Italian Boys' Clothes: Garments


Figure 1.--This Italian movie depicted a boy wearing a romper suit and strap shoes in the 1940s.

We have begun to collect some basic information on the various garments worn by Italian boys. Younger Italian boys, like other European and American boys, used to wear dresses. Smocks were commonly worn by Italian boys, especially for schoolwear. They are still worn at some schools. Rompers were also popular in Italy. We believe Little Lord Fauntleroy and other fancy suits were popular in Italy during the late 19th and early 20th Century. Unfortunately at this time I have little real information on the popularity of this style in Italy. One of the most common outfits for Italian boys were sailor suits. I have few details, however, on the particular styles of Italian sailor suits. Based on images of Italian immigrants during the late 19th and early of the 20th Centuries, many of the styles were quite traditional. Italian boys have worn kneepants, long pants, knickers, and short pants. Short pants were very commonly worn by Italian boys through much of the 20th century. Jeans began to appear in Italy during the 1960s, a decade that saw substantial changes in Italian boys clothes. Italy today is renowed for its fashionable footwear. Italy until recently, however, has been a poor country. Poverty was especially severe in southern Italy. In these areas it was very common for children to go barefoot, even to school.

Headwear

We do not have much information at this time about the headwear worn by Italian boys. Many of our images show boys without any kind of headgear. We wonder if caps and hats were less common in Italy than some other countries. We have seen images of peasant boys in southern Italy wearing small red caps. We note some white-brimmed hats and other sailor styles. We also note some Italian boys wearing berets. We are not sure how common this was. It seems to have been more of a stylish garment worn when the boys were dressed up more than a casual style commonly worn. We have also noted a few boys wearing English style peaked caps. This style was also adopted by a few private schools.

Dresses

Young Italian boys like other European boys throughout the 19th century wore dresses. I have no specific details on this practice in Italy, such as dress styles and ages at which boys wore dresses. Nor do I have details on conventiions. Were Italian boys breeched all at one time or did they continue wearing dresses ] for a while after their first pants were purchased.

Smocks

Smocks as in France were commonly worn by Italian boys. But again I have few details on the styles or the age of the children involved. Nor do I have any information on the conventions involved. When did a boy wear his smock and when did he just wear his regular clothes. I also have no idea what Itlalian boys thought about smocks. If the pattern was anything like that which developed in France, Italian boys by the 1960s probably did not like the smocks which had a girlish look to them--especially the back buttoning style which was hard to put on and get out of without help.

Rompers

Rompers were a popular style for Italian boys beginning after the turn of the 20th century. They initially were a style of play clothes suitable for the nursery or around the house. Rpmpers were a one piece suit with short legs that blouced up and had elastic leg closings. The original styles were worn like knickers at knee length, but gradually became shorter. We believe that Italy was one of the European countries were the most popular, but we have little information at this time, as we have only limited information on Italian clothes in general at this time. Italian boys wore rompers though the 1940s. There were both play clothes and dressy outfits. The dressy styles persisted longer than the play clothes. Generally by the 1950s only younger Italian boys still wore rompers. They continued to be worn until the 1960s when they began to be less common and restricted to mostly infant wear.

Fauntleroy Suits

I believe Little Lord Fauntleroy and other fancy suits were popular in Italy during the late 19th and early 20th Century. Unfortunately at this time I have little real information on the popularity of this style in Italy.


Figure 2.--This Italian boy in a image taken about 1890 wears a double-breasted suit with sailor suit styling. Note the curls and hair bow.

Sailor Suits

One of the most common outfits for Italian boys were sailor suits. I have few details, however, on the particular styles of Italian sailor suits. Based on images of Italian immigrants during the late 19th and early of the 20th Centuries, many of the styles were quite traditional. Italian boys like other European boys appear to have begun wearing sailors suits in the 1860s. The style by the 1880s had become a major fashion for boys. Italy like other major European powers began to build a navy, which at the time was seen as a symbol of a great nations power and status. As such the sailor suit became one of the most popular styles for boys. I have no information on the ages that Italian boys wore sailor suits. I believe, however, that is was comparable to other continental European countries like France and Germany. Again based on photographs of immigrants, sailors suits were comminly worn by boys through about 12-13 years of age. I do remenmber reading about Count Ciano (Musolini's son-in-law) who at the age of trouble was getting into trouble, a little to interested in girls. His father decided he should wear a short pants sailor suit to keep him out of trouble. He was eventually shot by the Germans for conspiring with the Allies. The sailor suits were at first mostly with kneesocks and long stockings until after the turn of the century. At that time short pants and kneesocks appeared. At first the shorts were worn at knee-length, but gradually got shorter.

School Smocks

Some information is avalilable on Itlaian school clothes, which primarily consisted of smocks for elementary-age children. Many of the Italian school smocks were worn with large white collars and large floppy bows. The movie Life is Beautiful (Italy, 1998) about a family during the period of 1938 to 1944 has a scene in a classroom with all the children wearing their smocks. Available information is covered in the Italian school uniform page.

Suits

Italian suits are considered to be some of the most stylish available. They often are more trendy than the more staid English suit styles. They also tend to use a wider range of materials. Presumably some of this styling flair caried over onto boys' suits. Our knowledge of Italian suits, however, is still very limited. A HBC reader has provided us an image of a popular suit style in the 1970s. Boys commonly wore short pants suits through the 1950s, but long pants suits began to become more common in the 1960s.

