White Knee Socks

Figure 1.--American boys wearing velvet Fauntleroy suits during the 1920s often wore white knee socks. Previously long dark stockings were more common. Note the ruffled collar rather than the lace collar commonly worn earlier.

We see white stockings in the early- and mid-19th century, but they subsequently disappeared for a few decades. Suddenly at the turn-of the 20th century we see girls and younger boys wearing first white long stockings and then white knee socks. Knee socks began to replace long stockings beginning in the 1910s. Boh white stockings and white knee socks were often worn with strap shoes or sandals. Significant differences existed between countries for reasons we do not undrstand. Boys wearing white knee socks were much more common on the Continent than wither Britain or America. White knee socks were worn in America and Britain, but mostly by girls. White knee socks seem especially common in France and Germanyand were worn by both boys and girls.


White knee socks began to appear about the turn of the century. I have seen advertisements for white socks of various lengths in store catalogs during the late 19th century, but have seen few actual photographs of boys wearing them with knee-length pants until after the turn of the century. Many of the boys wearing dresses, however, were photographed with white socks--usually ankle length. Until the turn of the century boys mostly wore over-the-knee stockings for dress occasions. Even after the turn-of-the century over the knee stockings were often worn with knee pants and knickers and were more common than kneesocks. Throgh the 1910s, thre-quarter length sovks were more common than jneesocks, but were generally replaced during the 1920s. tiockings In some countries such as Germany they were even worn with shorts. Boys after the turn-of-the centuruy began wearing white knee socks with Fauntleroy suits, although long white stockings were more common. Often they were worn with strap shoes. After World War I knee socks of all descriptions became more common with the increasingly popular short pants. Conventions for wearing white knee socks, however, varied greatly from country to country.


Great differences exist in the conventions for wearing white kneesocks. These differences exist among countries. In some countries like England, white kneesocks were considered suitable for young children and girls. Little English boys wore them, but rarely school-age boys. On the continent, white kneesocks were more commonly worn by boys. There were also different institutiions and activities in which white kneesocks were worn. Choirs and schools often used them in school uniforms. After World War II, they were commonly worn by Japanese schoolboys.


White kneesocks currently have a dressy look. They were worn, however for both dress wear and for play. The use of white kneesocks differed somewhat from country to country. Small boys still in dresses might wear white stockings for socks in the late 19th century, but once breeched they almost always wore dark stockings. After the turn of the century, white stickings and socks were worn by boys after breeching--although the age varied. While white kneesocks could be worn with for both play and dress outfits, often dark stockings were considered more suitable for especially formal occasions.


Erly kneesocks were often made from a bulky materail. Some were knitted at home. This was much less true for white kneesocks. This is because white kneesocks wre often worn for more formal dresswear--at least by boys. Hosiery for formal wear was commonly more sheeer than hosiery for every day wear.


White knee socks were often made to come to the knee without the extra material for turn over top cuffs.

Figure 2.--This boy wore white kneesocks and strap shoes for play. This photograph was probably taken in the 1920s.

National Differences

We have noted boys in several countries wearing white knee socks. They were more common in some countries than others. There are substantial differences betwwn the conventions for wearing white knee socks among different countries. Knesocks for example were very common in Britain. Knee socks were perhaps more commonly worn in Britain than any other country. yet boys rarely wore knee socks. They were much more common for girls. We see both boys and girls wearing knee socks in Germany. We also see both boys and girls wearing white kneesocks in France. Similar patterns were observeable in Belgium. Knee socks were commonly worn by American boys in the 1920s and 30s, but they were commonly patterened knee socks. White knee socks were much more common. Our information on many countries is more limited at this time. These conventions have varied over time.

Figure 6.--Cubs participating in band contests very commonly wore white, rather than the normal grey, kneesocks for a dressy look. Appearance is an important element in the judging.

Institutional/Activity Wear

Various insitutions such as schools or youth groups have employed white kneesocks as part of their uniforms or costumes. Schools in various countries were the most common. Many European choirs also outfitted the boys wearing short pants in white kneesocks. Some youth groups have also used white kneesocks. This was particulartly true of the Young Pioneees, but the Scouts and other youth groups have employed white kneesocks as part of formal dress uniforms. We also note white kneesocks being used as part of band uniforms and dance costumes.


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Created: June 14, 1998
Last updated: 10:53 PM 2/6/2015