Irish-American Fashion: Tattoos

Samel O'Reilley's patented tattooing machine.

Sameul O’Reilley’s patented tattooing machine.

Irish-Americans like tattoos, which isn’t especially surprising, as Americans in general are maniacs for tattoos. I read a recent statistic that 40 percent of American households have somebody with a tattoo in it, which is tantalizing, as I don’t know who it is in my family. I saw my 8-month-old niece this past weekend, and I didn’t see any tattoos, but babies can be crafty.

Apparently, tattooing wasn’t much of a tradition in Ireland before the 20th century. Sure, the Picts in Scotland were supposed to be covered in tattoos — their name may literally mean “the tattooed people.” But there’s no evidence of similar marking on their Celtic brethren across the Inner Seas, according to tattoo historian Anna Felicity Friedman in an interview on NPR.

Additionally, the article interview points out that Celtic knot tattoos are actually American in origin. Not the knots themselves, of course — those are legitimately Irish. But it was Americans that started using them as permanent skin decoration, inspired by similarly ethnic “tribal” tattoos that grew in popularity on the American West Coast in the 70s, called “blackwork” in the interview.

I am delighted to discover that this tradition is Irish-American in origin, although not delighted enough to actually get a Celtic knot tattoo of my own. I’m a fan of Irish-American expressions of identity, sure, but I’m not going to get a Notre Dame Leprechaun on my shoulder either.

Instead, I want to explore an older tradition of Irish-American tattooing, and point out that Irish-Americans has a hand in the history of tattooing in this country. As an example, the first patent for a tattoo machine, dating all the way back to 1891, was Bowery tattoo artist Samuel O’Reilly, an Irish immigrant.

Bowery tattoo artists tended to do a lot of business with sailors and soldiers, and O’Reilly’s clientele also included a variety of sideshow performers — because O’Reilly’s machine could produce finely detailed tattoos relatively quickly, he had a large hand in the creation of the sideshow tattooed man. One example: O’Reilly tattooed John Hayes, a performer with Barnum and Bailey who was a sort of forerunner to the blackwork tradition: He claimed to have been captured by Apache braves, who forcibly tattooed 870 images on him as a sort of torture; presumably the tattoos were vaguely Native American in style.

We can actually see some examples of O’Reilley’s work: Two of his other patrons were tattooed showpeople Frank & Emma deBurgh, and there are surviving photos of the couple.

DeBurgh, oh deBurgh oh have you met deBurgh.

DeBurgh, oh deBurgh oh have you met deBurgh.

Their tattoos are sort of a classic sideshow illustrated man type: He has a recumbent woman on his chest holding a banner reading “Forget Me Not,” while she has a recreation of the Last Supper on her back over the words “Love One Another.” The larger tattoos are surrounded by all sorts of decorative patterns and smaller tattoos, including some traditional sailor’s tattoos: As an example, he has a nautical star near his right arm.

While it’s nice to know that the full-bodied, very old-school carnival illustrated man is partly an Irish-American invention, the purpose of this article is to discuss what sorts of inspiration we can draw from this era for contemporary tattoos. And, thanks to Damian Shiels of the Irish in the American Civil War blog, we have some ideas.

Shiels looked at the the enlistment records of the New York Naval Rendezvous for July 1863, and of the 319 Irishmen who enlisted, 30 of them had tattoos. He lists them in this blog post, and I’d like to take a look at the most common and suggest how a modern tattoo enthusiast might be inspired by them.


It’s not surprising to see this one show up — it’s still one of the most popular tattoo designs, and for the largely Catholic Irish immigrant population, this could be a great source of comfort while at sea.

This is a tremendously flexible design, as crosses can have other symbols wrapped around them, or be draped in banners that read significant text. For Irish-Americans who want a cross tattoo, this is an excellent opportunity to explore the endless variations of the Celtic cross, which, at its simplest, is an encircled cross. Celtic crosses can be exquisitely detailed — sometimes with knotwork — or quite minimalist. A warning, however: The Celtic cross has been used as a symbol by both white nationalists and the Zodiac killer, so if you’re thinking about getting tattooed with a Celtic cross, do some research. You don’t want to pick a design that will misrepresent your worldview.


