French Boys Clothes: Regions

Figure 1.--

One factor which has to be considered in assessing French boys' clothing are regional differences. Americans tend to view European nations as centralized nations with homogeneous popultions. In fact there are very substantial regional differences. These differences substntilly weakened in the 20th century, but until that time were very significant. We do not yet fully understand these differences are their imapact on fashion, but we have begun to collect information.

Individual Regions

We have ome limited ingormation on specific French regions


We wonder especially if the German annexation of Alsace-Loraine (1870-1919 and 1940-44) might have resulted in some differences. Many people in northern France, especially Alsace speak German. A French reader, however, reports, that Alsatians since the 18th century have never considered themself to be German. They speak a distinct dialect. Many Alsatians probably rejected German fashions even during the German ocupation (1870-1918). Nowadays the young people are more likely to speak standard French and can't speak the parents' dialect. One HBC reader reports that his granparents came from Alsace, but moved to Paris in 1870 rather than live under German control. Another important regional difference is the warmer climate of southern France which has affected clothing trends there.

Basque region

The origins of the Basque people is little knowm. The Basques appear to pre-date the Indo-European settlements of Europe. The Basque language is still spolen, but by only bloy 20 percent of the population. The Basque language is different from thsat of the Celts which dominated muchh of Europe, including Iberia and France. The Pays Basque Euskal-herri was the medieval Kingdom of Navarre. The Vascones, Basques and Gascons inhabited the area of what is now southern France and northwest Spain. These independent-minded people proved difficult for invaders to conquer. Visigothic military expeditions forced these peoples, especilly the Baaques into the mounaneous Pyrenees, especially the Basques. At the same time, the Franks were not yet in full control of the south (Gascony/Aquantania). This allowed the Basques to remain an independent people, although under Charlemage the Franks established the Spanish marches. The Moors conquered Spain, but never fully controlled the north, both Asurias and Navarre. Navarre played an important role in the Reconquista. Pamplona (now a Spanish city) was the capital. The Kingdom of Navarre consisted of seven provinces. Four were on whast is now the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and three on the French side (Soule, Basse-Navarre and Labourde). Navarre was invaded by the Spoanish (16th century). The Spanish sized the provinces south of the Pyranees. Navarre was thus depoarated. Navarre Basse (Low) to the North begame the French Basque country. Navarre Haute (High) to the South was gradually absorbed into the Spanish kingdom. Navarre Basse remasined independent for several decades, but thriugh marriage developed a close associatioin with France. Navarre played an importsnt rolke in the Frech religious wars (16th century). aint-Palais became the Capital of the Basse-Navarre. Unfer the Bourbons, Navarre was absorbed into the French Kingdom.


Brittany (Bretagne/Breiz) is surely the best known of the various French regions. It is located along France's northwestern coast. Brittany is a peninsula with rugged coastline that jutts out into the Atlantic. The approaches to the English Channel is located to the north and Bay of Biscay is found to the south. This is a geographic circumstance that has shaped the economy and people of the region. It is a region where like Ireland and Wales, Celtic culture survived into the 20th century. The destinctive Celtic culture has been the most important factir seoating Brittainty from the rest of France. After Ceasar's conquest of Gaul, the Celtic population was gradually Romanized laying the foundation for modern France. The name of the region derives from the fugitive Britons that sought refuge there from the Anglo-Saxon invaders (5th century). It continued as a Celtic duchy for more than 1,000 years. Breton history is a ongoing effort to achieve independence from the Franks (5th-9th centuries), Normans/Anjou (10th-12th centuries), and England/France (13th-18th centuries). The extentinction of the direct line of Breton dukes led to the War of the Breton Succession. The marrige of Anne of Breton led to a personal union with France (1491) .> Brittany was formally incorporated in to France (1532). The French Government granted a measure of autonomy (19th century). The history of the region can be found in the more than 4,000 chateaux, manors and medieval homes. We note a Breton boy photographed with his family for his first communion in the 1950s. A particularly important artist noted for his genre works on Britatany was William-Adolphe Bouguereau.


