Figure 1.-- This is a vintage Leibchen from the 1910s. 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. This one is interesting because it was made from a paper fabric. The World War I Royal Navy blockade cut German off from all sorts of raw materials. One of these was cotton. German scientists managed to develop a rather durable cloth based on paper. Source: Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM).
Here we see a vintage German child's Leibchen. This was a kind of stocking supporter widely worn by German children. 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. Long stockins were commonly worn by German children, both boys and girls. The purpose of the Leibchen was to hold up long stockings. Thus the chronology of these garments is strongly associated with the wearing of long stockings in Germany. A HBC reader tells us that this is a photo of an actual 1916-17 Leibcehen. It is interesting because it was made from a paper fabric. The World War I Royal Navy blockade cut German off from all sorts of raw materials. One of these was cotton. German scientists managed to develop a rather durable cloth based on paper. The garment shown here is yellowed because of age, but it was apparently white in its original state. Boys wore Leibchen in Germany usually up through the age of 10 years, and in some cases, 12. A number of points are worth discussing concerning the construction of this crocheted Leibchen.
Long stockings were commonly worn by German children, both boys and girls. The purpose of the Leibchen was to hold up long stockings. Thus the chronology of these garments is strongly associated with the wearing of long stockings in Germany.
A HBC reader tells us that this is a photo of an actual 1916-17 Leibcehen. The Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) dates it to 1916-17. Unfortunately I'm not sure just how the garment was dated. Perhaps there was a note or letter associated with the garment or consignment. Or perhaps this is based on the period that Papiergewebe (paper fabric) was produced during the War.
The naval war is generally considered a side show in World War I. In fact it was a critical part of the war, especially the naval blockade of Germany. The principal impact of the naval war was Britain's ability to use the Royal Navy to blockade Germany. The British when the Germans invaded Belgium (August 1914), had only a small force to send accross the Channel to assit the Belgians and French. The British Expodintinary Force (BEF) was a small but effective force which played an important role as did the Belgian Army, but if the Germans were to be stopped it would have to be done by the French Army. What the British did have was the Royal Navy. The Government ordered the Royal Navy to immediately cut the flow of raw materials and foodstuffs to Germany. The blockade would not effect the German offensive, but it was the launch of a war of attrition which would ultimately play a major role in the Allied victory. The Royal Navy was issued contraband lists. The Royal Navy patrolled the North Sea and intercepted cargo vessels suspected of carrying cargo destined for Germany. The British also layed minefields to sink German ships and force neutrals to comply with the terms of the blockade. The British subsequently declared the North Sea a British 'military area' (November 3, 1914). Neutral shipping thus had to enter British ports for inspection. Ships without contrband were then escorted through the North Sea minefields.The British blockade crippled the German economy. Food shortages in Germany became severe as early as 1916. The German Government never introduced an effective rationing system ensure that the privations were equitably shared. And the conscription program did not take into account the need to maintain agricultural production. Most German civilians by late 1916 were increasingly affected by the War. By the end of the War food shortges were at crisis levels. Mlnutrition affected many and real starvation loomed. Without a surface fleet strong enough to challenge the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet, the Germans at sea were left with only one response--unrestricted submarine warfare. This had the impact of alienting neutrals--most importantly the United States. The Allies continued the blockade even after the Armistice to ensure German compliance and acceptance of the Versailles Peace Treaty.
The diversion of manpower and resources for the war effort afected the civilian economy. This was also the case in all combatant countries. The situation in Germany, however, was aggrevated by several factors. The preminent factor was the Allied naval blockade. The British and French had access to suppliers in America (American only entered the War in 1917) and ther neutral countries. The Germans did not. This had a major impact on the German economy as raw material and food shortages grew as the War dragged on. Surprisingly given the shortages caused by the Allied naval blockade, the Germans did not use their available resources efficently. Not only could the Germans no longer import food, but conscription of farm laborers had serious reduced agricultural production. This was combined with the failure to implement a rationing system. The Germans also did mobilize women for war work as did the British and Americans. By 1917 there was wide-spread hunger in Germany. Even potatos were in short supply. Many people were barely surviving on the less nutritious turnip. A German reader reports, "My great aunt (she is 92) told me, that for the people year 1917 was the worst: there was nothing to eat!"
Much of the discussion of German World War I shoertages concerns food because of the significant impact on health and well being. Clothing production was also affected by the Allied blockade. In this case German was even more dependent on imports for raw material. Cotton was the most important raw material for clothing, especially mass produced textiles. Germany did not produce cotton. The country had a very important agricultural sector, but cotton to supply mills was all imported, primarily from America, Egypt, India and other countries. Virtually all of this was cut off by the blockade and by 1916 stockpiles had been exhausted. Thus manufacturing of clothing plummeted. Germany's advanced chemical industry produced many substitute or Ersatz products during the War. One of those products was a cloth based on paper. Scientists experimented with a range of available materials, including stinging-nettle (Brennessel) and reeds.