Another classic, sometimes with the word “mom” written below it, or, in a risky choice, the name of a current girlfriend.

This is an easy one to make explicitly Irish — a crown and a pair of hands turns it into a Claddagh (you can also leave off the crown, making it a “Fenian” Claddagh.)


This is probably one you should steer clear of unless you have a specific relationship with seafaring, and according to the Sailor Jerry website, the anchor symbolizes stability — it is sometimes emblazoned with words that likewise represent some stable aspect of a sailor’s life.

There have been some particularly Irish versions of this tattoo, including a number of logos designed for The Pogues, who has a taste for shanties and sailor’s songs.


Traditionally tattooed men seemed especially attracted to images of women — sometimes pin-up girls — on a bicep or across their chest. This is a motif that strikes me as being especially flexible — first of all, there’s no reason to be so particular about gender, so if someone wants to tattoo a saucy fella on their body, more power to them.

But, secondly, there are all sorts of Irish-Americans who would be ideal subjects for this tattoo. Looking for people from Samuel O’Reilly’s era: Pick a couple of characters from Gangs of New York, such as Sadie the Goat and and Dan the Dude. Something more modern? How about Texas Guinan and Owney Madden. All would look great rendered as folk art ink figures on your forearms.


Shiels spends some of his piece puzzling about the various numbers Irish sailors had tattooed on their bodies. He feels pretty sure about initials — they seem to be part of a long tradition of tattoos intended for postmortem identification, which could be complicated if a body washed up on shore. But why the numbers?

Some, he suspects, are numbers for fire departments, which seems a likely guess. Amateur fire departments were essentially men’s clubs in the era, and members were proud to show their allegiance to their department. Others might be auspicious dates, such as birth dates.

This is the sort of tattoo that can be adapted to whatever you want it to be. There are a large variety of Irish-inspired typefaces you can draw from, whether you tattoo a family name, an ancestral county, or a fate that has particular meaning for you. I also rather like the idea of borrowing from the amateur firefighter tradition.


This is likely the nautical star, a representation of the North Star, which was used in navigation. This tattoo is today primarily associated with the United States Armed Forces, so be cautious about using the traditional star unless you have a military background. There is also a tradition in the gay community of getting these tattooed on wrists.

However, there are people in the tattooing community who insist the star has an early history in Ireland, where it was found in Irish hospitals, although I cannot find any documentary evidence of this, and there is a green and black version of the star that is widely, and distinctly, associated with Irish-Americans.

Irish-American Fashion: Lucille Ball on St. Patrick’s

Lucille Ball!

Lucille Ball!

I have a few things to say about this image of Lucille Ball on St. Patrick’s Day. Firstly, adorable. Secondly, there is nothing especially Irish about this costume, which seems more inspired by Czech or German folk costumes than anything anyone in Ireland ever wore. Thirdly, I don’t care.

Ball was part-Irish, but America’s most famous redhead was a lot of other things as well, including Scottish, French, and English. If Ms. Ball wanted to dress in a costume on St. Patrick’s that wasn’t 100 percent Irish, well, that was her her prerogative, and how better to represent the diversity of the Irish-American experience than by taking something not-Irish and sticking a shamrock on it!

This is a pretty simple outfit to duplicate, if you want to. Let’s start from the top town.


I'll tell you a tale of Alan-a-Dale.

I’ll tell you a tale of Alan-a-Dale.

It may not be possible to find precisely the cap that Ball wore in the image, which was likely custom-made for the photo shoot, but a quick search on the web for “Elf cap” and “Robin Hood cap” brings dozens of possible substitutions. As long as it is green and elfen, it will do the trick.


Puffy sleeves are a must.

Puffy sleeves are a must.

The shirt is a traditional German blouse with puffy sleeves; a nice selection can be found at Ernst Licht, but you’re going to want two accessories:


Top of the arm to ya!

Top of the arm to ya!

This will keep your sleeves puffy and give the costume a dash of green, and you’re going to want:


Irish lace.

Irish lace.

