U.S. Long Stockings: Color Chronology--the 20th Century

Figure 1.--American boys in the early 20th century mostly wore black long stockings. This began to change in the 1920s, but black was still the dominant color in the ealy 1920s. This boy in 1921 wears black long stockings with knickers. A reader asks, "How old do you think the boy here is? He looks to me to be about 16 to me. Other than the date, HBC has no information on this snapshot. We would think 15-16 years of age would be a good guess. Click on the image for a fuller discussion of the clothing the boy is wearing.

Black long stockings were the standard color, at least for older boys, throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century. They were worn with both knee pants and above-the-knee knickers. The 1920s became the transitional decade in terms of color change, partly because knee pants gave way to short pants for many boys and also because the elasticity of long stockings and better fit opened the way for more experimentation and more variety in the colors manufactured. In the 1920s we begin to see lighter shades in stockings--tan, brown, and even beige. White was also more common as a color, especially for younger children and for religious occasions such as First Communion services and weddings. By the end of the decade patterned long stockings also made a brief appearance. Tan, brown, and beige stockings gradually became the dominant colors during the 1930s, although black was still available in a few of the products. But by the 1940s black long stockings had virtually disappeared. Tan, beige, and brown were the only colors available in the mail order catalogs of the period from 1940 to about 1946. By the end of the 1940s, however, long stockings had almost totally disappeared as boys' wear. The disappearance of long stockings in the later 1940s seems to have coincided with the disappearance of knickers which had sometimes been worn with tan or brown long stockings even though patterned knee socks had become more common for wear with knickers. Even girls had pretty much stopped wearing the traditional children's tan long stockings by 1950. After this, the girls tended to wear junior versions of hosiery that resembled what their mothers were wearing.

The 1900s

Black stockings also dominated this decade almost totally. HBC's catalog pages for sailor suits, shirt waists, suit coats, dress-up suits, and other garments show boys nearly always wearing black long stockings. Our earliest example of the Dr. Parker style garter waist (referred to in 1902 simply as a combination belt and supporters) shows both the boy and girl models wearing black long stockings. Towards the end of the decade a few younger boys seem to have worn lighter colored long stockings (either white or tan). In 1908-09 we have the illustration of a tunic suit in which the color of the stockings is ambiguous because the image is a line drawing, but the stockings here may be either white or beige. I think the lighter colors were reserved almost exclusively for very young boys--the same boys who might be wearing short socks with their knee pants on other occasions. But there is no question that for the most part--and certainly for older boys, black stockings would be the standard color. Black stockings had two advantages: they didn't show the soil and the wear as much as the lighter colors, and they also answered the requirement of formality and general conservatism in boys' clothing.

The 1910s

Although black long stockings continued to be the dominant color worn by boys, we do begin to notice the appearance of the lighter colors, esxpecially tan, brown, and beige. This seems to be the decade where lighter and darker colors of long stockings became more of a popular choice. Black was still a very prominent color. The advertisements for the various kinds of garters and hose supporters continued to show black stockings as the usual thing to wear with suspender waists, pin-on hose supporters, and other kinds of support devices. For instance, the ads for Velvet Grip Hose Supporters in 1911 show boys wearing black long stockings, and so do the 1918 ads for suspender waists (both the Kazoo and the Samson brands). The 1916 Kazoo ad also illustrates boys wearing black stockings. We also note that the ad for Black Cat hosiery in 1916 and the ad for Hickory garters in 1916 also show only black stockings on the boy models. The back-to-school outfit advertised in 1919 shows the boy wearing black stockings with his above-the-knee knickers and black is the only option in the section devoted to his hosiery in this ad. But lighter colors were also beginning to be seen. The 1918 ad for Kazoo suspender waists shows the older of the two boys wearing black long stockings, but his two younger siblings, a girl and a boy, are wearing either white or light tan long stockings with their different versions of the Kazoo waist. Also the 1919 advertisements for push-cars and tricycles (velocipedes) shows boys wearing not black but tan long stockings with short pants (or at least shorter-length knee pants). It is notable here, however, that the lighter colors seem to be worn mainly by boys twelve years of age or younger. An ad for a young lad's Oliver Twist suit shows the model wearing what appear to be brown rather than black stockings, and the Allheneeds waist suit ad (1915) shows a very young boy wearing either white or, more likely, beige long stockings with his waist union suit. In 1915 long stockings for infants were advertised in baby colors (pale blue, pink, and white), but the same year an ad for Stuart's waists shows a boy about 8 wearing the traditional black long stockings attached to the accompanying supporters. So lighter colors were being worn in the 1910s although it is probably fair to say that black long stockings still dominated the market--especially for older boys.

