United States Boys' Clothes: Charles--Individual Experiences (1930s-40s)

Figure 1.--This boy was 2-3 years younger than I whom I knew for a time as a playmate. He is wearing tan long stockings with supporters, one clasp (the rubber button) of which you can detect just at the hem of his short pants. As he was only about 5 or 6 at the time, he probably was wearing a skeleton waist or its equivalent. This photo dates from about 1935-36.

I am particularly fascinated by HBC's treatment, both foreign and domestic, of the subject of boys wearing long stockings with hose supporters. I hope I can make a minor contribution to your information on this topic based on my boyhood experiences and subsequent study and perhaps correct a few misconceptions. When mentioning specific HBC web pages, I give the precise references in a series of footnotes at the end of this letter. I number the illustrations I have enclosed, designating them Fig. 1, Fig. 2, Fig. 3 etc.

American Historical Trends

There is a great deal of historical information on HBC about American long stockings which were so common in the late 19th and early 20th century. Of course styles and conventions changed over time. I think one good indication of conventions in the early 20th century is a portrait of two Pittsburgh brothers in 1906. There at many other similar images on HBC illustrating contemprary styles and fashion.

About Me

I was born in 1927 and grew up mostly in the northeastern United States during the 1930s and 40s when long stockings were commonly worn with short trousers by school boys. See for example "U.S. Long Stockings: Inter-War Era (1919-45)"--figure 3. On your page entitled "U.S. Long Stockings: Post-War Era (1945-50)", you report, "I was a boy" in the 1940s and "never saw a boy wearing long stockings when I grew up in Washington, D.C." Like the boy with the airplane on this page or the boy with the Eton collar (also on this page) in the advertisements taken from Sears catalogues of the 1940s. You are of course correct to note that it was a bit unusual for older boys to wear stockings with supporters during this period, although younger boys often did. It was indeed a minority style for boys aged 9-13, the usual alternative being corduroy knickers with patterned knee socks. But I remember seeing a few older boys in long stockings during the 1940s, and I wore them myself until I was about 12 or 13. [HBC note: Here the timing is very important. I was born in 1943 and my actual clothing memories begin about the time I entered school in 1949 or perhaps a year before in 1948. Thus I probably should have said that my recollections were more of the 1950s and by that time boys no longer wore long stockings--at lear where I lived. I think that in the early 40s boys did still wear long stockings although a minority. There were also of copurse significant regional differences.] At age 13 I was sent off to a college preparatory boarding school in the Midwest where most of the boys wore either long pants or knickers. This was late in 1941. I graduated directly from shorts with long stockings held up by supporters to long trousers at about age 13. I never heard of any boy in America wearing long stockings under long trousers. Long underwear (a long-legged union suit) was the rule if the weather were cold and a boy needed extra warmth under long pants.

Blouses and Shirts

On occassion I wore shirts with Eton collars. I think my mother referred to these as "blouses" when I was a little boy. Up to about the age of 7 or 8, I think they did button onto short trousers. When I was about ten or so, I think they were regular tuck-in shirts without waist buttons. Button-on shorts weren't worn much beyond the first and second grade. I wore regular shirts with ties by at least the age of 11 and 12 years, not Eton collars. I think I sometimes wore Eton collared shirts with sweaters and without a tie for casual wear and for school. I think other boys wore them too, but, like the long stockings, they were not all that common for boys in the upper primary grades. Of course, part of the time I went to a private rather than a public school, and although no uniforms were required, the dress code was a bit more formal than in public schools. I'm really guessing here because my memory is very imperfect, but I think Eton collars were regarded as a rather upper-class style--perhaps a bit foreign or "English". I did wear an Eton collar sometimes for dress-up occasions with suits, but not much after the age of 10 or 11. I think my shirts were always white, not patterned. I can't recall colored shirts until my teenage years. I hope this helps at bit, but I'm pretty vague on the details of my early blouses and shirts.