You’ll find this for sale on various vintage site, like eBay and Etsy.




Admittedly, this takes a costume that is already a bit Peter Pan and makes it Medieval, but if that’s what Lucille Ball likes, it’s what she gets.


I don't like to talk about my flare.

I don’t like to talk about my flare.

You’re going to want a nice flared skirt, but it’s not going to be exactly right with the following:


Good for both skirts and luck.

Good for both skirts and luck.

And there’s just one thing remaining:


With suspenders!

With suspenders!

Lucille Ball went for a simple, bold pattern, but I’m going to suggest that this is another place for a splash of green. I especially like the fact that this comes with suspenders, because heaven knows you don’t want your tiny apron to slip.

Irish-American Fashion: Irish Dance Costumes

Riverdance changed everything.

Riverdance changed everything.

I am here to praise Irish dance costumes, although I know there is some controversy about them. They are, it must be said, famously expensive, and there is a perfectly valid critique that they place an unfair financial burden on dancers (especially female dancers), for whom Irish dance can already be prohibitively expensive.

There are also charges that the current style of costume, which tends to make me think of Shirley Temple dressed for competitive figure skating, isn’t really Irish. Dancer John Cullinane, who has authored books on the subject of Irish dance, was unambiguous about this, telling the New York Times that “there’s nothing Irish about them.”

He’s probably right, in a literal sense. The Irish are a notoriously unshowy people, and so traditional Irish dance costumes were very much like Sunday church clothes, sometimes with shawl, brooch, and Celtic embroidery. This doesn’t matter to me, as this is an Irish-American blog, and Americans are, if anything, showy. Here are a few Irish-Americans: Jim Brady, who festooned himself with so many diamonds they became his nickname; Elvis Presley, who favored spangled jump suits; German-Irish country star Porter Wagoner claimed to have 52 cowboy suits made by Nudie Cohn, covered in rhinestones and decorative stitching. We are not a reserved people.

And so, despite its cost and inauthenticity, I like the modern Irish dance costume. It may or may not be American — I have sometimes seen it referred to as an American innovation, but Irish dance exploded after Riverdance, becoming an enormous, rapidly evolving international phenomenon. As a result, the moment when an where the wigs, the tanning, and the rhinestones made their first appearance isn’t well documented. But if it isn’t an American innovation, by God it feels American, and Americans sure have taken to it.

I am going to focus on women’s dance costumes, as I have done plenty of entries so far about men’s Irish-American fashion, and because men’s Irish dance costumes haven’t evolved quite as fantastically as women’s. Get on it, men.

Now, I’m not here to tell you how to get a costume for competition. I simply wish to discuss the elements, if someone wants to incorporate them into their everyday fashion. It’s not enough to be fabulous when high-kicking a jig; one must strive for it always.

1. Tightly-coiled curls wig, $60-$150

This wig comes from Feis Fayre and retails for $150.

This wig comes from Feis Fayre and retails for $150.

It used to be that female dancers would sleep all night in curlers, which strikes me as an unfair request to make of a dancer. Fortunately, technology stepped in, and there is a nearly endless choice of curled wigs at an astonishing range of prices.

2. Tiara

This one is made of plastic; we can do better.

This one is made of plastic; we can do better.

There are some lovely Irish-themed tiaras out there, often made of precious metals with exquisite Celtic knots woven in, and I think those would look just right on anybody at any time. However, I can’t help but like the magnificently tacky “Irish princess” tiaras that appear in shops every St. Patrick’s Day. If you have the money, I think it would be delightful to get one of these custom-made using silver and semi-precious stones, although a cursory look at online bids for the job will have it costing somewhere between $350 and $500. But you’re worth it.

3. The dress

Kilt skirt from Tartanista.

Kilt skirt from Tartanista.

Modern dance dresses tend to be short and one-piece, and they fan out at the bottom like a kilt. They also can be enormously expensive, so I would like to offer an alternative for everyday wear: A kilt skirt and jacket top. These can be suitably bedazzled or have appropriate appliques added. `

Womens Military Style Jacket.

Womens Military Style Jacket.

