Spanish First Communion Suits


Figure 1.--This aristocratic-looking Spanish boy wears a double breasted longpants suit with a wing collar and elegant white bow tie. Note the white gloves. This photograph was probably taken in the 1920s.

First Communion in Spain has been a major event, as to be expected in a Catholic country, . Spain is perhaps the most Catholic countries in Europe and has traditionally had one of the most conservative churches. So First Communion probably has been even more important in Spain than in other European countries. The importance of the Church has declined in recent years, but ardently Catholic families still do attach great importance to the event. For the children, however, the once primarily religious character of the event has been changed. In now prosperous Spain, First Communion for the children has become a gift bonanza--an outpouring of presents even exceeding Christmas. Although it only occurs once, the flow of gift's often attracts the children's attention from this important religious event in their lives. Available images show that boys in the 1920s were wearing dark suits for first communion. A variety of suits were worn, including long pants, knickers, and short pants. A Spanish contributor informs HBC that sailor suits in the 1990s are now popular for boys' First Communion suits. Several different styles of sailor suits are wornm but the sailor suit has become the most popular First Communion suit for the boys.

Ages

Available images from the 1920s show that boys were about 9-10 years old when taking their First Communion. This does not appear to have changed as a 1990s report indicates that boys generally taking First Communion at about the same age.

The Spanish Church

The Spanish Catholic Church has traditionally had one of the most poweful and conservative in Europe. Spain since the unification can be seen as the most Catholic country in Europe.

The Moors and unification

This may be due largely to the century-long Moorish ocupation. The Moors by the 8th century had largely conquered Spain, even threatening France. Catholic kingdoms fought for centuries in a kind of mix of dynastic squables, civil war, and religious crusades. Americans have probably heard of the legendary El Cid. El Cid is the "hero" of the Spanish reconquest but he was actually a mercenary knight who faught for whomever paid him the most. He was active in the first re-conquest of Valencia and one main street here is named after him. Spain which had consisted of several independent kingdoms was largely united with the mairrage of Ferdinand and Isabella. The Moors were finaly defeated when Grenada, the last Moorish kingdom fell in 1492. The Church proceeded to expunge every trace of non-Catholic influence. The Moors and Jews were expelled. The Inquisition was instituted to ensure that those that had converted did not back slide.

The Americas and the Hapsburgs

Spain's large population and martial skills gained diring the wars with the Moors combined to make the country one of the major European powers. After Columbus' discovery of America in 1492, Spain established a vast empire from Mexico to Chile. Vast quantities of silver and gold bullion flowed into Spain helping to make Spain the superpower of the 16th century. The assession of the Hapsburgs to the Spanish crown meant that Spain controlled territories throughout Europe.

The Counter-Reformation

Catholic Spain with its vast fleet and armies, fortified with the wealth of the Americas led the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic respnse to the Protesrant Reformation. Soon the already existing Inquisition was employed to ensure that Protestantism did not spread to Spain or its colonies. In this they were extremely successful. With the Inquisition firmly in place, Spain in the 16th century proceeded The Church also succeeded in blocking the entry of open thought and modern infuences. Spain which had been the 16th century super power had by the 18th century become a back-water of Europe kept insulated by its conservative clergy.

Social Class Differences

The Catholic Church in Spain retained its conservative outlook into the 20th century. The church had control over great wealth and huge rural areas. By the early 1900s, however, it was increasingly out of touch with the needs and aspirations of the urban working-class that was becoming increasingly pliticized. During the Republican era it allied itself with upper-class and conservative elements. The Republic attempted to institute a secular state and seized some church property. The workers and other elements supporting the Republic were increasingly estrainged from the Church. During the Civil War (1936-39) terrible acts of barbarity were unleased. The Church supported Franco. Increasingly left-wing Republican elements cairred out attacks on the Church and priests. Terible attrocities were reported by the Church of monestaries and convents being pillaged. Franco's forces backed by the Church brutally repressed workers in areas under their control. Republican forces recounted gross attrocuties on the part of Franco's forces. Civilian populations were bombed by Italian and German airforce units supporting Franco. The bombing of Guernica in the Basque country was imortalized by Picasso. After the fall of the Republic, Franco cairred out awide ranging suppression of workers groups. Manywere simply were shot. Church property was reinstated.

Chronology

HBC has only limited chronological information is available on the First Communion suits during different periods, but we have begun to collect some information. HBC at this time has no information about First Communions in the 19th century or earlier periods. Hopefully Spanish contributors to HBC can provide some information. HBC has some information about Spanish First Communion suits in the the 20th century. At this time we hav no information about First Communions during the early 20th century, but we know something aboutsubsequent decades. Available images show that Spanish boys in the 1920s were wearing dark suits for first communion. I'm not sure if these were black or blue suits. While all available images show boys wearing dark suits, there were substantial differences in these suits. A variety of suits were worn, including long pants, knickers, and short pants. I am not sure about the relative popularity of the different types. Sailor suits in the 1990s were popular outfits for Spanish boys taking their First Communion.I don't know when it first became common but at Spamish contributor reports seeing old fotos of boys in their suits from the end of the 19th century century on. The old suits often had short pants as well as the satin ribbon but now, shorts pants are definately out! Interestingly, many of the sailor suits now worn by Spanish boys are officer or admiral suits.


