A covering of cloth for the ankle, fitting down upon the shoe; a galoche. A kind of shoe, consisting chiefly of cloth, and covering the ankle. — Webster, 1882
Stout, well-fitting calfskin gaiters, neatly laced, will always “set off” a pretty foot, and improve a homely one. – January 12, 1867, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Laura Ingalls’ Christmas rag doll, Charlotte, was said not to have separate shoes, but over her red flannel stockings were “little black cloth gaiters” instead. Gaiters, being laced or tied in place were perhaps not as easily lost as small doll shoes, and may have been easier to make.
It’s impossible to know what Charlotte’s gaiters or feet must have looked like, or how they were constructed. Were they simply a band of black fabric sewn in place over the red flannel stockings? Were the stockings separate or did they make up Charlotte’s legs? Did the gaiters lace or button in any way, or were buttons sewn on or laces embroidered in place? Were the doll’s feet shaped so that the gaiters “belled out” at the bottom? Did Laura ever worry that her doll had gaiters but no shoes?
Gaiters were fashionable for little girls when Laura was a child. They protected the ankle from injury and kept it warmer, plus they protected the shoe from scuffs. They kept biting insects from crawling into the shoe or up a pant-leg. Little boys wore spats that also covered the bottom of the pants leg or gaiters that didn’t. Gaiters could be made of heavy fabric, wool, or leather; they came in white, black, gray, or could be made in a bright color to match an outfit. Gaiters either laced or buttoned at the side, and they had a band that went beneath the shoe in front of the heel, in order to keep them firmly in place. Note the gaiters on the child in the picture below.
Gaiters as a fashion statement come and go, but they are still commonly used for protection from snakes or injury when hiking or horseback riding, and with some military wear or marching band uniforms.
gaiters (BW 4)