershirt, but it did not reach all the way down to the waistband of our underpants. Here a world-shattering question arose about how to wear the Leibchen. Should one wear the garters underneath one's underpants or on top of them? In the case of ladies' corsets the hose supporters are attached in the area of the groin so that there are no problems when sitting. In the case of the Leibchen, however, with its much higher fastened garters, the elastic supporters stretched like a bow-curve across the groin when one sat down. This effect could be lessened if one wore the garters inside one's underpants, but the disadvantage of this method was that the supporters rubbed against one's thighs with every step taken in walking. It was as if one had become a hunter carrying the carcass of a deer, the friction was so uncomfortable.

If the Leibchen had been freshly laundered with a bit of starch, the garters by contrast looked really ugly. They were gray, broad elastic straps with a regular sequence of button-holes, vertically arranged in the center, so that one could attach them to buttons on the Leibchen. If the proper button-hole had worn out, the elastic garter strap could snap away from the bodice, so that one had to hold the elasticized waist of the sailor-suit out from the body and with the other hand go searching for the loose hose supporter under the trousers. One could also try to pull the loose garter upwards towards the waist, a maneuver that created embarrassing situtations in public. There were also frequently problems at the lower end of the garter where it attached to the stocking top. The elastic strap was of poor quality because of war shortages and could sometimes tear so that the rubber button on the underside of the stocking top would come out of its button-hole, be loosened from the stocking, come off and be lost. If one couldn't find the button again, one would take makeshift measures and use a Pfennig (a small coin) to substitute for the lost button. All this was done so that boys could run around during the winter months wearing sailor-suit short trousers with long stockings. When boys grew a little too rapidly, gaps started to appear between the stocking tops and the hem of their shorts. This situation produced the ugly and uncomfortable blue-red stripes on the upper leg--red from the friction of the scratchy trousers and blue from the cold weather. Who has ever seen a genuine sailor wearing short trousers with long stockings with a bit of red and blue skin (from irritation and chill) showing between the hem of the trousers and the tops of the stockings?

Above the sailor-suit trousers, things were not much better. A scratchy sailor middy was pulled over the undershirt and Leibchen. Here I must insert a word of praise for my mother. She had actually found me undershirts with short sleeves so that the pullover-middy with its absurd back flap scratched at least only at the neck and not also on the shoulders. The comic finishing touch to the whole getup was the tie. It consisted of black silk, which was held in place by a woggle knot so that the two ends could be kept of equal length. But it was easy to lose the woggle which could not easily be replaced. The crowning conclusion to the sailor outfit was the sailor cap with the label "navy" on it and two black ribbons at the back. This horrible thing, however, I could totally dispense with forever once the holiday photo had been taken."

Professor Dr. Reinhardt Reudel (March, 1999) Professor Reudel is speaking of the year 1937 in NAZI Germany when he would have been about 10 or 11 years old.

Unidentified boy (1930s)

The snapshot here is undated and we do not know what country it was from. We suspect that it may have been Germany in the 1930s, The stockings are a bit short for the 1940s. The boy here seems to be wearing a Leibchen with two garter straps--one for each leg. Notice that the clasp of the hose supporter is the traditional manufactured type (rubber button and wire loop) rather than the elastic strap with graduated button holes that attaches to a button (or Waschknopf) sewn onto the stocking top. The unidentified boy seems to be about 7-8 years old.

Hans (1940s)

This includes an interesting and very important section on "underwear" which has a valuable description of the German Leibchen. "Our family photographs show me wearing a wide range of clothing and outfits. They are a very good representaion of what a middle class German boy wore before, during, and after World War II. Here are some specific details about the clothes I wore as a boy. My father obviously was rather fond of the sailor style as he bought them and sent them as gifts."

Reader Comments

HBC is a wonferful archive of photographs from all over the world. Unfirtunately we can only attemp to deduce information from these images. thus actual written accounts are very helpfuk. A reader writes, "HBC doesn't often get so much detail about German boys' clothes in the 1930s. I hadn't realized that there was so much hatred of the sailor suit on the part of boys in 1937--assuming that Prof. Reudel was a typical wearer. I think it was partly because the sailor suit was conservative in 1937 and very much a dress-up suit for Sundays and holidays. Reudel hated the scratchiness of the wool particularly and also of course the complication of the Leibchen and the garters for long stockings. I wonder how typical this attitude was. Many German boys (Hans, for instance) just accepted long stockings and the Leibchen necessary for them as an entirely normal part of boys' clothing. The 1948 class from Saxony (the photo of which I also sent you yesterday), many of whom wore long stockings with a Leibchen, don't seem to have minded this dress too much. But of course they may have had no choice. I didn't complain that much about wearing long stockings with garters during the same period even though the style was not all that common in my later childhood in New England and Pennsylvania. Of course I didn't have to put up with the scratchiness that Prof Reudel complains of (my stockings were cotton, not wool), and we didn't have the same problems with the hose supporters that he complains of either. The American hose supporters didn't cause so much discomfort or so easily come undone as he describes."


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Created: 2:10 AM 5/30/2006
Last updated: 2:41 PM 2/14/2008