My Stockings

My stockings were always cotton, fairly light weight, usually tan or light brown in color, and long enough to reach almost all the way up the leg as shown in the ads from the Sears catalogues. A good example is the long stoclong ad from the 1940 Sears catalog.


You also remark that the supporters were cumbersome, restrictive, and uncomfortable to wear. This was only true, I think, when the stockings were too short (as some makes were) and in consequence would have felt rather tight on the leg. Note that the Sears ads of the period speak of knitting the stockings "extra long" to reduce knee strain and also to avoid the embarrassment of the supporter fasteners showing under the short pants that were getting increasingly shorter. I did not find wearing a garter waist with supporters especially uncomfortable. The garters after all were mostly elastic and gave with bodily movement. See the two boys wearing garter waists from the Sears Fall and Winter catalogue of 1939, p. 275, which are designed to imply stretchiness and elasticity, just as modern elastic suspenders do. (By the way, we boys also often held up our shorts with clip-end suspenders, which may be a reason that several of the Sears ads for supporters, like this one, also include trousers suspenders.) In your pages devoted to German Long Stockings, you show several photographs of teen-age boys wearing hose supporters which clearly don't hinder their movements or cause them physical discomfort; two of the boys are active cyclists. See Long Stockings: German Trends--figure 4. Also see German Long Stockings: Age--figure 1. ¯Also see German Long Stockings: Garments--figure 1. And a third German Long Stockings: Suspension Devices--figure 1. The boy here looks as if he is resting against a tree during a hike or some other strenuous activity.

My Parents

My parents, who travelled frequently in Europe and were, I think, strongly influenced by the common sight of older boys there wearing long stockings with shorts, particularly disliked the corduroy knickers that the majority of the American school boys of my era wore around the age of 11 to 13 in the 1930s and 40s. I wore these knickers once or twice but hated them because the corduroy legs always chafed against each other around the knee area as one walked (the material was rather stiff), making an annoying rubbing noise; and, besides, the cuffed knee socks one had to wear with them were forever falling down and one had constantly to pull them up. My mother thought this style very ugly and somewhat "common" or "lower middle-class" and preferred the neater and trimmer, somewhat more European, look of boys in shorts and long stockings. My dress-up clothes in both New England and Pennsylvania at the same age were very similar to those worn by European boys at the time. There are several good examples archived on various HBC pages. There are not many other American examples, but quite a few European ones. We note Austrian children (1936). We also notice two Czech boys (1936). As well as a German boy (1937). We notice another German boy after the War (1954). My mother's preference for long stockings for her sons was probably influenced by styles like these in Austria, Germany, and other European countries which she and my father sometimes visited during the 1920s and 1930s.

Other Boys

I was not the only boy to wear long stockings into my early teens although there were not very many of us in our school. We did get teased a bit about the white supporters, especially if they showed under our shorts when we sat or stooped down, and were perhaps thought to be wearing a slightly more "snooty," foreign, upper-class, dressy and even more "girlish" style than the boys in knickers. And getting undressed for gym classes made me a bit self-conscious in the locker room. A few of my classmates probably snickered at the sight of me detaching and reattaching the supporters to the tops of my stockings. But the heavy, stiff corduroy knickers were also extremely unpopular, almost equally so in fact, with the boys I knew. What we all wanted, of course, was long pants.

Family Dress Standards

I don't think I was allowed to wear long trousers until almost 14. My parents maintained a fairly strict dress code. I remember that we had to wear white shirts to school, usually with ties, with our shorts. On more formal occasions we wore short-pants suits similar to the suit shown being worn by the older of the two brothers on your page entitled Long Stockings Worn with Short Pants: Type of Shorts--figure 1.¯ Except that my suits were single-breasted rather than double-breasted and the shorts were rather shorter as in the later Sears ads for long stockings. As I remember, we abandoned the long stockings during the summer months, except perhaps for very formal occasions like grown-up parties with adults present, weddings or funerals. Part of my mother's idea, of course, was that our knees be protected from the cold. She used to deplore the cruelty of making English school boys go with bare knees throughout the winter and suffer the chapped redness of chilblains. The long stockings were certainly more comfortable than what British school boys had to endure. I never wore white long stockings except perhaps as a very little boy (2 or 3 years of age). These would have been considered too sissy by my parents. Nevertheless, my mother tended to be quite conservative, maybe even old-fashioned, in the way she allowed her boys to dress. And she was not much influenced by any complaint I might have about the style of my school clothes or what the majority of boys were wearing. In those days, one had to accept the decisions of one's parents and not whine about some style one didn't particularly like.