The 1920s

In this decade we begin to get more long stocking ads with actual illustrations of the product sold. In 1922 Wards was offering long stockings for boys and girls in black, white, and dark brown. Presumably white would be chosen mainly for girls or for quite young boys (as a dressy alternative to darker shades), but black was still a very important color. Double-knee hosiery for boys (a standard school stocking) was available only in black. In 1923 black, brown, dark brown, and white long stockings were available for sale, but black dominated the Sears and Wards markets for boys, especially older boys who wore black stockings with above-the-knee knickers. The Saturday Evening Post covers of the 1920s tend to show boys wearing black long stockings. One of the covers shows a girl in white stockings. In 1924 black was offered more often than any other color in the catalogs although brown, dark brown, sand (grayish tan), buff (light tan), birch (light tan) and white were offered in several of the ads. Considerable detail is available in the Sears 1924 catalog. There are still during 1924 a number of stocking choices that were available in "Black only" however. By the end of the decade we begin to see "French tan" being offered as a fashionable color for boys' and girls' long stockings. A new trend, starting about 1928, was novelty sport long stockings for boys and girls made with patterns, but these do not seem to have had a very long life as a fashion. They were being worn by younger boys to some extent and by girls, but black long stockings were still prominently sold. One of the reasons for the new prominence of lighter colors in long stockings was better knitting technology. Stockings had begun to be knitted with more elastic cotton yarns and sometimes with admixtures of rayon or other synthetics that made them closer fitting and less baggy. There seems to have been a connection between the trimmer fit and the lighter colors since lighter colors tended to draw more attention to the legs. Also long stockings had begun to be worn more for dressiness and formality than for warmth, although many American mothers still believed that their children should have their knees covered in chilly and inclement weather. In this respect American mothers seem to have resembled their counterparts in Germany who insisted on boys wearing long stockings both for formality and for warmth. English mothers seemed to have less about the warmth of their boys' knees, but of course American and Germany tend to be colder than England in many regions.

The 1930s

This is the decade during which black long stockings, although still available, began to be a minority style. Various shades of tan and brown replaced black as the dominant colors. In 1930, for instance, we already see boys wearing brown long stockings with their knickers rather than black. Younger boys are seen wearing the new patterned hosiery with short pants (striped and checked stockings). But, as noted above, the patterned stockings seem to have gone out of fashion fairly quickly. Considerable details are available in the Sears 1931 catalog. In 1931 tan stockings dominated the catalog ads for full length hosiery for children. Camel, French tan gray, dark brown, and white were the choices (in addition to black), but only one grade of stocking came in black, whereas several grades had the lighter colors. The same trend is also notable in 1936. Now a new color called "French nude" (flesh color) is being offered along with French tan, camel, white, dark brown, brown. Black can still be had, but is clearly in the minority. Another indication of the change in color preference is the garter waists ads of the mid-1930s. Wards garter waists for 1936 show the boys and girls wearing only the tan or light-colored long stockings with their supporters. This is also true for the 1937 garter waist ads. Sears showed one boy wearing Sears "Dandy" garter waist with black stockings, but in its more typical ad for garter waists the same year (Sears Suspenders and Stocking Supporters, 1939), the two boys in the illustration are both wearing tan long stockings--now the commonly worn color. Another indication of the change to lighter colors is the specialized stockings sold in 1939. This was the year when button-on stockings and lastex top stockings were introduced to make the wearing of hose supporters unnecessary. These novelty styles seem to have been a failure with the public, but they were offered principally in tan and brown shades. White was available in one brand, but not black. 1939 also saw the introduction of "combination stockings" and "2-in-1 Stockings" by Sears and Wards. These attempted to appeal to boys and girls who wanted the look of below-the-knee socks and to mothers who insisted on the protection of full length stockings. The lower part of these hose were of course colored like knee socks, but the part of the stocking above the knee--the part that would be attached to hose supporters--was made in "flesh color" (something close to light tan or beige, obviously). Black tops on such stockings would obviously have failed totally to give the illusion of a flesh tone. One other innovation appeared at the end of the 1930s--namely the introduction of "heather" shades of full-length hosiery for boys and girls. These were sportier stockings with a mixed color and texture that represented another attempt to make the wearing of long stockings more attractive to children who might have resisted their mothers' insistence on having knees covered during the chillier months. The heather stockings were available in "brown heather, gray heather, and tan heather." By now, of course, black long stockings, although they had not quite disappeared (they might be necessary for funerals or some very formal occasion), were very little seen in everyday life. And the advertisemens reflect this fact.

The 1940s

The catalog advertisements for boys' and girls' long stockings in the 1940s are notable for the total absence of black as a color choice. Now everyone who wore long stockings with short pants, knickers, or skirts was wearing some shade of brown or tan. The colors mentioned in the ads are beige, dark tan, medium tan, nugrain (rich warm beige), brownstone, light tan, brown, and (in a few cases) white. White was popular with some girls and with mothers who wanted their youngest boys to wear white for dress-up occasions. But for school and most other occasions, boys of all ages wore tan, beige, or brown long stockings. It is rather curious that in a period when the wearing of long stockings had declined substantially (especially for older boys), the variety of shades of tan and brown had proliferated as never before. Of course by the end of the decade, boys had almost ceased to wear long stockings of any color. We note catalog advertisements of boys wearing light-brown shades of long stockings. An example is a 1945 Sears ad. We see, however, very few actual photographs of boys wearing them.

The 1950s

American boys by the eatly 1950s had virtually ceased wearing long stockings. Some boys in the northern states along the Canadian border may have worn them, but even here they were not very common. We note that they continued to be worn in such countries as Germany, Poland, and Russia. They were also worn in Canada, but mostly by girls.


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Created: 6:59 PM 12/24/2004
Last updated: 12:19 AM 3/11/2005