The material that proved to have the greatest potential. The result was (paper yarns) Papiergarne. It was used like cotton. It was bleached, colored, and printed with designs. Quite a range of products were produced, including outer garments, underwear, caps, and backpacks. Here we see a Leibchen (figure 1). One reader tells us that it was "durable", but we know little about it at this time. We due note a Leibchen made from this paper fabric. A German reader tells us, "Sounds amazing, isn't it. I even saw a "paper"-teddy bear." It seems to have worked. The Prussian WAr Ministry desperate for fabric seized the mills and stockpiles of yarn (October 1917). We are not sure about the quality or durability of the fabric produced. Nor do we know how it compared in cost to cotton. Production stopped after the War which means that it was inferior to cotton in some way.
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. I'm not certain whether this garment
is commercial or homemade. A HBC reader believes that it is homemade. The finishing of the garment looks commercial to HBC. We have a number of questions here. We do not know what portion of Leibchens were homemade and what portion were purchased in shops and to what extent this changed over time.
Why were Leibchen crocheted (essentially knitted) rather than made of some fabric such as jean cloth or cambric as in the United States? Actually, fabric Leibchen were used in Germany, but crocheting was something that German mothers and grandmothers could do at home in the same way that they knitted stockings. Crocheted Leibchen were apparently made out of strong cotton yarn (for greater strength) and provided additional warmth over the chest by serving as a second
undershirt. Thus they were both warm and sturdy. Notice the tape edging around the neck opening so that the knitted or crocheted part won't come unraveled. The side buttons for attachment of the garter straps appear to have been sewn onto a tape rather than directly onto the knitted fabric--again, obviously for strength and durability at a point where there would be strain because of the tugging or pulling of the hose supporters.
The Leibchen shown here is yellowed because of age, but it was
apparently white or perhaps cream colored in its original state. I'm not sure if this Papiergewebe fabric yellow faster than cotton fabric.
Boys wore Leibchen in Germany usually up through the age of 10 years, and in
some cases, 12. If they continued to wear long stockings into
their teen years (as some German boys did), they normally switched to
more adult garter belts like those worn by their mothers and sisters
but without feminine adornments. This change is mentioned by one of our
German readers on the conventions of German long stockings.
A number of points are worth discussing concerning the construction of this crocheted Leibchen.
The Leibchen here opens down the front (rather than in back) and comes down to waist level rather than ending, like a woman's bra, at higher point on the chest. Note the two basic styles of Leibchen. The front buttoning indicates that it was designed for an older child, probably a boy, who could dress himself. The back buttoning bra-style Leibchen (notice that in German the plural has no final "s") were worn principally by girls and by younger boys whose mothers would help them get dressed. When boys
turned about 6 or 7 they could manage the buttons themselves and of
course preferred Leibchen that buttoned down the front like an outer
jacket as both more masculine and easier to put on.
Notice the shoulder fastenings which allowed the garment to be adjusted for size as the boy grew older. We notice the same feature on American underwaists
(cf. the second model of Sears underwaists for 1929).
Another interesting feature of this Leibchen, again an indication that
it was probably worn by an older boy, is that it has no waist buttons
for the attachment of short trousers or knee pants. Button-on knee
pants were usually for younger boys. By the time boys had begun
attending primary school, they usually held up their knee pants by
suspenders or belts and wouldn't require the waist buttons on a
Leibchen. In addition, suspender shorts became popular in the 1920s.
This Leibchen does, however, have two waist buttons at waist
level on the sides for the attachment of hose supporters. Unlike the
American underwaists to which hose supporters were usually attached by
means of safety pins, the German Leibchen had buttons for this purpose.
Usually stockings were supported by simple elastic straps that had buttonholes at both ends and sometimes more than one buttonhole so that the length of the strap could be adjusted for the boy's height and also for the length of the stockings. The strap would be fastened to the side button on the Leibchen at the upper end and to a button sewn onto the top of the stocking at the lower end. There are several images archived on HBC which show the placement of the white button at the top of the stockings. See for example a German boy in 1953.
Many German Leibchen were made for the attachment of four garters--two
straps for each stocking. In this arrangement the buttons for
attachment were usually in front and in back rather than on the sides.
This Leibchen seems to be designed for only two garter straps--one over
each hip, which is the arrangement on the Leibchen modeled by the boy
on the German Hosiery Museum display.
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