We have relatively little information about leggings or gaiters. The first images I have noticed are during the 1870s, but they may have been worn earlier. Presumably leggings came into style as boys began to commonly wear kneepants. Mothers apparently concluded that boys in kneepants needed the leggings for warmth. They were worn with a variety of garments through thr 1940s, but were little worn by the 1950s. I know that they were commonly worn in America, I'm less sure about how common they were in other countries. They were made in a number of materials, including leather and woolen fabrics. They also were made in many styles, including some with large numbers of buttons.
These garments are called "gaiter/gaiters", but in American the more common term is "leggings". Thge two terms are somewhat different. Gaiters is the generic terms which includes both adult short gaiters for protecting shoes and children longer leggings worn for warmth. Often gaiters is used for the short adult version and leggings for the long children's version. HBC has some information on foreign language terms for leggings. The Dutch is slobkous/slobkousen. The French is les guêtres. The German term is Gamaschenhose (Gamasche = gaiter?, Hose = pants), although in Austria they say Gamaschen. The Indonesian/Malay is either setiwel or bengkap. Setiwel is from an obsolete Dutch word for boot (stevel) and bengkap is from Dutch beenkap. The Portuguese is polaina/polainas.
We have noted gaiters being worn by men in 16th century Elizabehan England, often in leather. It was a protective garment for the wealthy. Presumably they were also worn on the Continent. They were very utlitarian garments as men at the time wore rather short piffed trouser-like garments and tights-like hosiery. The first images I have noticed specifically for children are from the 1870s, but they almost cerainly were worn earlier. They were worn by both boys and girls. Presumably leggings came into style as boys began to commonly wear kneepants, but we cannot confirm this yet. Mothers apparently concluded that boys in kneepants needed the leggings for warmth. There are many portaits of American boys wearing leggings during the late 19th century. Many were wearing leather leggings. We are less sure about how common leggings were in Euroopean countruies during the late 19th century. We notice Montgmery Wards offering leggings in 1922 catalog. We also note that both boys and girls are wearings leggings at the turn of the 20th century amnd we note numerous offerijgs for leggings in French fashion ,agazines and vcatalogs diring the 1920s. They were worn with a variety of garments through thr 1940s, but were little worn by the 1950s.
Leggings were made in different ways. We see some leggings with large numbers of buttons. There were also straps which had clasps at the sides or backs. This is a little difficult to assess from the photographic record which are modtly tgaken from the front. Here a factor was the different materials, cloth anmd leather. That would have been daun ting for a younger child to master. Surely mother would have had to have helped. On other leggings the buttons are less apparent. HBC does not yet have adequate information to assess the different closures. Leggings in the 1940s and 50s had zippers which replaced the buttons. So putting on and taking of leggings became easier and even older toddlers might be able to dress thmselves.
I am not sure how leggings in the 19th century were held up. Perhaps they were stiff enough are fitted so tightly that thdey did not need to be supported. More modern leggings made of cloth fabric in the 1930s and 40s had straps to hold therm up. The straps went over the shouilders and crossed in the back.
Leggings were made in a number of materials, including leather and woolen fabrics. Many leggings during the Fautleroy era of the late 1880s and 1890s appear to be made out of leathert. They also were made in many styles, including some with large numbers of buttons. HBC noted a number of boys wearing leather leggings with Fauntleroy suits. Leather leggings apparently became less commom after the turn of the 20th century when Fauntleroy suits declined in popularity. The leather leggings would have been more expensive than woolen ones, but changing fashion trends may have been more important than cost.
We are unsure as to how comfortable leggings were. The leather leggings look rather stiff an uncomfortable, but were made of pliable soft leather. In addition I believe they had soft fabric linings. This needs to be confirmed. A Canadian reader tells us leggings were lined with fine linen.