Garter Waists

I seem to recall that I wore two different types of garter waists to hold up my long stockings.

Younger boy

As a younger boy (up until about age 8) I wore a "skeleton waist" with extra deep arm holes and a strap across the chest like the one shown on the HBC page entitled "American Mail Order Catalogs with Boys Clothing: 1922--Waists"--figure 1.¯ For the same model, see also Sears Spring catalogue of 1930 (p. 115) enclosed; Fig. 2. This had buttons on the waistband to button short trousers to and had eyeletted tabs or "pin tubes" at the sides for fastening the supporters with the safety pins which were at the top of the garters. This waist was made in even sizes for boys up to and including 12 years of age, but I think most boys had abandoned this style by at least age 10. I enclose a photo of a boy two or three years younger than I whom I knew for a time as a playmate; he is wearing tan long stockings with supporters, one clasp (the rubber button) of which you can detect just at the hem of his short pants (figure 1). As he was only about 5 or 6 at the time, he probably was wearing the skeleton waist described above or its equivalent. This photo dates from about 1935-36. See also the slightly earlier colored photograph, dated 1930, which shows a young boy sitting on the hood of a car with an American Automobile Association emblem displayed on the radiator; this boy is wearing a stocking cap, a short winter overcoat (undoubtedly over fairly short shorts) and long grey stockings with hightop shoes. This boy would also probably be wearing the same type of underwaist with supporters attached commonly worn by small boys.

Older boy

As an older boy I wore a more grown-up style of garter waist or at least one worn by older boys (they were also made in younger sizes)--something quite like the garment shown being worn by the girl and boy on your page "U.S. Long Stocking Supporters: Post-War Era (1945-49)--figure 1.¯ with a waistband, shoulder straps that cross in back with a cross-piece across the chest to keep the straps in place and Y-shaped supporters at the sides. I enclose three Xerox images of this second type of waist, the first taken from an older Montgomery Ward catalogue (this image was reprinted in several Wards catalogues: Fall and Winter, 1919-20, Fall and Winter, 1920-21, and Spring and Summer, 1921, pp. 212, 212, and 168 respectively; see Fig. 5). The second and third images come from two more recent Sears and Wards catalogues. The one from the Sears catalogue (Fall and Winter, 1940, p. 695; Fig. 6) is entitled "Kern's Child's Waist" and is offered in sizes up to age 14. Notice that the boy in this image wears a short-legged union suit under his garter waist. The other garter waists on this page are shown being worn over long-john union suits. My mother hated this idea because of the double layers involved (underwear plus stockings) and also because the underwear worn under the stockings bunched up and made a lumpy appearance. The double layering was also too warm to be comfortable indoors--at least in better heated homes. A garter waist of the same style appears in a Wards catalogue, Fall and Winter, 1941-42, p. 250; Fig. 7. This shows a smiling boy with his hands on his hips. (There is a different style in the same ad which I may also have worn--I'm not quite sure--a Cambric waist with metal eyelets to which the supporters are attached.) The main second type of waist (the one with shoulder straps), designed for children up to and including age 14, was sometimes referred to as "Dr. Parker's garter waist" (the catalogues occasionally use this term).®FN1 For further discussion of "Dr. Parker's" garter waist and illustrations, see my follow-up letter enclosed in this envelope.¯ I have no idea who Dr. Parker was (I think he must have designed this type of waist around 1910); but the mention of his name is clearly intended to convey the impression to mothers that this style of hose supporter had been specifically constructed by an authority in the medical profession with the posture, freedom of movement, and general health of the child in mind. There had apparently been some negative criticism of earlier styles as binding too much and making for stooped posture in children. One of the ideas of Dr. Parker's style of waist also appears to have been the keeping boys' shoulders back and upright as a shoulder brace would do (in those days boys were always being admonished to keep their shoulders back in military fashion). But I think this advertising claim is specious. The tape straps were light-weight and didn't have any noticeable effect on my posture as I remember. But there was a general feeling among some parents that their children should be wearing scientifically designed underwear and that long stockings were a sound way of protecting boys from colds or other common childhood maladies.

