*** Italy


Italian boy wide-brimmed hat
Figure 1.--This Italian boy was photographed by Emile Zola during a trip to Rome in 1894. Note the enormous broad-brimmed sailor hat. He wears a stylish coat over what looks like a white dress. His strap shoes have little pompoms.

Italian clothes for boys involved the same fashionsd as those common in the rest of western Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. Unfortunately, I have very limited specific informtion on Italy--nor have we been able to acquire many images on Italian boys clothes. HBC has been rather surprised at our failure to obtain information on Italian boys' clothes as Italy has in many ways been a leader in children's fashions. Hopefully some of the Italian visitors to this web site will provide some information and insights on historical Italian boys' styles and fashion trends. We've created this page primarily as a page to enter future information. Interestingly there have been numerous Italian visitors to HBC. The topic of historical clothe does seem of interest. Unfortuntalely no Italian visitors have yet made contribution to HBC. This is unfortunate as the topic of Italian boys' fashions is of some interest. We believe that the limited response from Italy may be at least partialy a language problem.


taly is a country that has been at the center of Western civilization. Italy is central for several reasons. It was the continuation of classical Greek civilzation and helped transmit it throughout Western Europe. Rome was not as innovative as classical Greece, but it effectively preserved and transmitted classical Greek thought. Rome's own main unique contribution to Western civilization was secular law. As imperfectly administered as it was, the legal tradition guaranteeing rights to the individual which even the state cannot violate, was perhaps Rome's greatest achievement. It stands to day as one of the central pillars of Western civilization. It is ironic that the origin of the Western legal tradition was a war-like state based upon conquest and slavery. Italy's importance is not limited to ancient Rome. It was medieval Italy that reintroduced classical thinking to the West through the Renaisance which played such a central role in the development of the Western tradition. Some of the great treasures of Western civilization come down to us from the Italian Renaissance which of course sparked a Renaissance throughout Western Europe. The Western Christianity and Islam share many of the same traditions. Where they diverge stems from the fact that Islamic culture did not experience the Renaissance. After the Renaissance, the focus of European history shifts north, in part because the Catholic Counter Reformation prevented the Reformation from entering Italy. Italy was one of the last major European states to unify. The country participated in the colonial scramble for Africa, but felt slighted. Large numbers of Italians emigrated to America. Italy fought with the Allies during World War I. The country afterthe War embraced Fascism under Mussolini and fought with NAZI Germany during World War II. Italy joined NATO during the Cold war despite having the largest Communist Party in the West.


Italy gave birth to the Renaissance and was where modern Europe first began emerging from feudalism. Modern banking first emerged in Italy. Italian navigators played a major role in the European outreach by Portugal and Spain. Italy itself without an Atlantic coast did not share economically in that outreach. Religious conservatism and the Counter Reformatiion retarded the scientific inquiry that had begun as part of the Renaissance. Italy divided into minor states became a prize fought over by more powerful European powers emerging as unified nation states. This included the Austrians, French, and Spanish. Italy is one of the major European countries in terms of population, but was not unified until relative late (1860s). The unified country was a relatively poor country. At a time when national wealth was still significantly impacted by agriculture, the relatively poor agricultural land in many areas of Italy were unable to support the large Italian population. Southern Italy in particular was virtualy feudal. Northern Italy, in part because of the Austrian influence was more modern with a degree of industrialization. Italians migrated abroad to both South America (especially Argentina and Brazil) and the United States seeking jobs. Many Italians stayed in America, but larger numbers took their earnings home to buy land and small shops in their home communities. Mussolini and the Fascists set out to modernize Italy after World War I and obtain colonies. There were some suceesses, but Mussolini also led Italy into World War II and the country was devestated. European integration following the War brought led to the European Union bringing Italy fully into the 20th century. Italy has prospered as part of a united Italy. At first Italian workers went to Germany seeking jobs. Expanding Italian indidtry created jobs in Italy so Italians no longer had to seek jobs abroad. Socialists and Communists commanded widespread political support. As a result, Italy created a substantial welfare state with enormous entitlements. Unlike Germany and the northern European states, however, the Italian welfare state was created with little considerartion of the ability to pay out the commitments made. Now Italy faces the sane problem as many other European countries. The Government has promissed massive social welfare entitlements that are becoming increasingly difficult to finance and are impeading economic growth. Unlike the smaller states (Greece, Portugal, and Ireland), the financial commitments of the Government are enormous streaching the capability of the EU to finance a bailout. The fiscal position of Italian banks is also being questioned.


