Sailor suits proved to be one of the most popular fashions for
Italian boys. Despite the fact that Italy had no real navy when the
country was unified in the 1860s, Italian mothers in droves turned
to the sailor suit. This was probably partly due to the widely held
notion in late-19th Century Europe that a modetn navy was the
expression of the power and prestige of a modern nation. As countries
poured millions in the construction of modern battleships, mothers
outfitted generatiions of boys in sailor suits. Many boys were even
dressed in sailor outfits before breeching as dresses with sailor
motifs had appeared in the 1890s. This fashion continued into the
20th Century and did not past out of fashion until after World War II
in the 1940s.
Itlalian boys like other European boys generally wore dresses in the 19th and and early 20th Century. It was common for boys to wear dresses until 5 or 6 years of age, but this varied widely from family to family. Generally boys from more affluent families wore dresses to an earlier age. I know little about the styles of the dresses, but believe styles for boys and girls were virtually identical until the later-19th Century. One style introduced in the later-part of the century was dresses with sailor motiffs. Some of these outfits had sailor collars with tradituinal styling. Other dresses had decidely unsailor styling with lace trim and ruffles.
Italian boys like other European boys appear to have begun wearing
sailors suits in the 1860s. I do not have detailed information on Italy,
but believe the 1860s. The style grew in popularity during the 1870s.
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.
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.
Suits for wealthier boys may have been available in some less traditiinal
styles, but an assessment of styles will require mich more information.
Preliminary indications suggest that
dounle-breasted styling may
have been espically popular for Italian sailor suits.
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
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. Italian boys in the
1930s began wearing short pants well above knee level. Short pants sailor
suits were commonly worn with kneesocks.
We see many Italian boys wearing sailor suits to school in the late 19th and early 20th century. The sailor suit seems especially popular in the 1910s. Younger children wore smocks, but we see many children in secondary schools, neginng abpit age 11 wearing sailor suit. We note many different styles. We do not notice a dominanant traditional style based on the Italian naval uniform. The popularity in secondary schools shows that the sailor suit as in other countries was especially popular with middle-class families. Working-class children generally did not go to secondary schools. These wee not school uniforms, but outfits parents chose for schoolwear. Sailor suits of course were not the only outfirs selected, but they clearly were a popular choice. Yhey seemed to have slowly declined in popularity after the early 1920s. We do not yet, however, have detailed chronological information. We still see sailor suits during World War II (1939-45). As far as we can tell, the sailor suit disappeared as a school style after the War. We also notice girls wearing sailor outfits, but not as commonly as for the boys.
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