Figure 2.--These children in modern Spain are taking their First Communion. Notice the different types of sailor suits that the boys are wearing. The Spanish contributor providing this image advises, "Admire the flashing black eyes of these little boys proud of their emaculate sailor suits."

Modern First Communions

Extent

How common is First Communion for boys in modern Spain? One Spanish source reports that it is very common for those families still going to the GREAT expense that a First Communion entails.

Expensive Event

Why expensive? A Spanish observer reports, "I would have to go into an entire essey on Spanish society as it is constructed now to answer that." But simply put, Spain is just not the relgious society that it once was. The ceremony, the show, the social event that the First Communion was, is still strongly practiced. It is a social event for the kids, they get a mountain of gifts. It is obscene. There has to be a big party at a fancy restaurant. No one would try to give a simple house party for the boy or girl. Also, my impresion is that far more girls than boys make the First Communion. And the dresses of the girls are like bridal gowns and cost almost as much. And the photos I have seen of the advertising are more like young girls looking forward to their first date than First Communion.

Commercialized

First Communion in Spain is so commercial that the big departments stores even have Communion Lists where the greedy little communicants have already chosen the expensive gifts they want and poor friends and neighbors just try to choose the most impressive. The event is a big "networking" event for the parents as well. No kidding!

A Spanish teacher reports that in one school where he was working, there was even an effort by a group of parents to cut back on the social and financial shock of the event. They were completely ignored by the yuppies who had to give their little princesses and princes "the best". Yes, that's just how they talk about it.

Ages

The boys are usually 8 to 10-years of age when they make their First Communion. No modern boy would be caught dead in his First Communion suit after he has worn it once. And when you consider that they run about $250 each you can see why it is such an expensive event.

Styles

The most common Forst Communion suit in Spain is a sailor suit. They are now all long pants, although I believe short pants sailor suits were once quite common. They are either blue or white. Some are designed as an officer's uniform, unlike traditional sailor suits which were enlisted uniforms. Enlisted styled uniforms are also still sold. There is evem sometimes gold braid. A Spanish source reports that the suits from the 19th century were much like now (an officers uniform, no cap, sometimes with a white bow on the sleeve). Some boys wore kneepants or in the early 20th century short pants and strap shoes.

The boys no longer wear sandals though once they would have. They also no longer wear caps.

Boys' Attitudes

One Spanish observer believes that First Communion in Spain has become no more than a social, selfish event. There is the veneer of religious instruction but once they do their First Communion, it would be rare to see a boy in church again. It appears to be just an old ceremony that they use to get material things. And it is looked on by some parents as an expensive plague. They would like to see it go back to the religious event it is supposed to be but they would be fighting the vast majoirty of opinion to make a change.

Garments

We see boys wearing many different stles of First Communion suits. This varied over time, We see boys in the early 20th century wearing a variety of dark suits, almost also sack suits with lapels. They were worn with different types of pants. After World War II sailor suits seem to have become popular. For many years we see the basic white middy blouse suit, the enlisted (ratings) suit. In the 1990s we see the officers suit with a blue blazer. I am not sure why this change occurred. At this age it seems it was the parents and not vthe boys who were responsible. We calso see boys wearing suits and blazers. Some schools or church communion groups had also the boys wear the same style of suit for the occassion.

Individuals

We have found several individual portraits of Spanish boys dressed up for their First Communion. They provide examples of the various outfits worn for First Communion and we can see how they changed over time. We notice quite a variety of different outfits.

Reader Comments

Some believe that the current fashion of sailor suits for boys taking First Communion is quite charming. Others disagree. One HBC contributor from Spain comments, "Its just a pity to see that in a event as important as First Communion for the kids and families and Catholic Church and where kids should have same "value", there are simple sailors and admirals ! It also demonstrates this saying that the mediterranean countries like Italy and Spain attach great importance to dressing of kids."







HBC





Navigate the Historic Boys' First Communion pages:
[Return to the Main First Communion page]
[Return to the Main Spanish page]
[Renewals]
[America] [Argentina] [France] [Spain] [Switzerland]



Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Cloth and textiles] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]



Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s]



Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[Short pants suits] [Blazers] [Jackets] [Kilts] [Sailor suits] [Sailor hats]
[Ring bearer/page costumes] [Shortalls]



Created: November 21, 1999
Last edited: 11:16 PM 9/13/2010