HBC has very limited Chronological information on Itlaian boys' clothing. Our information begins in the 19th century, but we eventually want to develop information from paintings with boys clothing from early centuries. We notice most of the styles wore in other European countries like France and Britain. Italian boys appear to have worn tunic suits in the mid-19th century. We note velvet suits with knicker-length pants. Some boys wore belts over their tunics. Collars and bows were small until the 1870s. Shoes and stockings seem fancier than in Britain and America. Fauntleroy and sailor suits became popular in the late 19th century. Many boys wore wide-brimmed sailor hats. School children commonly wore smocks, but I am not sure just when that began. We are not sure how common smocks were outside of school. Short pants became common after World War I and were commonly worn by Italian boys through the 1950s. Knee socks and long stockings were not as common in Italy, especially southern Italy, presumably vecause of the climate. Long pants began to become more common in the 1960s.


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 knitwear. 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.

Hair Styles

I have no historical information on historic hair styles for boys in Italy. Available images suggest that long hair was popular for boys in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. I do not know if it was popular to curl the boys' hair into ringlets as was the case in America or to leave in uncurled as was the case in France. We note an image of a bnoy with ringlet curls, probably from the 1880s, wearing a sailor suit. Our Italian images are too limited at this time to draw any valid conclusions. Some mothers apparently liked to add hair bows to their sons long hair as was popular in France. I am not sure when a boys long hair was generally cut in Italy. It appears it was usually done after and not before a boy was breeched.


HBC has collected information on a variety of activities in which Italian boys have participated in over time. Many of these activiities involve a wide range of specialized costumes. Other images show trends in German boys' clothing over time. Some of the activities include choir, choir, dance, games, religious observation, school, sport, and many other activities. Italy until after World War II, was the poorest of the major European countries. Given the poverty, especially in southern Italy, many Italian boys had to work often invoved in agricultural labor.

Folk Costumes

Italy like almost all European countries have very important regional differences. There are, for example, many impotant differences between north and south. Some of these differences reflect the fact that Italy after the fall of Rome was often ruled by a number of small republics and kingdom. Some areas were unfer the control of neighboring countries, including Audtria, France, and Spain. At this time we have very limited information on Italian folk costumes. Hopefull our Italian readers will assist us in this area.

Italian youth groups
Figure 2.--Italian Fascists like their German counterparts loved uniforms. Virtually every Italian boy during the 1920s and 30s particiapted in the Balial and wore the organizations's uniform. The outward trapings look similar to the Hitler Youth, but the martial fervor of Itlaians was sorely lacking when Musollini took Italy into World War II.


Here we will follow family fashions over time. HBC has decided to also gather information on entire families. One of the limitations of HBC is that too often we just view boys' clothing in contex with what the rest of the family was wearing. Many HBC images are isolated portraits of individual boys that do not show the context of the time. This will help to compare boys' clothing with that worn by mothers, fathers, and sisters. These images will help show show differences in both age and gender appropriate clothing.