Dr. Parker Waists

The earliest illustration of Dr. Parker's waist that I could locate appears in an ad from an Eaton catalogue, the Canadian equivalent of Sears & Roebuck, which I enclose (Fig. 8). Unfortunately I have to guess at the date of the advertisement because my copy of the Eaton catalogue is damaged and incomplete. But on the basis of other clues I would judge it to be from about 1910 to perhaps 1918. I know that the Eaton catalogues from this period have been microfilmed, so it might be possible to find a more precise date by consulting the set of Eaton reels now housed in the Toronto Public Library (and doubtless elsewhere in Canada). What I find interesting about this illustration is that the "Skeleton Waist" shown in the image is being worn by an older boy (perhaps 10 or 11, although it is difficult to judge) and that the dark stockings he wears come up quite high on the thigh so that only relatively short supporters are necessary. This would seem to indicate that even as early as the first two decades of the 20th century, some boys wore quite long stockings and not only the ones that came to just above the knee as in some of your other images from the same period. A photograph of two unnamed Pittsburgh brothers (aged 14 and 11) which I enclose (see Fig. 9) would seem to confirm the point. This photograph dates from October 1906 and shows the older boy wearing knickers buckled below the knee, whereas the younger brother wears a short-pants double-breasted suit with an Eton collar and quite long black stockings that reach fairly high above his knees. He might well be wearing a Dr. Parker-style garter waist underneath his suit of the kind shown in the Eaton catalogue advertisement. Three much later ads from the Montgomery Ward catalogues (Ward's Fall and Winter, 1935-36, p. 138; Ward's Fall and Winter, 1936-37, p. 143; Ward's Spring and Summer, 1937, p. 158; see Fig. 10) all illustrate a more recent version of "Dr. Parker's Garter Waist". This style of waist became so common in the 1930s and 40s that it apparently ceased to be associated with Parker's name. But Parker seems to have been connected somehow with either its origin or early popularization in North America--in both Canada and the United States. One of the indications of the early date of the Canadian ad is the price of the waist--only 25 cents--a price that had nearly doubled by 1926 (see the same style of waist illustrated in the Ward's Spring & Summer catalog for 1926, p. 131, worn by a much smaller boy; Fig. 11). Of course I have not taken into account a possible difference in the value of the Canadian and American dollar at this time, but my impression is that a rough equivalence obtained. In the 1930s and 40s Sears sold the same type of waist but referred to it usually as "Kern's Daisy button Waist" or "Kern's Child's Waist" (See Sears 1939-40 Fall and Winter catalog, p. 275.)


The waists I have been describing were of course also worn by girls. As you point out, however, there was no real difference between the stockings and supporters worn by both genders. One of your contributors says that the boys' stockings tended to be shorter than the ones the girls wore, but I don't think there was any difference between boys' and girls' stockings in the 1930s and 40s until the girls began to dress more as grown-ups and started to wear hosiery more like that of their mothers, usually sheerer than the cotton stockings worn at an earlier age and often with seams up the back of the leg. When girls reached this stage, they switched from children's garter waists with Y-shaped supporters to adult garter belts with four individual supporters, usually in some shade of pink. Up until about the age of 14 or 15 there was no distinction--at least in my experience--unless the boys' stockings in some cases might have been a bit sturdier in weight for the rougher treatment they got in boys' schoolyard play. But they were almost invariably the same length--i.e., extra long in both cases--and in my school the boys and girls wore exactly the same kind of stockings (almost always light tan although the girls sometimes wore white).

