Irish-American fashion: Irish boy and girl, 1929

Irish immigrant family, New York, 1929

There are a lot of dapper folks in the photo above, and it’s not the way we typically imagine the Irish arriving in America. The whole immigrant experience has mostly come down to us as endless variations of the photo “The Steerage” by Alfred Stieglitz, showing the lower-class deck of the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, where Jewish immigrants in old-world costumes pray.

Not so for our immigrants pictured above! And I could select any of these well-dressed travelers as my subject. I should pick a woman soon, as all my posts have so far been about men’s fashion, but I guess I reckon that women’s couture has become varied enough that my past entries could easily by adopted by women with nobody thinking twice about it. This may be the case, but it is unnecessarily limiting, and so, for this post, I shall do both a boy and a girl.

First, the boy. It’s this dapper lad:


There’s an appealing simplicity to his travel wear, and boyish though it may be, I think an adult could wear it with great panache. Starting from the ground up, we begin with his wellies. These rubber boots are also known as Wellington (after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who popularized them), gum boots, billy boots, and about a thousand other names, and they are perfect for a wet environment. Hunter makes a good pair, ranging in price from $150-$200, but cheaper versions are easy to find.

Hunter Wellingtons.

Next, our lad has short pants on. This was once part of the everyday school uniform of the British and Irish schoolboy, to such an extent that short trousers were exclusively associated with children. And make no mistake: These should not be a casual pair of everyday shorts or sporting shorts; they should be a shorter version of the sort of trousers you might wear to work. Dickes makes a decent pair at a good price (about $25).

Short pants.

The photo isn’t great, so it is hard to tell what sort of sweater our boy has on, except that it seems to be grey and heavy. Let’s go with a cable-knit sweater from H&M, which gives the outfit a bit of texture.

Cable-knit, for a hint of the Aran Islands.

I suspect, like his brother, our lad has a school coat on, but I will take advantage of the lack of detail in the photo to instead pretend that he has prepared for a sea voyage by throwing on a pea coat, beloved by sailors everywhere. There are a million excellent pea coats, but the one from Superdry seems the most sailory to me. The coat sells for $288.

Pea coat: Just right for an ocean voyage.

Our boy has taken an already dapper look to dashing heights by adding in some sort of a sprig as a boutonniere. My favorite version of this is the fabric lapel flowers offered by the Tie Bar, which sell for a very reasonable $8.

Put that in your lapel and turn all the heads.

 Finally, our lad may or may not have a hat on, but I never feel an outfit is entirely complete without one. My suggestion is the eternally schoolboyish cricket cap, which is often favored as part of a school uniform in the United Kingdom and Ireland. These can be a bit hard to locate in the US, so I am going to recommend eBay — just be sure you know what size hat you wear. The search term “schoolboy cap” might turn up results as well.

Cricket cap: Some can get a bit colorful.

And now, let us pick a young lady from our immigrant family. For today’s fashion column, let’s go with this dapper colleen:


We have the wellies again, but let me point out that ladies often have greater variety in boot choice than men, and so we need not be bound by the monochrome option shown in the image. I am partial to the blue- and white-striped naval wellies offered by Joules for $63.

Permission to be fashionable, captain.

Our young lady has a skirt on, and it’s hard to tell much about it, but that it is simple and light-colored. We’ll go to H&M again for a mesh circle skirt, priced at $49.95.

Tennis anyone?

Atop this, she has a white shirt, which I needn’t track down for you, and striped and buttoned v-neck wool sweater. Halogen makes a rather nice version of this, currently out of stock at Nordstroms but worth chasing down.

I invented the piano key sweater. What have you ever done?

Lastly, our young lady has a knit beret on, and this seems like the perfect place to look to Etsy to find our version. I am partial to this elegant 30s deco version, offered by HatsWithAPast for $45, but the site is filled with similar examples, so locate the one that suits your tastes.

Ooh la la!

And now, regardless of your gender, you’re ready for a sea voyage to a new land. Write when you get there!

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Max Sparber

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