Burgandy is one of the important regionsnin French history. It was the second duchy, created as an appanage of the French Royal family in 1363. It soon expanded its territories beyond France and into the more Germanic Holy Roman Empire, acquiring by various means lands in Alsace and the Low Countries. The lands were not held of fiefdoms of the French Crown thus giving the poweful Dukes of Burgandy greater status. The Burgundian Court became a brilliant cultural center, as successive dukes attempted to recreate the ancient Kingdom of Lotharingia--which ecolved from Charlemeign's Empire. The Dukes of Burgandy desored to build an independent kingdom independent of both France and the Holy Roman Empire. Duke Philip the Good was offered regal status as "King of Belgia", within the Empire, but he rejected te offer because it as not large or autonomous enough. The Burgundian aspirations, however, ended suddenly when Duke Charles the Rash fell in battle against Swiss forces and his only child Mary heiress married the Habsburg Emperor, Maximilian I. Their son wed the Spanish heiress, Juana the Mad. Burgandy thus was inherited by the Hapsburg rulers of Austrai and Spain. Spain retained the title even after losing the territory in 1713 to Louis XIV's forces. So did Austria after losing all the territories to Revolutionary French forces in 1795.


Corsica is a Mediterranean island department of metropolitan France located north of Sardinia. It was in ancient times a Carteginia colony taken invaded by Rome. It was seized by the Vandals, but was laster ruled by a secession of Italiazn regimes. Corsica is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. France seized the island a decade before the French Revolution (1768). As a result the young Corscican, Napoleon, became a French subject. The island is very wild and mountenous. Corsica until the 20th century was quite poor and dominated by banditry and family blood feuds. Local and Italian traditions resisted French culture and a nationalist movement has resisted French authority.


French Names

HBC readers have provided us some background information on French names. This is useful in our discussion of French regional differences.


The French began to colonize Algeria in 1830. There was Algerian military resistance until the 1870s. The French presence lasted over 100 years until 1962 ( Accord de Genèvre ). This was the beginning of the second French colonial empire. But Algeria was not just one of France's many colonies. The French set out to make Algeria not a colony, but an actual expanded part of French territiry. French citizens settled in Algeria, primarily in the cities, and some Algerians adopted French customs and dress, primarily in the cities. In the villages and rural areas, Algerian boys and girls continued to wear Aeab styles. The styles worn by French boys were identical with popular styles in Metropolitan France. The differences between French and Algerian girls was even more striking than those between boys. One popular style did originate in Algeria. Two battalions of troops were formed in 1830 by General Bertrand Clausel as part of the French military occupation of Algeria. The troops were from a tribe of Kabyles dwelling in Algeria. The name of the tribe was Zouaoua, which in France gave rise to the term, "zouave". French Algerian boys wore the same garments as worn in Metropolitan France. HBC is unable to identify any significant differences at this time.

French Colonial Empires

France began to build a vast colonial empire in the 17th century. It established colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and India. It could have been France that settled North America and that would have had enormous geo-political implications for the 20th century. In the end, not very many Frenchmen wanted to leave the comforts of France and settle in the North America wilderness. In sharp contrast, quite a number of British people decided to cross the Atlantic for a mix of ecoonomic and religious reasons. The larger English population, the Royal Navy, and Britain's superior political and financial system proved decisive. France lost North America in the French and Indian War (1754-63), the North American segment of the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Most Europeans at the time thought it was a minor colonial conflict, it turned out to be perhaps the most significant war of the 18th century. France also lost India to the British. Napoleon after obtaining Louisana from the Spansh, for a time toyed with the idea of restablishing a North American empire. In the end, largely because of the destruction of the French army in Haiti, he abandoned the idea and sold Louisiana to the United States (1803). After the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, Fance set about building a new empire. The first step was seizing Algeria (1830). Tunisia and Morocco followed later. France was also a major player in the late-19th century Scramble for Africa. France had two colonial regions in Africa. Afrique occidentale française (French West Africa--AOF) consisted of eight colonies: Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan (today Mali), French Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger, High-Volta (Burkina Faso) and Dahomey ( Benin). Afrique Équatoriale française (French Equitorial Afric--AEF) included four colonies: Gabon, Middle Congo (Republic of Congo), Oubangui-Chari (Central African Republic) and Chad. The AEF had less infrastructures than AOF because of the equatorial forest, but especially because there are less raw materials. France also acquired Indo-China and Pacific island colonies. One of these was New Caledonia (1853). After World War I, France acquired two Lague of Nations mandates in the Middle East--Lebanon and Syria. After World War II, France attempted to piece together its empire, but fought two disasterous colonial wars (Viet Nam and Algeria).


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Created: May 16, 2002
Last updated: 9:55 PM 12/10/2015