Italy is one of the five major European counties in term of population, nearly 60 million (2022). The Italian population almost doubled in the 20th century. The population growth has been uneven. This has resulted from large scale internal migration from the largely rural South to the industrial cities of the urban North. Italy's North and South developed different for a range of of cultural, geographic, and political reasons. This led to an end of feudalism in the north and its continuation in the south, including Sicily. The country was only unified (1861), before that it was dominated by different policies, including Germans (Austrians in the North, Piedmont, the Papal States, and Two Sicilies in the south. The post World War II Italian Economic Miracle (1950s–1960s) has significantly leveled those differences. In part because of the poverty in the South, there was significant emigration, most spectacularly to America in the late-19th and early-20th century. This emigration has since the 1980s shifted to net immigration, mostly from Africa, especially North Africa. Population density is high, even by European standards. The two major cities are Rome and Naples. Italian cities have features that show their historic roots. Whilr Rome's famed walls today are largely gone, Italy's famed piazzas are continue to be an important part of modern Italian urban life. The most densely populated region is the Po River Valley in the north where nearly half the population lives. Other areas have relatively sparse populations, including the plateaus of Basilicata, the Alps and Apennines highlands, and the island of Sardinia. In the ancient world, Rome was one of the most urbanized societies. With the fall of Rome, Italy became a de-urbanized society. With the the late middle ages and Renaissance we begin to see the growth of cities again. Unification and industrialization began in the mid-19th century and we see a massive trend of urbanization, especially in northern Italy. [Malanima] We have not yet pursued the topic of homes, but after working with images for some time now we have concluded that images showing the grounds, outside of the home, and inside of the home can provide us more valuable information. This can provide information such as demographic and social class factors and how they related to fashion. Many images archived on are studio portraits with no information about the home environment. But in the 20th century we have large numbers of snapshots.

Italian States

Italy before unification in the 1860s was divided into many different states. We have only begun to develop information on the states, some of which were of considerable historical significance. The modern Vatican was once known as the Papal States and for many years were an important temporal power in central Italy. At this time we only have pages on Naples and Venice.


Italy can be divided into three major areas: north, central (dominated by Rome), and south. The climate and historical experience of these different regions is quite different because Italy was only united in the 1860s and some areas in the north were added eben later. There are also some island territories. There are substantial diffrences between these regions. Northern Italy is the most industrialized area. The south is more agricultural and until after World War II, almost feudal. Naples and the south have historically often been associated with Sicily. Sardinia is another important island making up Italy. We have some limited on the island. Corsica was once part of Italy. It was seized from Carthage in the Punic Wars. Only relatively recently has it become a French territory. We do not yet have much information on the various Italian regions. One reader has provided us some interesting information about San Giorgio della Richinvelda, a small village in north-eastern Italy. Hopefully our Italian readers will tell us more about the different regions of their country.

Italian Emmigration

Italy in the 19th century was one of the pourest countries in Europe. While the industrial revolution began to change northern Italy, economic conditions were still almost feudal in southern Italy and Sicily. The difference between northern and southern Italy was that northern Italy had been goverened by the Austrians (and the French for a brief era during the French Revolution). Southern Italy was ruiled by the Spanisgh Hapsburgs. Poor agragrian practices and the land and climate also affected crop yields in southern Italy. Italian emmigration began in the north. Many of these early immigrants went to neighbiring European countries and to South America, especially Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Later emigration began in even greater numbers from the south. Italians in the second half of the 19th century began a mass exodus to countries with more promising economic opportunites. Southern Italy was almost entirely an agricultural economy, but crop yiels were low an few peasants owned land. The primary destination was the United States. At the same time the United States was expanding west led by rapidly growing railroads. The railroads played an important role in promoting immigration. The railroads received bonuses from the Federal Government in land, but the land had little value unless there was someone to sell it to that would generate cargos. Immigrants mean both customers and workers willing to work for low wages. American companies, like the Union Pacific Railroad sent recruiters to Italy. Other companies like stockyards did as well. They were especially iterested in young males age 14 to 25. Many early Italian emmigrants returned to Italy from America with money and boased of their success, which generated even more emmigration. The Italian Government also promoted emmigration, seeing it as a way of improving economic conditions.

