* knee socks worn by American boys

Knee Socks: America

Figure 1.--This American boy wears patterned knecksocks in a kind of cross line or stripe patteren. I'm not sure what the year would be, but would guess the late 1920s.

Knee socks for boys appeared in Europe and America during the 1900s, at first primarily worn by Boy Scouts. They were commonly worn by boys throughout Europe in the 1920s. European boys commonly wore them with shorts pants. Knee socks appeared in America about the same time, but were not as well received as in Europe. The did not begin to replace long stockings until the mid-1920s. THey were worn worn with short pants as in Europe, but were morecommonly worn with knickers. American boys were more likely to wear shorts with ankle socks. Kneesocks were still worn with shorts by American boys, but this declined substantially in the 1950s. After the 1960s only very young American boys wore kneesocks.


Knee socks also appeared in America during the 1900s, an import from England. They were popularized in Europe by the Boy Scouts which adopted them as part of the uniform. Knee socks were commonly worn by boys throughout Europe in the 1920s. European boys commonly wore them with shorts pants and shorts were not nearly as well received by American boys as European boys--even American Boy Scouts for decades declined to wear shorts. While knee socks appeared in America about the same time, but were not as well received as in Europe. American boys continued to wear long stockings with knee pants and knickers. Younger boys wearing knee pants were more likely to wear three-quarter length stockings. Knee socks in America did not begin to commonly replace long stockings until the mid-1920s. THey were worn worn with short pants as in Europe, but were morecommonly worn with knickers. American boys were more likely to wear shorts with ankle socks. Kneesocks were still worn with shorts by American boys, but this declined substantially in the 1950s. By the 1950s, American boys had begun to regard knee socks as girls clothes because they were so commonly worn by girls. As a result, many boys did not want to wear them. After the 1960s only very young American boys wore knee socks.


Knee socks never proved as popular as in Europe, primarily because short pants never proved as popular. American boys also wore them with short pants, especially younger boys or boys from affluent families more influenced by European fashion trends. Most American boys, however, wore knee socks with knickers. Kneesocks largely replaced long stockings in the 1920s. While long stockings did not entirely disappear until the early 1950s, most boys began wearing kneesocks. From a boys point of view, kneesocks were a destinct improvement because restrictive hose suporters were no longer required.

Colors and Patterns

American boys wore knee socks in both solid colors and patterns. This contrasted with the knee socks worn by European boys which were primarily solid colors or in England school socks which might have a colored ban. Short pants were most commonly worn with solid colored knee socks, although we do notice bots wearing the patterned knee socks with shorts. American boys more commonly wore knickers. At first they were mostly worn with dark long stockings, but by the 1930s we see many boys wearing patterned knee sicks with knickers. We don't know much about the colors used in these patterns because if the black and white photography.


American boys wore knee socks over a relatively short period of time, nostly during the 1920s-60s. If you include tube sicks that might be extended into the 1960s. Here we are taling about regular knee socks. If you include the more specialised kinds such as Scout socks and tbe socks, the period is a little longer and includes teen agers. The age of boys wearing knee socks varied during this period. We note boys from about 2-3 years of age up to about 11-12 years of age wearing knee socks. We do not normally see teenage American biys weaaring knee socks, although there were a few exceptions. An exception of limited duration was a few university-age boys wearing argle knee socks with Bermuda shorts during the 1950s. For the most part teen-agers even younger teenagers did not wear knee socks, in contrast to the conventions for long stockings. This was by the time knee socks became popular, we no longr see older boys wearing knee pants and knickers. They were worn with both short pants anhd knickers. Some what older boys wore specialized forms of knee socks such as Scout socks or with various ethnic costuimes (primarily German, Irish, and Scottish). And if you include tube socksm, a kind of knee-length athletic sock, wev note boys wearing them into the older teens.


A variety of different types of kneesocks were worn by American boys. HBC has been unable to acquire much information on knee socks, there are probably more types then currently noted. The primary types seem to us to be turn-over-top knee socks and ekasticized-top knee socks. Atletic tube socks were a type of knee-length sock.


