*** tights


Tights or garments looking like have been worn for centuries. Ove most of this era they were worn by adults, mostly men, and not children. They fell from style in the late 16th century as men began wearing knee breeches. They appeared again in the 19th century for specialized wear such as theatricals and athletics. They did not become coomonly worn children's clothes until after World War II in the late 1940s and early 50s. Children wore over the knee stockings in the early 20th century, but these were usually stockings and not tights. Conventions for wearing tights have varied from country to country. Very young boys might wear tights in America and England, but they were mostly worn by girls. In coninental Europe and Japan it was more common for boys to wear them.


Tights are defined as a skin-tight one-piece garment for the lower part of the body. While tights-like garments have been worn by centuries, the terms "tights" is a realitively recent ones. HBC can not confirms with the term was first used, but we have noted the term before the 19th century. One source suggests that the term appeared about 1825-35. At this time the garment was mostly used by adults for specialized wear, either those involved in the theater, dance, gymnastic, or athletics.

Figure 1.--Men and boys wore tights durin the Renaisance, but the fashion past out of style in the 17th century. Procesions and reinactments of this period are common in Europe.


Clothing styles changed little in medieval Europe and styles persisted much longer than is common today. Hoisery similar to tights were commonly worn by men and boys for centuries. Trousers covering the legs were unknown. Instead they wore hose exposing the leg well above the knee. The trunk hose in time develooped into knee breeches. About 1660 the coat and vest were intoduced in France and brought to England by Charles II. The vest reached to the knees and had sleeves. A 18th-century addition to male costume was the buckled knee brreches, the precursor of modern trousers. These knee breeches are the dress of colonial America familiar to most Americans. Men no longer exposed there knees as had been common for centuries. Thus long hosiery passed from the fashion scene. It was not considered polite in the 19th century for adults to appear bare legged. Some very young children, boys and girls, by the 1860s did wear knee length dresses with short socks. Children commonly wore long stockings but not tights. After the War, new synthetic fibers were used to make childrens tights. The popularity of these new tights varied from country to country as well as who wore them. They were widey worn by boys in Germany and several other countries, but in America and England they were mostly worn by girls. Modern tights appeared after World War II. Conventioned varied from country to country. They were at first generally worn for formal occasions or for formal occassions. By the early 21st century this had changed. We no longer see boys wearing tights for formal events, although Japan may be an exception. We see boys wearing tights informally, although this was not common. We also note usages like gymnastics, wrestling, and Winter sports. There continue to be significant differences as to wearing conventions. Northern Eyropean boys seem much more willing to wear tights than American boys.

Gender Fashions

It is intersting to note that men and boys for centuries wore tights or close fitting hosiery revealing the legs rather than trousers as we know them. Interestingly, until the 20th century, a womwn's legs were never seen. Only men and boys wore clothes which exposed the legs. Hosiery was a means of self-expression for 16th century dandies; they playfully wore layers of brightly colored socks and tights in contrasting checked and striped patterns. In sharp contrast the fashion for girls and women was long dresses which completely covered their legs. In addition for long periods, such as the 14-16th centuries, womens' fasgions hardly changed its simple forms. This is a good example of how fashions for men and women can change radically over time, in some cases complete reverals can take place.

Over-the-Knee Stockings

Clothes for boys with knee-length pants became common place during the mid-19th century. Knee pants were generally worn with long over the knee stockings until shorts worn with knee socks appeared after the turn of the century. At the time knee pants and short pants were not summer wear, but a juvenile style worn by boys year round--what ever the weather. Boys in some countries who wore shorts througout the year continued wearing the over-the-knee stockings when short pants replaced knee pants. This custom was common in Germany and other countries such as Russia and the Scandanavian countries through the 1950s.

Evaluating Images

It is not always clear to HBC if boys in the available images are wearing tights or long stockings. At this time HBC believes that through the 1930s that the long hosery worn was mostly long stockings, but definitive information uis not yet available. During the 1940s tights became increasingly available and by the 1950s long stockings had been almost completely replaced by tights. This transition is, however, very difficult to follow in the available images.

The Mini Skirt

Mary Quant around 1965 invented the miniskirt and the sweaterdress which were really short. The miniskirt became popular for both women and girls. This required some unjustment in underwear because of the shortness of the new skiryts. Tights became one of the a sollutions to the problem and as a result girls began wearing tights, masking them a major type of hosiery worn by girls. I'm unsure how popular tights are with girls. A Canadian reader tells us, "My daughter hated tights. After she finished primary school where there was a uniform, she began chosing her own clothes for school and that was usually jeans."

Japanese boys tights
Figure 3.--Boys at this Japanese schools wear short pants suits. During the summer they wear white knee socks, but during the winter they wear white tights.

Modern Tights

Tights are still worn by children in the modern era. They have several advantages as a child's garment.