Waist Union Suits

During the 1930s and 40s there was also a kind of "waist union suit" that some boys wore. This eliminated the need for a separate garter waist, because these union suits (made for boys up through the age of 13) had reinforced straps over the shoulders to take the strain of supporters, which were attached at the end of the built-in straps by safety pins--either to metal "pin tubes" or at a slightly earlier period to tape loops sewn onto the sides of the underwear. A good example is the Nazareth suit. I never wore these waist union suits (some boys I knew did, I believe) because it was much more comfortable to have a separate waist for garters that didn't interfere with or pull on one's underwear. But of course if you wore a waist union suit, you saved your parents money by wearing one garment for the price of two. Waist union suits were made both in knitted style (with short or long legs) and in summer BVD-style (much lighter weight and with short legs only); both styles had attachments for hose supporters, which were occasionally worn with long stockings even in the hotter months (for more formal affairs usually, such as church services or birthday parties).

I also enclose a few illustrations taken from Sears and Ward's catalogues to show the "waist union suits" (also mentioned in my first letter) that were invented in the early 1920s and were still in use until the early 1940s. These union suits, manufactured in both summer and winter styles, were nearly all equipped with garter tabs, either tape loops or "rustproof metal pinning tubes" to which supporters could be attached, thus eliminating the need for a separate garter waist. As I mentioned in my first letter, I never wore these suits myself. My mother thought that separate garter waists were more efficient and more comfortable to wear. But some boys wore waist suits because during the Great Depression budgets for boys' underwear were stringent and the "waist union suit" was cheaper because one garment obviously did service for two. The earlier waist union suits seem to have been manufactured for use by boys between the ages of 2 and 13 (girls of course wore them also), but notice that one of the enclosed ads (Sears, Fall and Winter, 1941, p. 288; Fig. 12) advertises a waist union suit with garter tabs for children as old as 16. The boy in the picture looks as if he might be about 10 or 11. One of the impracticalities of this particular suit of underwear is that, unlike most of the others in its class, it has no reinforcing straps over the shoulders, so that a boy wearing hose supporters with it would find his union suit pulled out of shape by the strain of the garters. This is one reason, I believe, that my mother didn't buy these suits for me. It is interesting also to note that the summer style of waist union suit went out of style much earlier than the winter style (the summer examples are mostly from the 1920s; see Figs. 13 and 14), which would seem to indicate that the wearing of long stockings in the summer months when a boy would be wearing the cooler "athletic-style" waist union suit made of "checked nainsook" material fell out of fashion, even for formal occasions. By the early 1930s the summer-style waist union suit made of nainsook and resembling a junior version of men's BVDs seems to have disappeared. The knit style of waist union suit (mostly worn in winter), however, continued to be worn into the early 1940s (see the examples from the Sears winter catalogues of 1940-41, pp. 316-17, and of 1942, p. 359c; see Figs. 15 and 16). Notice, however, that the 1942 Sears ad for waist union suits offers them in four different styles-- (1) a trunk length with short sleeves, (2) a mid-thigh length with short sleeves, (3) an ankle-length suit with short sleeves, and (4) an ankle-length long-sleeved style (the last worn by the oldest boy in the photo). All four styles come with "rustproof garter tubes" (Fig. 16) for the attachment of hose supporters. The shorter winter styles (short sleeves and short legs) might perhaps have been worn by boys in the summer also, although I rather doubt it. I think that by this point in history long stockings for boys were strictly a cold-weather phenomenon and that in summer boys wore short pants with either ankle socks or knee socks.