The first knee socks appearing in America had turn over tops. Boys wearing short pants would cuff them just under the knee. Boys wearing knickers would pull them up over the knee and buckle his knickers over them. They were usually worn with below the knee knickers. The above the knee knickers worn in the 1910s and earkly 20s were normally worn with long stockings. Turn-over-tops had the advantage that a garter could be worn under the cuff to keep the socks in place. One popular style of turn-over-top kneesocks in the 1920s and 30s were solid colored socks, often grey, with a pattern on the turn-over-top. This was very popular with American boys wearing knickets, but was also worn with short pants. HBC has not noted this style much after the 1940s in theUnited States, but it was worn by at least one Australian prep school into the 1980s.

Elasticized tops

Kneesocks were also made in a shorter lengths. These did not have sufficient height to be turned over below the knee. I'm not sure when they first appeared, but I think probably in the 1940s. American boys in the 1950s generally wore this style as the turn over top is much less apparent than had been the case before World War II (1941-45). The elasticized top helped hold the sock up, soving the problem of kneesocks falling down.


Kneesocks were made in two basic weaves, flat and cable knit.

Flat weave

The most common weave for kneesocks was a flat weave with no noticeable pattern in the weave. These kneesocks could be either solid colors or have colored patterns such as argyles. The weave itself, however, had no pattern. This was the style commonly worn by boys.

Bar weave

HBC is not sure of the correct term here. Many kneesocks were made in a kind of bar weave which was moticeable before bring put on and then looked much like a bar weave.

Cable knit

I'm not sure with cable knit weave kneesocks first appeared. I don't recall seeing it before the 1950s, but it probably appeared earlier. This was primarily worn by girls. Some younger boys, however, did wear cable knit kneesocks. This is probably because by the 1960s this was the most commonly available type of kneesocks and mothers, not knowing the difference, would purchase them for younger boys. Interestingly, Eddie Munster of Munster fame, one of the few boys wearing short pants on American television in the 1950s, wore cable knit kneesocks. While cable knits are made in a wide variety of colors, American boys almost always wore the same muted colors, normally black, navy blue, and grey.

Figure 2.--American boys in the 1940s began to regard knee socks as dressy clothes worn for formal occasions with short pants. Fashion magazines often pictured boys in short pants and knee socks, but by the 1960s it was unusual to see older boys wearing them. By the 1960s the American boys who did wear kneesocks, almost always wore solid color ones.


The convebntions associated with kneesocks are a little complicated and difficult to assess. American boys in the late 19th century mostly wore long stockings and to a much lesser extent three-quater socks. We rarely note boys wearing knee socks. The first common usage of kneesocks seems to have been the Boy Scouts. The Scouts were founded in 1909 and the uniform was knicker-like breeches worn with kneesocks. This was an oit door, active usage. At the time boys mostly wore kneepants or knickers. Younger boys might wear three-quarter socks, but long stockings were more common. Many boys in the early 20th century commonly went barefoot during the summer. We note some mostly younger boys wearing kneesocks with short psnts during the 1920s, but knickers were more common and commonly worn with long stockings. Gradually kneesocks became more common, especially by the 1930s. Even in the 1930s long stockings were considered more formal. Kneesocks with their bold patterns were seen as more od a casual, sporty style. But they were not populae with older boys so knee socks became increasingly worn, even for formal occassions. And because kneesocks came in many patterns you see some boys wearing rather flashy patterns even with conservative dark suits for formal occassions. An example here is boys wearing conservative suits for their confirmation in 1932. While long stockings came in solid colors, knee socks came in all sorts of patterns. Boys also wore knickers for school. Here long stockings were common in the 1920s, but kneesocks by the 30s. Boys often wore argyles or other bright pattern kneesocks. By the end of the 1930s kneesocks were becoming much less common. We see many boys wearing knickers with ankle socks. More boys wearing long pants and many boys wearing knickers with ankle socks. While most boys wore knicker suits, some boys wore short pants suits. Many boys wore short pants suits with ankle suits. This was rarely seen in Europe. After knickers disappeared, American boys mostly wore short socks in the 1950s, both when dressing up and for play. By the 1960s short pants suits became less common, but boys wearing them commonly wore knee socks. Knee socks by this time were seen as a dressy style. Boys rarely wore knee socks for play or casual wear. We also see boys wearing short pants for play, but kneesocks were not commonly worn for play. Knee socks by the 1950s in America were worn mostly by younger boys. While a few wealthy boys might wear short pants suits or go to private schools requiring short pants to about 13, most American boys by 10 or 11 were wearing long pants, many at even younger ages. Girls of all ages, even college girls wore knee socks. Thus most older boys did not like them became associated as girls' clothes. Interestingly the smaller sizes were always marked as childrens' rather than girls' sizes.