Social Class

We know a great deal about social class in Ancient Rome, more than in ny other ancient civilization. Ancient Romans wrore a great deal about it. And modern hisrorians have followed suit, in part because of its impact on Roman political life. Social class again became important in the late ,edival era as Italy, especially northern Italy gave birt to the Renaissance and led Europe into modern times. Italy untill after World War II was one of the poorest countries in Europe. The south was very poor, almost feudal with much of the population still rural peasants. It was this that geberated sych mssive emigration to the United States. Capitalism is commonly presented as creating social division and sharp class barriers. It is true that capitalism creates absolute income differences, but it is also true that because of the wealth geberated not only did average income levels increase, but those of the poorest as well. We can see that in Italh, with the industrial north more prosperous than the agricultural south with its large peasant population. And capitalism has acted to radically change the Italian social class structure. The large peasant class in Sicily and southern Italy has virtually evaportated. The Italian Institute of Statistics which follows class issues describes six different class categories. First, is the bourgeoisie, which includes entrepreneurs employing at least six workers. It also includes self-employed professionals, and managers. This group now includes 10 percent of Italy's working population. Second, is the white collar middle class which includes employees engaged in non-manual jobs and is some 17 percent of the working population. Third, is the urban petit bourgeoisie which is 14 percent of the working population. These are small entrepreneurs with not more than six employees, shopkeepers, and self-employed artisans. Fourth: is the rural petit bourgeoisie with 10 percent of the working population. They own and operate small enterprises in the primary sectors of agriculture, forestry, hunting, and fishing. Fifth, is the urban working class which is now the largest segment of the population. It totals 37 percent of the workforce and is engaged in manual labor. Sixth, is the rural working class meaning the peasantry with only 9 percent of the working population. They are employees of the agricultural sector, along with forestry and fishing. One observer tellus, "This class breakdown, in identifying 2 categories each of the working and entrepreneurial classes, is considered to be more precise than the more common method of class division and has been used since the mid-1980s." And it shows a huge shift since the Workd war II era when the rural working class or peasantry ws the largest sector and dominated much of southern Italy and Sicily.

Minority Groups

We do not have a great deal of information on minority groups in Italy. There was a substantial Jewish minority as well as a small Gypsey population. There was also a small Austrian (German-speaking) population in the north a result of the Italian acquisition of the South Tirol as a result of the World War I Peace seattlement.


We do not yet have much information omn the Italian photography industry. We hve found very few Itakian 19th century images, but quite a nymbr beginning at the turn-of-the 20th century. An Italian reader tells us that Fratelli Alinari (Alinari Bros) is the oldest Italian photographic company. It was founded in Florence by Leopoldo (1832-1865), Giuseppe (1836-90) and Romualdo Alinari (1830-1890) durng 1852. Leopoldo's son Vittorio (1859-1932) took over the firm (1892). He was especially interested in documentary photography. Now the photographic archives of the Fratelli Alinari has more then 4 million images. Here we have a photograph Vittorio about 1910.

Italian Postcards

The popularity in Europe of using childrens as he subjects of postcards in the early 20th century provide us with interesting images. We have very limited information on Italian postcards at this time. We do know that they did exist. We have seen Itlaian post cards with both Itlaian themes and cards made for export markets. We believe that Italy must have had a very large postcard industry, but have few details at this time.


Stereotypes gradually settled on all the major European countries. These represent how the Europeans looked on each other. Some of these stereotypes were not very flattering. As with most sterotypes, there was often an element of truth in these images, not matter how unfair or rude. These stereotypes emerged in private conversation and litwrature. One way they were illustrated were in postcards swhich began to become popular in the late 19th century, in part because of developments in photography and lithography. . An Italian reader writes, " In Italy during last decades of 19th century some photographers created images showing stereotypical popular scenes. The photographs were made into post cards and proved popular. mostly with foreign tourists."

Italian Catalogs

W e have learned a great deal about clothing fashion trends in several countries through an exmination of catalogs and advertisements. This information can be quite useful because it is dated and has information on sizes/ages as well as materials, colors and other pertinant details. Unfortunately, HBC has not yet been able to obtain many copies of Italian catalogs and fashion magazines.


We do not know of many boy characters in Italian literature, but there are a few. The one Itlalian classic we know of is of course The Adventures of Pinocchio: The Story of a Puppet. It is surely the best known Italian novel for children. The author is Carlo Collodi (pseudonym of Carlo Lorenzini). He was born in Florence in 1826 and died there in 1890. Pinocchio was published in Florence (1883). Here we have a picture from the first edition by Enrico Mazzanti. In the Tuscan dialect, pinocchio is the term used to refer to the pine nut. The novel as most children know is the story of a puppet that becomes a child. Another children's book very popular in Italy is Cuore (Heart) by Edmondo De Amicis (1846-1908). "Heart" (1888) is the story of a 3rd grade primary school class from the first to the last school day. The novel is written as the diary of a pupil (Enrico Bottini). In the novel we have also nine little stories that the teacher (Mr. Perboni) tells to the pupils. Perhaps the best known of these stories is "From the Apennines to the Andes". It is the story of Marco who travels from Genoa to Argentina looking for his mother. (Many Itaklians un the late-19th and early-20th centuries emigrated to Argentina.) A Japanese cartoon (52 installments) was inspired by this story (1976).