Vest-Like Garment

One further point may be of some use. You describe the German boys' wearing of 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. But in the meantime you can get a vague idea of what these garments looked like from a recent German movie set in Berlin during World War II. It is called Aimée & Jaguar (1998) and depicts an affair between a married German housewife whose husband is a soldier fighting at the front and a Jewish secretary (her ethnic identity is of course concealed) who works for a NAZI newspaper. The costuming is very accurate historically. The housewife is the mother of several boys who are shown wearing long stockings in winter with their hose supporters showing under their short pants in some cases--once in a Christmas scene in which the children are playing with their toys on the floor and again at the Berlin zoo where they are playing outdoors with toy sail boats. One scene shows the father sitting on the edge of the bed where one of his sons is sleeping. In the background, hanging over the head of the bedstead, is a Leibchen which the boy will wear the next day to hold his long stockings up. It appears to be a white sleeveless vest-like garment to which four rather short hose supporters are attached, presumably two for each stocking. This is the closest I've been able to come to an image of the Leibchen, but it may throw a bit of light on the subject. See also "German Boys clothes: Garments Leibchen"

Boyhood Memories

HBC has a number of pages about the stocking supporters that boys wore to hold up long stockings. Most of these pages describe the advertisements and catalog offerings and ionclude information about age and construction. HBC has very few pages describing what boys wearing these gsarments actually thought abour these suporters. I wore long stockings as a boy and do have some recollections about the stocking supporters I wore to keep them up. Here are some random thoughts and imperfect memories as I was of course quite young.

Stocking Length

In order to document further the point that boys' stockings were knit extra long during the 1930s and 40s, one can look at the long stockings display in the Sears Fall and Winter catalogue for 1940-41, p. 337, in which a boy riding his wagon wears fairly short shorts and thigh-long tan cotton stockings. The ad copy even mentions that the stockings offered can be worn with short clothing. The Ward's catalogues from this period also make a point of the added length of their stockings: the Ward's Fall and Winter catalogue for 1933-34 advertises "Extra Long Playhards" noting, "Mothers know that these sturdy stockings do away with the unsightly garters peeping out from under the popular short skirts or pants" (p. 132). The 1936-37 Ward's Fall and Winter catalogue boasts that their "extra long" stockings "eliminate garter strain" (p. 181); the Ward's Fall and Winter catalogue for 1937-38 says that the "Extra Length" of their children's stockings means that "Garters won't show with short clothes" (p. 209), and their analogous catalogue for 1940-41 contains an advertisement for "Extra Long" stockings that "Come well over the knee so garters won't show" (p. 253). This involved boys wearing all kinds of short pants. Mostly these long stockings were worn during the winter for warmth. They were also worn as part of formal attire for special occassions like First Communnion or weddings. In all such cases the long stockings needed to be high enough so the top did not show. Rather strange if you thibk about it, as many children wore short socks which covered very little of the leg. The idea that thde top of the long stockings would show, however, bothered many children.


I was also interested to learn of the use of tights (especially in Germany and Japan) to replace the boys' long stockings worn before the late 1960s. On your page entitled "First Communion Country Trends: Germany"--figure 1. HBC shows a boy in a white short-pants suit wearing "striped long stockings and strap shoes. HBC dates this photo tentatively in 1950, which seems right to me. The boy could perhaps be wearing extra-long stockings as you suggest, but I think tights a more likely possibility because there is so little wrinkling or unevenness on the legs, even though you state elsewhere that tights didn't become commerically available in Germany until about 1959. I never wore tights under short pants nor did I know anyone in America who did, but in the early 1990s I noticed that a class of school boys in Toronto were wearing dark green tights under their short pants as part of a school uniform, so apparently this custom is still used in the colder parts of Canada. I'd like to know more about long stockings or tights worn by boys as part of their school uniforms, youth groups or street clothes.

Reader Comments

A French reader writes, "Fascinating information. This information about America is virtually unknown here in France. The American era 1930-50 is fascinating." This is of course one of HBC's goals. A great deal of fashioin information is only known within a country. There are similar contributions by French readers so that Americand can read about French trends.



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Created: February 15, 2003
Last updated: 8:35 PM 5/10/2010