There’s something especially appealing about this look, as it recalls the uniform of Irish-American honor guards for police and fire departments.

4. Stockings and shoes

These are some thick boots!

These are some thick boots!

If you were to actually wear this ensemble for dance, you would want to get some appropriate shoes, and there are two types: soft shoes, which are very much like ballet shoes, and reel shoes, which are like heavy leather tap shoes. The latter were typically worn by boys and men, but, for fashion’s sake, I would encourage big clunky shoes or boot with oversized soles, mostly because of the sheer drama of the thing.

Dancers often go with spray tans to give their legs a deep, unnatural, and decidedly un-Irish tan, but many wear stockings instead. Pick the look that you feel goes best with the ensemble, although, frankly, if you’re decided to wear the “Irish princess” tiara, you might as well go ahead and wear some of those leprechaun-striped stockings they sell in novelty stores. With this outfit, it’s probably going to end up looking punk rock.

Irish-American Fashion: Molly Maguires

Still looking good after a day in the mines.

Still looking good after a day in the mines.

As you know doubt already know, the Molly Maguires were a clandestine labor movement in the 19th Century. And, if you know that, you know the photo above is not of real Molly Maguires, but of Richard Harris and Sean Connery from the 1970 film about the Molly Maguires. We’re not writing for historical reenactors here, but for fashionistas, and the film’s costumes were by the superlative Dorothy Jeakins. She specialized in historical costume, or at least Hollywood versions of historical costumes, and her work was always marked by feeling both historic and theatrical. You can see more of her work in “The Music Man,” “The Ten Commandments,” and “Young Frankenstein.”

So it is Jeakins’ version of the Molly Maguires we will be recreating here, and let’s start, as we always do, with the hat.

1. Herringbone Fiddler Cap, Jaxon Hats, £17.95

Mine lamp sold separately.

Mine lamp sold separately.

We’ll begin with the cap, and it’s a favorite of this site, the fiddler cap. Jeakons decided to go with a single color for the cap, and we’ll follow suit with this stylish herringbone number.

2. Denim Shirt In Long Sleeve With Collarless Neck Detail, ASOS, $28

Beard optional but recommended.

Beard optional but recommended.

Jeakins’ miners favored collarless work shirts, and so we’re going to recommend the classic fabric of the work shirt, denim.

3. Grey herringbone-wool work jacket, S.E.H. Kelly, £265

It works hard for the money.

It works hard for the money.

Jeakins’ had her Molly Maguires in a variety of work jackets, but they tended to be great or black, buttoned up, and had collars that the men wore up against the cold. This herringbone model fits the bill nicely.

4. Work Pants – Red, L.C. King, $35

One does want a hint of color.

One does want a hint of color.

Although our photo does not show the sort of pants our Molly Maguires wear, in the film they tend to be boxy black work pants. Sean Connery is, on occasion, shown wearing reddish brown work pants, and that’s our cue. We’re going to choose red pants, because even when one is laboring, one does not wish to be drab, does one?

5. Mountain Belt, Craft and Lore, $120

It's called the Mountain Belt, and that should be enough to make you want it.

It’s called the Mountain Belt, and that should be enough to make you want it.

The Mollies are also shown wearing thick leather belts with big buckles, and when a costume gives you an excuse to buy a mountain belt, you take that excuse.

6. Men’s American Heritage Workboot, Thorogood Boots, $155.

These will keep your feet dry.

These will keep your feet dry.

The Mollies are also typically shown wearing work boots, which always looks nice. This pair will match both your cap and your belt.

7. Cotton Cashmere Scarf, Tommy Hilfiger, $16.95

Top it with a scarf.

Top it with a scarf.

Finally, Jeakins’ Mollies always seem to be wearing scarfs or neckerchiefs. It’s a chance to add a dash of foppishness to the look, so go to town. Greys and browns will look nice, but this is also your chance to sneak some green into the outfit.

Irish-American Fashion: Annie Moore

Annie Moore, the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island.

Annie Moore, the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island.

