Up Like Little Soldiers: Wilson Garter for Children, 1917

Ad for Wilson Garter, Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Ad for Wilson Garter, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

I want to share this advertisement for a couple of reasons. First, there may be a collector of vintage underthings who has one of these contraptions and will appreciate the identification.

The Wilson Garter for children and pregnant women. It supports the stockings from the shoulders instead of from the waist. LHJ ad, Sept. 1917.

The Wilson Garter for children and pregnant women. It supports the stockings from the shoulders instead of from the waist. LHJ ad, Sept. 1917.

Second, it is just one more example of the way America’s entrance into World War I, in April of 1917, permeated American popular culture.

Wilson Cord and Slide Garters

“Up Like Little Soldiers — That’s how the Cord & Slide Wilson Garter allows children to grow — trim, graceful — all ginger. No more little rounded, stooping shoulders, and no more torn hose tops.

“For Boys and Girls, 1 to 16 years. Shoulder style like picture, slips on over head, white or black, 25 cents. Give Age.

“For Women, same style. Fine for home, athletic or Maternity wear, 50 cents. Bust sizes.”

Digression:  I feel I should explain a bit;  we live in an era when many people have never worn stockings. (Pantyhose are more popular, if less erotic, than individual thigh-high stockings worn with garter belts.)

When I wore my first garter belt in eighth grade, I was puzzled by ads — like this page from a 1958 Sears catalog — that showed the garters [suspenders] being worn over full petticoats — which would have flattened the petticoat absurdly. I had no mother to ask about this; finally an older girl explained that you actually wore the petticoat on top of the garter belt, but advertisers couldn’t show a garter belt attached to stocking tops over a bare thigh in family magazines.

Garter belts from Sears catalog, Fall 1958.

Garter belts from Sears catalog, Fall 1958. My first garter belt looked like K (bottom center), not P (the black one.) Back then, normal 12 year old girls did not wear black lace undies. However, if you wore stockings when dressed up, you needed a garter belt.

“Pull Up Your Socks!”

It’s hard to conceive of a time when active little children wore stockings instead of socks.

Fashions for boys, Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Fashions for boys, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Nevertheless, these little boys are wearing boots with spat-like contrast uppers (or possibly spats! see far right), over stockings probably made of cotton lisle, although wool was a possibility.

Ad for Buster Brown Shoes for Boys or Girls, Delineator, October 1917.

Ad for Buster Brown Shoes “For Boys — for Girls,” Delineator, Oct. 1917.

A poor boy receives a basket of food from a boy who is better off. Both wear stockings. Robert A. Graef illustration, Delineator, Nov. 1924.

A poor boy receives a basket of food from a boy who is better off. Both wear long stockings. Robert A. Graef illustration, Delineator, Nov. 1924.

Because putting on his first pair of “long pants” was once a rite of passage for an adolescent boy, pre-adolescent boys wore knickers or short pants; these left their lower legs exposed all year round — so they sometimes wore long stockings.

Since neither little boys nor little girls have a waist significantly smaller than their hips, keeping trousers, shorts, and stockings from falling down was a problem.

Pictorial Review pattern 3386, for boys shorts that button on to the shirt.

Pictorial Review pattern 3386, for boys’ shorts that button on to the shirt. Note the sagging sock.

A solution popular in the 1920’s was to button the pants to the shirt, or to a sleeveless underbodice, in front and in back. This made it very difficult for small boys to go to the bathroom without help. (To read “Zippers Are Good for Your Children,” click here. )

Boys didn’t always wear stockings; some wore sensible socks, sometimes rolled over elastic garters, and little boys and girls kept warm by wearing stockings under leggings in the winter. [Like much fashion vocabulary which changes over time,  “leggings” now describes a completely different garment, i.e.,  women’s knit tights that stop at the ankle.]  Formerly, stiff (lined) wool or corduroy leggings were buttoned from below the anklebone to above the knee (you needed to use a buttonhook) and must have been a nightmare to put on squirming children.

Clothes for boys, Delineator, Nov. 1917. The smallest boys wear buttoned leggings.

Clothes for boys, Delineator, Nov. 1917. The smallest boys wear buttoned leggings. Butterick patterns.

Grown men wore long trousers which covered their garters:

Boston Garter ad for man's stocking garter; Delineator, Jan. 1917.

Boston Garter ad for man’s stocking suspender with “Velvet Grip;” Delineator, Jan. 1917.

Grown women suspended their stockings from their corsets:

La Camille Corset advertisement, April, 1917.

La Camille International Corset advertisement, Delineator, April, 1917. Look at those lovely clocked/embroidered stockings! For modesty’s sake, the model is drawn wearing frilly bloomers, which would have made it difficult to attach the suspender to the stocking! Here it is left dangling.

Corsets and stocking suspenders were also worn by some unlucky little girls:

Ad for girls' corsets; April 1917.

