Irish-American Fashion: Kansas City, 1909

Irish-Americans, Kansas City, 1909, photo from Wikipedia.

I am starting a new project just now, focusing on fashion. There’s not much to it — I’ll just regularly grab photos of Irish-Americans and Irish immigrants where it seems to me there is something both Irishy and immigranty about the image, and then I’ll discuss how to recreate this look in a contemporary way.

So, as an example, we have the image above. I could tackle any of these four men, as they all have a look so distinctive that it’s hard to imagine why they are all in the same photo together, except that this is some failed beta test for the Village People. Rather than an Indian, a cowboy, a policeman, and a leather daddy, we have, I don’t know, a milkman, a ward heeler, a lace curtain millionaire, and a moonshiner.

We’ll be focusing on the second man from the left today, who I have identified as a ward heeler. In his case, his look starts at the top with a newsboy cap. It’s a bit bolder and fuller than the sorts of flat caps that are common on the UK, and there is a fine selection from the Stetson company. I’m especially partial to their herringbone hate, which retails for $105 on their website.

Newsie good looks at Stetson prices.

Next is his shirt. Despite the collar and tie, it seems to be made of a heavy material; it’s more a work shirt than a formal dress shirt. As it happens, Farah makes a vintage-style Oxford shirt that should fit the bill nicely, available from ASOS for $104.74.

Nice vintage beard, too.

His tie is pleasantly bold, tied with a small four-in-hand knot, and consisting of small, widely set stripes. Ralph Lauren offers a very nice knitted version of this for $85.

Nothing says immigrant chic like unexpected texture.

For pants and belt, it looks like we have some charcoal grey flat front slacks. Farah makes some flat front trousers that should fit the bill very nicely for this. Available for $42 on eBay.

Dressy, but appropriate for a street fight.

And the belt? I’d go with this “Webster” mens skinny belt from Lord and Taylor, $65,

And there you go; just a few choice items for your closet and you’re ready to stroll your ward of Kansas City in the early 20th century, soliciting votes for your boss’s machine. A cigar would finish the look perfectly, as would bruised knuckles and a fat lip.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.