Neckwear

We note Italian boys as other European boys wearing neckwear during the mid-19th century. Stocks and bows were at first relatively slow but grew in size by the late 19yh century. We note a variety of neckwear after the turn of the 20th century, including neckties and bowties. After World war II we see even more batiety of neckwear including string ties of various sorts, some with cloth balls. We also note a kind of cross tie. After the 1960s Italian boys began to wear suits much less than earlier and we dee the decling use of any type of neckwear.

Shirts

We note Italian boys wearing many of the same shirt styles worn by other European boys. One destinctive Italian style was that many boys wire the singlet-type tank top rather than t-shirts. It was worn as a casual shirt rather than an undershirt.

Sweaters

Sweaters are widely worn by Italain boys, especially in the north. Given Italy's southern Mediteranean climate, warm weather clothes are not as important in Italy as in many other European countries. Many European boys during the 1920s began wearing sweaters, which tended to to be made longer than now, over their pants--usuallly short pants. We have observed this convention in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands as well as other countries. We do not know why this convention developed or how popular it was in Italy. Later the swearters became more shorter and were cut at the waist and often tucked inside the pants.


Figure 3.--Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926) the Italian born American film star was photographed here with his brother and sister. The boy in the sailor suit is his nephew Jean. He pretended he came from an arstocratic family, but in fact was of humble birth from a small town in southern Italy.

Trousers/Pants

Italian boys have worn kneepants, long pants, knickers, and short pants. Boys in the early 19th century commonly wore long pants. At mid century knnepants and knicker bloomers appeared. These were often worn as parts of suits. Kneepants were very common at the turn of the 20th century. The Boy Scouts helped to popularize short pants in the early 20th century. Short pants were very commonly worn by Italian boys through much of the 20th century. I am not sure just when the style developed in Italy, but by the 1910s they were being widely worn by Italian boys. The length was knee level at first, but began to shorten in the 1930s and boys by the 1940s were wearing rather short cut shorts. During World War II (1940-43), Fascist authorities decreed short pants for boys inder 16 years of age. Older boys in the inter-War era might wear knickers. Knickers were usually worn as part of a suit. Jeans began to appear in Italy during the 1960s, a decade that saw substantial changes in Italian boys clothes. Jeans began to appear in Italy during the 1960s, a decade that saw substantial changes in Italian boys clothes. At the beginning of the decade, Italian boys were still wearing mostly short pants suits.

Underwear

We know very little about Italian underwear, primarily because we have few Italian catalogs which is one of the better sources of information about underwear. We have some limited information because Italy was a reltively poor country, especilly southern Italy. Children did not have large wardrobes. For many wirking-class children, a few basic garments made do, especially in the hot summer weather. We sometimes see Italian children wearing underwear instead of swim suits or during the hot summer weather just waring their underwear. We see quite a number of boys wearing underwear singlets with short pants. This was fairly common until after World War II when the country as part of the Common Market/European Union began to develop a more economy and even the working class began to achieve a degree of affluence. Hopefully our Italian readers will provide cus some information about undewear.

Hosiery

HBC does not yet have a comprehernsive assessment of the hosiery worn by Italian boys. We see Italian boys wearing different types of hosiery. Italian boys wore long stockings, although perhaps because of the climate, not as much as boys in nprthern Europe. An Itlalian reader has, however, provided some information from the 1970s and 80s. He tells us, "I especially refer to the 1970s and 80s when I was a young boy. White knee socks were worn by girls on dress occasions. Many young girls wore them extensively on Sunday. In some Italian regions, such as Piedmont, girls MUST wear white knee socks on Sunday. Boys, as a result, often refused absolutely to wear any kind of white socks as a dress accessory, and they preferred to wear dark colors (such as blue). Italian men HATE to wear white socks, although in the 1970s some youngster wore white knee socks in the hope of charming girls; instead many girls think of boys or men in white socks as ridiculous and think dark color socks as more sitable for boys and men. By the late 1970s, a new fashion trend started; girls--often the most fashion concious--began to wear plain white knee socks (and some also started to wear white tights) with shiny loafers or boots. White knee socks were worn also with pale shaded or tan tights, as a complement to white dress, a sort of a romantic attire that charmed many boys." Modesty was a factor in the 19th and early-20th century. An Italian reader writes, "It is often difficult to understand the conventions rules (and the ideas about modesty). For example, an old woman told me that, when she was 13 years old (late 1920s), she was harshly rebuked by a churchwoman because once she went to church wearing her sandals without socks. This girl lived in a good neighborhood of Rome. I am sure that in those times a lot of Italian girls went to church barefoot because they didn't own footwear (however in other neighborhoods). Anyway the conventions about long stocking are more strange. It seems that bare legs were acceptable only with bare feet, both for boys and girls."

Footwear

We still have relatively limited information on Italian children's footwear. Italy today is renowed for its fashionable footwear. Italy until recently, however, has been a poor country. Poverty was especially severe in southern Italy. In these areas it was very common for children to go barefoot, even to school. This was an economic function and not a fashion or popular style. Families with money to do so would buy shoes for their children. Sandals appear to have been very popular in Italy and we have noted a variety of styles. HBC does not yet have timeline information.







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Created: January 5, 2002
Last updated: 11:12 PM 3/15/2012