We are just beginning to assess age conventions concerning leggings. We do not yet have catalog informatiion so we have attemoted to assess age conventiuons through assessing available photographic evidence. Leggings have been worn primarily by younger children up to about 5 or 6 years of age, perhaps somewhat older for girls. Our age assesment, however, is still prelinary because our information on leggings is still very limited. Here there were vaiations over time. We also believe that there were gender variations. We believe that leggings were more common for girls and were worn by older girls than boys. The younger age range of leggings was probably because they were a lot of work to take off and put on and thus less suitable for children once they had begun school. Also they were worn by boys still wearing kneepants or short pants and not by older boys wearing long pants.
HBC has not yet noted any gender differences with legginngs. Both girls and boys wore them. We see quite a number of children in the late 19th and early 20th century wearing them. Indeed we have seen children, both boys and girls wearing them into the 1940s. Interestingly, girls wore them at a time where girls did not wear trousers. The major factor concerning leggings appears to have been age and not gender. Almost always, children not wearing dresses or skirts in the 19th cebntury are boys. The one exception here may be leggings. We are not sure just what garments were worn with leggings. Boys seemed to have commonly wore suits like Faintleroy suits. We are not positive if girls always wore dresses with leggings, but we think that they may have. We are finding this a difficult topic to assess as often children wearing leggings are pictured in coats and coats for little boys and girls were often quite similar.
We are unsure about the popularity of leggings. One factor must have been was that they were finctional in the sence that they were really warm and provide protection in case the child fell down. One reader believes that they were a practical garment. He writes, "Children could wear comfortable clothes and put on leggings when going outside and then jusdt taken them off when coming indoors. Thus the child need wear less bulky clothes. Children thus felt free to move outside and fast to be removed inside." I'm not sure just how popular leggings were with the children involved. We suspect that it was primarily mothers that insisted on them.
Boys wore leggings with different types of clothes over time, depending on the popular fashions of the day. Often they were worn with dressy outfits. Boys were more likeky to wear them with Fauntleroy suits, for example, than with sailor suits. We see quite a few portraits of boys in Fauntleroy suits during the 19th century wearing leggings. We are not sure why we don't see many examples of leggings earlier. After the 20th century boys wearing leggings might wear them with sailor suits and other suits. Other photographs show children wearing with cold weather outfits, both dressy and casual/play outfis. Here we ae talking about outfits with shirtened-length poanys. Until the 1920s, bnoiys wore shotened-length oanrs with loing stockings. We begin to see more socks in the 1920s. Some Amerucan mothers decided that during the wunter, biys with shortened lengrg pants should wear leggings to keep them war,/
We notice children wearing both gaiters and leggings. We have found only a few images of children wearing shoe protection gaithers. Many mpre images show children wearing leggings. There are two basic types of leggings. The most common type of leggings were the ones worn over the pants or in the case of girls under the skirt. These are the sdtandard leggings that one generally thinks of when referring to leggings. These were the type commonly made of leather, canvas, suiting, or other heavy material. There was also a type of leggings made out of a lighter weight material such as wool. They might be worn under the pants and look almost like long stockings, except that they come down over the shoe. We have fewer examples of this time. It seens to have been largely a central European style. We note examples from Austria and Hungary. The boys involved also mat have worn long stockings as well. A reader writes, "It seems that in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, children wore leggings (not leathered ones but some kind of cloth) to complete the sailor-suit. If you look at both photos, you will conclude that it was fashionaable to wear leggings instead of simply long stockings. Are those worn under the leggings is a difficult question. In mild weather countries like Austria of Hungary, I could guess that boys wore only stockings or socks." Anotherr reader writes, "These boys probably wore long stockings as well or possibly long underwear. But what seems unusual here are leggings that come up underneath the short trousers so that they function like long stockings. Often, I think, leggings were worn outdoors and removed for indoor wear. That obviously is not the case here."
It is particularly difficult to determine what clothing boys were wearing with leggings. This is because boys in leggings were commonly photographed wearing their coats over their cllothes. More formal photographs without their coats would have often involved removing the leggings as well. The most common types of coat was the double button coat, often a sailor-style reefer jacket, or a formal overcoat. Both were worn by younger children. The reffer jacket was fairly standard. The overcoat was made in both gender neutral and gender specific styles.