Annie Moore was 17 when she came to America. She came from Cork, Ireland, and traveled to America on a ship called Nevada with her two brothers. She arrived at Ellis Island on January 1, 1892, the day the facility opened, and she was the very first person to pass through it.

Above is a statue of Moore and her brothers in Cobh, Ireland, where she departed from. There is a very similar statue of her at Ellis Island, this time alone, her hand on her hat and clutching her valise. Both statues are by Irish sculptor Jeanne Rhynhart, and they are products of her imagination. We don’t know what Moore looked like when she arrived, although there is speculation that this is a photo of her:

Is this her? Maybe.

Is this her? Maybe.

It is Rhynhart’s version we will be recreating here, because there’s a real stylishness to it.Let’s start with the hat. It’s a sporty little thing, a sort of broad-rimmed cloche, here’s my recommendation for a modern variation:

1. Lucky Bonnet Rain Hat from Arisha Hatters, $65.

Perfect for inclement weather and long boat rides.

Perfect for inclement weather and long boat rides.

Next we have Annie’s jacket, which is a big-shoulder, neat-looking coat with a cinched waist. I’m of the opinionn that you can’t go wrong with Burberry here, if you’re willing to indulge the expense. My recommendation:

2. Wool Cashmere Trench Coat with Rabbit Topcollar, Burberry, $2,195

Perfect for a trip from Ireland to New York!

Perfect for a trip from Ireland to New York!

In the sculpture, Annie seems to have a rather demure, unflashy skirt on. But we can’t see if there is a pattern or not, and, since the ensemble has been just tones and colors up until now, this is a good place for a plaid tartan:

3. Vintage 1970s Blue Tartan Skirt, Pretty Bones Jefferson, $34.



And finally, boots. Appropriate for her sea voyage, Annie has some laced boots on, and let’s go for another splash of color here with a brown pair:

4. Lace Up Boots, Jeffrey Campbell Warfield, $218.

A bit old-fashioned as well!

A bit old-fashioned as well!

Finally, there is a vital accessory we must include: Annie’s not moving to America without her valise. Let’s give her a lovely leather model:

5. Shop Side Pocket Duffel, Saddleback Leather, $655.

Now we're ready to travel!

Now we’re ready to travel!

Irish-American Fashion: Traditional Irish Costume

Oh, to march in the St. Paddy's Parade dressed like this!

Oh, to march in the St. Paddy’s Parade dressed like this!

Costumes in America just now are too often terrible. Just awful. They’re these rented affairs made of petroleum-based fabrics and they’re too costumey, like an adult version of those plastic bibs and masks that children used to wear on Halloween. And St. Paddy’s seems to get the worst of it — all these oversized leprechauns and rubbery novelty top hats and “Kiss Me I’m Drunk” t-shirts. Admittedly, there are a few men wandering about in well-made kilts, and pipe bands dress quite elegantly, and we still expect our parade officials to dress in tuxedo and sash. But the rest of us look like refugees from a cheap Mardi Gras shop where a green paint can exploded.

In the meanwhile, at Octoberfest, you’ll see increasingly large numbers of young German-Americans proudly parading about in lederhosen and Tyrolean hat as though it were the most natural thing in the world. And these are well-made outfits! Oh, it is to be jealous.

Well, it’s too late for this year, but let’s all make a commitment that next year we will do better. I have a few suggestions, and let me start with a costume that vintage greeting cards would have us believe is traditional Irish garb. It isn’t, really — the Irish did wear swallow-tailed coats at one time, but the version we see in American representations is decidedly an Irish-American invention. But so is the modern St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and so this costume seems perfect.

1. Green Top Hat, Campbell Cooper, £29.99

Top hat o'the morning.

Top hat o’the morning.

Costume shop top hats are terrible thing — steer clear of them. You’re going to want to proper item, well-made by a proper hatter, and you’re going to want it to be green. If you can find a silk one, that’s best of all, but this green felt version has just the right jaunty style.

2. Green Swallowtail Coat, LolitaGear, $104.99


Nothing says faux-Irish like a green swallowtail coat.