Tights reapeared in the 1950s as the new synthetic fibers enabled manufacturers to produce modestly priced tights suitable for children. Americans and Brits will view tights as primarily girls wear, however, those countries where boys wore over-the-knee stocking saw tights differently. They adopted tights for both girls and young boys. This occurred in Germany and Russia as well as some other northern European countries. As it became less common for boys to wear shorts to school, especially during the winter. Some German parents continued to send younger boys to school during the winter wearing tights under their long pants. After the development of children's tights in the 1950s, German boys often had to wear tights underneath "Lederhosen" or other short pants and knee-length knickers. Therefore special tights for boys were made during the 1960s. I have little information on these tights or if they were available in other countries. Hopefully our German visitors will provide some details. European boys no longer wear short pants with tights, but the practice continues in Asian countries such as China, Japan, and Korea. Many Japanese schools have uniforms requiring short pants. In many cases this is not a summer uniform, but worn year round. Often the shorts are worn with with white ankle or knee socks. Some schools, however, allow the younger boys to wear tights, (usually white tights), instead of knee socks during the winter. Some schools actually make it a requirement to give a more uniform look.

boys dressy tights
Figure 4.--This socialite mother in the 1970s appears with her formally dressesd chldren. Not how the front of the shortall is cut lower than in the classic, more casual style.

American boys did not normally wear tights which first became available for children in the 1950s. They were widely worn by girls. Colored tights for everyday or school wear and white tights for church and more formal occasions. As a result, boys did not want to wear them, given this association as girls clothes. Some mothers did dress small boys in white tights, although white knee socks were more common. The boys generally wore velvet suits or shortalls with tights. Sometimes they were worn with black patent leather Mary Jane strap shoes or "t" strap red shoes. This was not common and generally occured only in wealthy families for very formal events or formal photographs, often at Christmas and weddings. Sometimes fashion magazines pictured boys wearing tights, but this appears to have been a relection on how some mothers would have liked to dress their sons rather than how boys were actually dressed.


Tights are also worn for a variety of specialized activities. Interestingly the activities include an amazinly disperate range of activities from rough and tumble sports like football (soccer) to more refined classical ballet and theatricals. Ballet and other dancers use tights as part of a traditional ballet costume, both for performances and practice sessions. German and other northern European countries can be quite cold during the winter. Boys, especially European boys, may wear tights for warmth and protection while playing sports during the winter. Some hikers swear by high quality (long lasting) tights, primarily women hikers. Tights have been worn for dress occasions such as music recitals. HBC has noted Japanese boys wearing tights as Suzuki violin recitals. Tights were one widely worn by adults involved in theatricals--in part because of the importance of Shakespearean works set in eras when men wore tights-like garments. In our modern era, some theatrical programs for children also use tights in performances. Some American boys participating in competitive wrestling wear tights, almost always black tights, under their singlets.


The colors of tights have varied widely. Initinally tights were available in white, black, and browns. Gradually a wide variety of colors. Some have even been made in mixed colors. Boys have genrally preferred the more muted colors and perhaps blue. Girls have been more willing to wear bright colors. White and black have common been worn for more formal events.

tights colors
Figure 5.--Here are some of the colors and patterns in which tights were made. Notice the stripes. These tights comes from a late 1960s German advertisement.

Patterns and Weaves

Tights generally are solid colors. Some tights had a variety of weaves, mostly commonly bar weaves. Only limited information, however, is availabble on weaves. While most were solid colors, in recent years a variety of different patterns have been worn. These have varied from polkadots, flowers, other desisns, and stripes.Generally patterned tights, except stripes, were more popular with girls than boys.

Gender Conventions

Tights have proven much more popular with girls than boys. HBC is not entirely sure why this is. It appears to be a boyhood preference cextending accross borders and over time. A variety of factors may be involved. They are a little more complicated to put on and boys don't like difficult to put on garments. Perhaps the most important factor, however, is that the girls like them and that tights are often seen as a girl's garment. Time after time, once girls begin to wear a specific garment and it becomes associated as a girl's garment--then boys no longer want to wear it. While girls may want to dress like boys, boys do not want to dress like girls. One factor driving gender conventions, besides that boys usually did not like tights, is practicality. Boys are generally rougher on their clothes. Thus boys are more kilely to wear out tights and come home with holes at the knee.

Boys' Styled Tights

HBC has noted boy styled tughts as early as 1970. These are tights with a fly or zipper front. They may have appeared earlier. HBC can not at this time establish the exact date. They seemed to have first appeared and been particularly common in Germany. HBC is unsure what type of tights thta boys wore most commonly.

National Trends

Long stockings went out of style in most countries during the 1920s as boys began wearing either short pants or knickers which were worn with socks, either ankle socks or kneesocks. In some countries, mostly northern countries, younger boys comtinued wearing them during the winter when many would wear short pants. In the late 1950s and early 1960s when inexpensive tights bcame available, many of these countries adopted them for children's wear. One of the major countries were tights were adopted was Germany. They were also adopted for boys' wear in Austria and Switzerland. They were also widely adopted for boss' wear in the Soviet Union, Poland and other eastern and northern European countries. Boys common wore tights in all of these countries. To a lesser extent they were even worn in France and Spain. Asian boys also wore them, especailly Japanese and Korean boys. They do not appear to have been widely worn in China, probably people there could not afford them. Of the northern hermesphere countries it was only English speaking countries (England, the United States, and Canada) that boys did not wear tights. American girls commonly wore ights, but only rarely have American boys wore them. Today tights are mostly worn by girls, but younger boys in several coutries also wear them.


Many European companies market tights as children's tights. It is not always clear if they are for girls or boys. Even in countries where boys wear tights, they are generally more popular for girls than boys. Some times both boys and girls are pictured in the advertisements. Sometimes both are mentioned in the text of the advertisement. Sometimes only clues are provided such as having a model hold a ball--a strong suggestion that the child is a boy.


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Created: August 3, 1998
Last updated: 1:21 AM 7/16/2010