We have some limited information about leggings in different countries. As in many countries, leggings were worn by American soldiers, beginning in the 18th cetury. I know that leggings were commonly worn in America by children from affluent familes. They were commonly worn by boys and girls. I have noted children wearing them into the 1940s. We note Scouts wearing an abreviate version after long pants were introduced in the 1940s. I'm less sure about how common they were in other countries. I believe that they may have been more common in America than Europe, but can not at this time substantiate this. The Belgian army wore gaiters of webbing back in the 1960s. I can't recall any sight or picture of a Dutch or Belgian boy in the higher variety (beenkap) but I have occasionally seen Belgian boy scouts wearing the lower one, probably bought from an Army and Navy Store. They were not part of the regular uniform but many boys liked to add something military to their scout uniform. A Dutch boy in Belgium tells us, "I for example was very proud of my British ammo boots and many a Scout had an army belt, worn in stead of or over his regultion Scout belt. We also preferred army backpacks to the regulation rucksack of the Flemish Scouting movement." Leggings were best known in France as a military garment. The French Army was still wearing them in the 1970s. French children wore leggings made out of a white material, I think canvas. There were also knited leggings. They were never made in leather. Leggings by the 1930s, however, no longer commonly were commonly worn in France. Unlike America, leggings were never worn by girls in France. A German reader tells us that he wore leggings in Northern Germany during the late 1930s. "They were dark blue. They seem to have been considered somewhat elegant by the parents, only affluent children wore them, and rarely. I liked them a bit because they had a similarity with stockings which I liked more." There were two kinds of leggings in the Netherlands. Beenkap and slobkous are different in Dutch: the former is worn a little higher up the leg, from just under the knee to just above the ankle and is more often made of some stiff material like leather. One of my father's gardeners, a very old chap, had a pair made of wood. The latter are from mid-calf down over the ankle and to the instep and are usually of softer fabric like canvas or webbing.
Leggings appears to be a style worn by children from affluent families. We see this very clearly in the photographic record during the late-19th century. More modest families attempted to copy the fashions of the affluent, like Fauntelroy suits, but this rrely included the leggings we sometimes see. A factore here is presumably because the leather leggings of the day were expensive. HBC has not noted children in the photographic record from working class families wearing lrggings. Of course working-class children are underrepresented in the photographic record, but the declining cost of a portrait meant that they were not absent. We also notice leggings frequently depicted in early-20th century postcards in nostalgic winter (inclusing Christmas and New Years) cards. Here they were not always depicted as wealthy children, but the children shown in keggings were always nicely dressed. Of course these cards were not accurate depictions of what children commonly wore, but they often depicted how mothers wanted to dress their chilfren. Notably, the wealthy were a major influence on clothing and fashion in the 19th and early-20th century. We notice middle-class toddlers wearing leggings as part of snow suits in the 1930s-40s, but with this exception leggings were almost always worn by children from well-to-do families.
As gar as we can tell, all early leggings were closed with buttons. We note some leggings we think from the 1930s that had buckles at the top. We think they were added as short pants and skirts got shorter and leggings thus had to be longer. And to support the longer lengths we note buckled being added at the top. Most of these had two buckles, but we note some with three buckles. They helped to keep the longer leggings up. At this point we notice leggings generally diaappearing, but some apprently contiued to be made in Canda (1935-40). Because of the hastle of buttoning and unbuttoning, we note Cana\duan leggings madde with zippers during the 1950s.
There are several images of children wearing leggings that have been posted on HBC coberning other topics. We have just begun to cross index them.
American boy (about 1900)
Molly and Betty Blewitt (England, 1920?)
A French Canadian reader writes, "I remember that the leggings I wore in the 1940s had buttons on outer side of the leg and two straps at the top to maintain the leggings upright. In the 50s, the buttons were replaced by a zipper. During this decade, leggings were really popular for both boys and girls. In the 60's they disappeared for children, but
some of the girls who wore them as children wore high leather boots with their miniskirt and colored thights."
Any HBC readers with any information or insights are incouraged to add your thoughts to this page.
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