American boys wore both short pants and knickers with knee socks during the 1920s and 30s. By the time knee socks had appeared, knee pants had gone out of fashion. Knee socks and sjort pnts appeared at bout the sa,me time in America. Other hosiery were worn as well with both knickers and short pants. We still se both three-quater ocks and long stockings, both very common in the 1910s. Long stockings wre very common with knickers during the 20s, somewhat commonly with for short pants. Three-quater socks were going out od style, but we still see them with sjhort psnts during the early-20s. Here age was a factor. We see far more boys wearing knickers with knee socks, primrily because knickers were much more common, at least with school-age children. Long stockings were still quite common in the 1920s, but much less so when we see most boys wearing knickers with knee socksduring the very-late-20s and 30s. Knee socks They were less common with short pants, primarily beczuse far fewer American school-age boys wore short pants. The peak of popularity was the 30s when large numbers of boys wore knickers. Knee socks became less common for boys when knickers rapidly went out of style in the 1940s. Sime boys wore knee socks with short pants, but not naly as many as wore them with short pants. We see some boys wearing knee socks with short pants, but they became increasingly dresswear. Short psants began to be seen as casual summer wear in the 1940s and boys did not want to wear knee soicks in the summer. This was especusally the case as they began to be seen more as girl's hosiery.


Girls also wore knee socks. We see noth boys a gi;s wearing knee sicks in the inter-War era (1930s-30s), by the Worlkd war II (941[45_, knee socks had become more common for girl in Ametrica. The time pattern vsries from country to country. We see boys commonly wearing knee sicks in Europe. In Ametica, hovrt, lnee socks by the 40s were mostly, but not entirely, worn by girls. Prevalence was not the only factor to be condidered here, age was also a gebder factor, as well as colors and patterns.

Scout Knee Socks

While American Scouts did not take to the European style short pants uniforms, they did adopt the kneesocks. Having to wear long stockings and hose supporters would have been rather awkward for active camping expeditions. Most American Scouts through the 1930s wore their kneesocks with knicker uniforms. Shorts were worn, however, at the first National Jamboree in 1937 and they were commonly worn at Scout camps--with kneesocks. American Scouts in the 1960s finally began to weear the short pants uniform more commonly--always with kneesocks. Scout kneesocks were made in the long turn-over-top style. While shorts grew in popularity during the 1970s, kneesocks did not and many boys would wear their Scout And Cub shorts informally woth other socks, often tube socks in the 1970s and ankle socks by the mid-1980s. The new Scout uniform redesigned in 1981 include colored athletic socks instead of the traditional Scout socks. Both before and after the uniform shift, both Cub and Scout kneesocks were made in the same style--only different colors. The topic of Scout uniforms is dealt with in much more detail in the sattelite Scout site.

Ethnic Costuming

Personal Experiences

Some limited infprmation is available on personl experiences.

One American looking back on his boyhood in the 1950s reports the following, "For dressup short pants suits, I was usually dressed in solid colored knee socks, that were more elastic type, so they stayed pulled up easier, but for the more casual look like this boy is wearing, I wore the bulky material knee socks with sort of a pattern to them. You can't really see the pattern well in this shot, but the material had a sort of checkered appearance, and the socks were bulky and consequently tended to fall down, making it necessary for my mother to remind me to keep them pulled up."


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Created: July 5, 1998
Last updated: 9:41 PM 12/10/2014