Theatrical plays date back to ancuent times. Much of this is basiclly lost. There must have been some form of theater non-written theater if inly in story telling. That for ecmple was the oirigin oif Homer's works. So the thratrical tradions of many ancient socities were lost. What was not lost, at least not entirekly, was the theatrical tradition of the classical world. Drama is as an especially important Greek tradition. Drama was also an important art form in ancient Rome. Drama was both an art form and like the gladatorial contsts, a public spectacle. Thus they were performed in huge ampitheaters. Rome had a nunber of large theaters. The challenge of sound and lighting faced by the Greeks was handled in the same way--outdoor ampitheaters. Rome itself had several large ampitheaters especially designed to perform plays. The best surving example is the theatre Marcellus. Unlike Greece, drama was not an indegenous Roman art form. The Roman drama of Seneca (for tragedy) and of Plautus and Terence (for comedy) derived ultimately (with many changes of course) from the drama of Greece. This traditiion was basically lost during with the Germanic invasions, but of course the written record was lost. Many works survived in Byzantium. A trafition of of theatricals feveloped with medieval baladeer. There was aldo the ‘theater’ of preachers, giullari, storytellers, jugglers and tumblers. They were unlikely infuenced by the classical tradition, but Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was . And drama is intrinically influenced by poetry and literature. The dicerie sappears to be the beginning of Italian medieval drama. It was a monologue presenred by a performer. The Renaissance began in Italy, by dreama was not a major parytof i in Itgaly as it was in othe contriues. One of the best known- plays was 'Mandragola' written by Niccolo Machiavelli (1524). The giants of Reniasance drama were all in other countries. This is rather surprising, especially because the Commedia dell'arte was a major Italiasn contribution to European drama. It has survived in the modern world in Punch and Judy puppet shows. While Italy may have lagged in the area of drama, it was a leader in the developmnt of opera (17th century). It was born in Italy during the Renaissance, a mix of vocal and orchestral music, drama, visual arts and dance. It has been been inspiring Europeans ever sibnce. Many of the giants of opera are Italian: Monyteverdi (1567-1643) Rossini (1792-1868), Donizetti (1797-1848), Bellini (1801-1835), Verdi (1813-1901), Puccini (1858-1924), Mascagni (1863–1945). HBC at this time has little information on the Italian film industry. This is of course is a major failing as Italy has a very important film industry and has made many beautiful films. It was Itlalian neo-realism after World War II that dramatically changed how Hollywood films were made. We have collected some information on a few Italian films, but are sure that there are many more interesting films. Italian clothes styles are nicely shown during the 1940s in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Italy/Germany, 1970?). Other important films are Padre Perdone and Life is Beautiful (Italy, 1998). I also liked an American film about Italy, It Started in Naples (US, 1960). We know nothing about Italiamn radio and teledvision.

Personal Experiences

We have unfortunately been unable so far to obtain many personal experiences about Italian boys. For some reason realtively few Italians webgoers seem to visit our HBC site, I am not sure why. I think language is the main problem. Hopefully Italian readers will eventually provide some information on their experiences. What we have so far is images and information about Italian immigrants in America and American visitors to Italy. These are interesting, but of course not the same as asctual Italian accounts. The personal experiences concerning Italian boys clothes we have collected include:
1912: Calvo brothers: Italian immigrants in America
1925: American brother and sister: Italian immigrants in America
1950s: American boy: American Air Force family in Italy
1960s: American boy: Visit to Italy


Malanima, Palolo. "Urbanisation and the Italian economy during the last millennium," European Review of Economic History


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Created: February 25, 1999
Last updated: 10:15 AM 7/12/2022