United States Boys' Clothes: Immigrat Impact on Fashion

Figure 1.--.

A HBC reader asks as to how immigrants affected fashion. Here of course the original British settlers had a substantial impact on fashion. As a result, English fashion dominated American fashion, especially men and boyswear throughout the 19th century. Our reader wants to know about European immigration which began with the Irish and then from Scandinavia and eastern and souther Europe later in the 19th century. We are just beginning to assess this topic. Our basic thoughts on the subject are at this time are that immigrants did not greatly impact American fashion. While immigrants played a major role in the building of modern America, we think that, however, their influence on fashion was relatively limited. I think immigrants, especially the boys after arriving in America were at first anxious to become American and fit in as rapidly as possible. Boys who learned English faster than their parents, did not want to stand out out as different or foreign. Most of the children wanted to wear American clothes and leaarn English so that they could fit in as quickly as possible. Interests in roots and ethnic heritage developed by the second or third generation, but the first generation, especially the children, wanted to become Americans and look as much as possible like Americans. Some parents encouraged this, many others were not all that pleased. A reader wtites, "I agree that the impact of immigration on fashion is an interesting topic. I did my Ph.D. dissertation on the subject ot Italian immigration in Newark, N.J. (period 1900 to 1920). I also agree that younger immigrants were more likely to want to "throw off" the old ways and adapt the customs of their new land. I don't think this is generally true, however, of the older immigrants who liked to retain customs of the old country." [Bolen] Another factor is that fashions at the time were set by the upper class which had a British bias. I think you will find most of the fashion inspiration coming from Britain and to a lesser extent France. While our general assessment is that the immigrant impact on fashion was limited, there must have been some influence. One reader believes that immigrants may have influenced the popularity of double-bar sandals in America.


Bolen, William J.E., The Changing Geography of Italian Immigrants in the United States: A Case Study of the Ironbound Colony, Newark, New Jersey. Rutgers University, 1986. With interviews of local people who lived at the turn of the century, reading daily newspapers from the 1880s to 1920, census data analysis, etc. etc., I was able to immerse myself into the subject matter to an extent that I felt like I was living in Newark at the time.


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Created: November 19, 2002
Last updated: 12:59 AM 8/29/2005