Ad for girls’ corsets; April 1917. Ferris Good Sense “Waist” for Girls and Misses.

The younger girl’s figure is still unformed, so her corset has shoulder straps to prevent the tension on her stockings from pulling it down. If it only attached to her stocking tops in front, this might produce the “stooped” look mentioned in the Wilson Garter ad.

Like Little Soldiers

Boy's patterns, Delineator, July 1917. Two of these children have sagging socks.

Children’s patterns, Butterick’s Delineator, July 1917. The long stockings of the boy on the left are falling down. Note the military insignias on their tunics.

There was a time when a parent, seeking to divert children from mischief, would simply yell, “Pull up your socks!”

However, the pugnacity of these two boys was part of a general trend to illustrate children as little warriors during World War  I.

Boy's pattern illustration, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

Boy’s Butterick pattern illustration, Delineator, Sept. 1917.  A few months earlier, boys were shown flying a kite, not leading a charge “over the top.”

Butterick pattern for a girl's military uniform, Sept. 1917. Delineator.

Butterick pattern for a girl’s military style “Service” uniform, Sept. 1917. Delineator.

Butterick pattern for boy's military uniform, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

Butterick pattern for boy’s military style outfit, complete with putteesDelineator, Sept. 1917.

Which brings us back to the Wilson Garter, which “allows children to grow . . . up like little soldiers.” By Jingo.

Ad for Wilson Garter, Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Ad for Wilson Garter  for children, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

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8 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Corsets, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Maternity clothes, Menswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Underthings, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage patterns, World War I, Zippers

8 responses to “Up Like Little Soldiers: Wilson Garter for Children, 1917

  1. jay

    I can dimly remember being hooked into those tight fitted ‘leggins’ – they were called something else in the UK I think. I can also certainly remember a ‘liberty bodice’ which was a garment similar to the one on the left of the corset ad, having suspenders from it which held up stockings.

  2. D

    Lovely post, thank you. You must have spent a lot of time researching all the photos ?

    There are just so many things I want to say….so here are a few short(ish) comments

    1917 saw the end of the Victorian age in many ways – the deaths in WW1 lead to questioning of authority….fashions followed.

    ….the picture of 2 boys. How well the artist has painted the stereotypes. Poor boy has poor posture , stooping, pale face from no exercise, “victim” look on the face. Rich boy has rosy cheeks, upright posture, well washed face and an imposing stance (he would NOT use that in front of his parents, but in front of “the poor” one must show one’s position?).

    ….re suspender belts – “ouch” I remember. Not long enough to be girdles, but still boned and gave “support”. They were restrictive, but mothers wanted their girl tom boys to grow up to be ladies? I remember being introduced at the age of 10 or so that you could not expect to comfortable in your best clothes.

    …..re girdles….I love the way the advertising text mixes “light” with “firm” and “support”. Clearly women needed something strong to hold them in and up.

    ….re “Leggins” (Jay)…..yes I remember elder girl cousins complaining about the number of buttons and that they were tight as they were made of leather. I think they served as “trousers” in cold weather for girls, but of course, no respectable girl could wear trousers (boys only!), so leggings were acceptable to the mothers ( but not the wearers!).

    …..Re Liberty bodice (Jay) , not sure what the US equivalent was? I remember them as a bit too tight, and being told they would keep me warm and give me support. A real hangover from the 19 century when young girls did wear boned corsets.

    …..re pictures of suspender belts over petticoats – yes, of course, thighs were alternative word for sex, so impossible in a respectable catalog.

    Dinah

    • Thanks for all the insightful comments! I have illustrations that show both girls and boys wearing leggings. And my mother’s “dresser set” included a nail buffer, a hair receiver, and a buttonhook.

  3. Pingback: Summer Dresses from Butterick, July 1918, Part 2 | witness2fashion

  4. Jean Marshall

    I remember being 3 or 4 and having to wear a kind of garter belt and long wool stockings under my wool skirt and hand knit sweater when winter came. It would have been about 1944 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Itchy and uncomfortable. We moved to California in 1947 and never heard or saw or spoke such things again.

  5. Jean Marshall

    My mother read me the story “Marni Moo Getting Dressed in the Morning” many, many times around 1943 and 1944. I do not remember it, but she told me about several times. I thought it must be a picture book and searched for it off and on for many years. Finally, on BookSleuth.com, I got a reply. It was from Here and Now Story Book by Lucy Sprague Mitchell published in 1921 and republished many times through 1939. I found a copy on line and was delighted to read Mitchell’s guidelines for telling stories to different age groups of children. Three-year-olds like stories about their own activities and daily routines. Marni Moo wears drawers, a waist, garters and stockings and rompers. Fun. I have scanned the story and will include it in my life history.

  6. Pingback: World War I Paper Dolls, 1917 | witness2fashion

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