U.S. Long Stockings: Color Chronology

Figure 1.--This boy is Harry Gill and had his portrait taken in Petersburgh, Virginia. He looks dresses up in his best suit, perhaps for a recital with his banjo. The portrait is undated, but was probably taken in the 1890s. Notice the black long stockings.

We have a fairly clear picture of how color preferences gradually changed. Our knowledge of the 19th century is still somewhat limited, but we have a ggod understanding of 20th century trends. The popularity of dark stockings lasted through the early 1920s. Light colored tan stockings became more popular in the 1920s, especially after the mid-1920s. They were widely worn by the 1930s. Catalog pages provide a good record of the popular colors. See for example Sears 1924 catalog and Sears 1931 catalog.

The 19th Century

Our history of the changing color preference in American long stockings really becomes detailed in the 1890s. For periods before this our information is more spotty. In the 19th century we find children wearing various shades of long stockings--white, dark, and patterned (especially striped in the latter category). But by the 1890s when knee pants became the standard wear for boys from about 5 or 6 to about 17 or 18, black long stockings became nearly universal. Other colors were occasionally seen, but black was the standard color and is shown in almost all illustrations of boys' clothing.

The 20th Century

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.


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Created: 7:06 PM 12/23/2004
Last updated: 6:45 AM 1/8/2005