This is probably the definitive costume article, the green swallowtail coat. The leprechauns in “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” wore them, George M. Cohan’s father wore one when performing an Irish act in “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and you should too. This one from Lolitagear is fine indeed, but you might consider taking it to a tailor and having some Celtic appliques added (like this one!), just to take it over the top.

3. Double-breasted gold vest, River Junction, $79.95

There's a thin line between Irish gentleman and riverboat gambler.

There’s a thin line between Irish gentleman and riverboat gambler.

There is a tendency to go overboard with green with these costumes, but our Irish gentleman in the St. Patrick’s card at the top of the page had quite smartly gone with a yellow double-breasted vest to offset his coat. You need not choose yellow — the Irish are also often shown wearing red, and that would be quite a tasteful choice too.

4. High collar dress shirt, Gentleman’s Emporium, $57.95

It's not formalwear unless it constricts the neck.

It’s not formalwear unless it constricts the neck.

Nothing says “dressed for an event” like a shirt with a high collar; you’re going to need starch to keep this looking right.

5. Formal green Victorian ascot, Elegant Ascot, $28.00


In case you want to look like an Irish villain from “Wild Wild West.”

Our man above has a full ruffled neck thingy, and that’s a bit much to ask anyone to wear — even Oscar Wilde seemed to find that sort of thing a bit much, and instead favored an ascot. We shall do them same, and here is a good place to show some more green.

6. Fly-front knee breeches, Jas. Townsend and Sons, $115

Pants fine enough to do a jig in.

Pants fine enough to do a jig in.

The fellow in the card at the top of the page seems to be wearing billowy silk breeches, and those you might have to have made special. In the meanwhile, these lovely linen breeches will do the trick.

Our image doesn’t show what our man is wearing below the knees, and so you have a few choices here. You might go with knee-length riding boots, although, if you plan to walk in a parade, this might make it a bit of a slog. I have also seen images of men in white dress shoes, green stockings, and long spats, which seemed somehow elegant and a bit fetishy, and so that would be my recommendation. Green in the streets, keen in the sheets, I always say.

Irish-American Fashion: Clancy Brother


The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem: The penny whistle is optional.

It doesn’t get simpler than this: The Tipperary-born Clancy Brothers and County Armagh’s Tommy Makem popularized Irish song as part of the American folk music revival of the 60s, playing around Greenwich Village and quickly breaking into television, where their stripped down, slack-and-Aran-Island sweaters made them instantly iconic. It wasn’t entirely deliberately — the mother of the Clancy Brothers heard that winters could be quite cold in New York and so sent them some sweaters. However, their manager, Martin Erlichman, knew a signature look when he saw one, and so the quartet was rarely seen without their signatures thereafter. The best thing about this look is that it is unisex: Women look just as good in slacks and Aran sweater as men do.

Let’s discuss the sweater for a moment, as it is one of Ireland’s most iconic. It originates, as it’s name suggests, with the rugged Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast: They are made from heavy wool, originally untreated, so that the wool’s natural lanolin would give the sweater added protection from wet. Aran sweaters are knit with a variety of patterns, each with their own stories, and come in a variety of styles (the Clancy brothers typically favored turtle-necked pullovers. You shouldn’t have trouble finding one, and go with whatever style suits you best. Prices can range quite a bit, depending on whether you get a machine- or hand-knit jumper. If we had to recommend one, we’d suggest starting with John Molloy’s polo-collar hand-knit Aran Jumper, although it will set would back bout $290.

Hand-knit Aran jumper with polo neck from John Molloy.

Hand-knit Aran jumper with polo neck from John Molloy.

The rest of the ensemble is pretty classic prep school: Slacks and Oxford shoes, although to get the look just right, the slacks should have a neat crease in the front. We’d recommend pleated dress trousers from Ralph Lauren here, available from Macy’s for a sale price of $54.95 just now.


Pleated dress trousers from Ralph Lauren.

As to the shoes, it’s possible to find a goof pair of Oxfords anywhere, so we might as well recommend the best. For our tastes, that means a bespoke pair from England’s Gaziano & Girling, which, make no mistake, is going to cost you. Look to spend somewhere between $800 and $900.

Expensive, but oooh.

Expensive, but oooh.

There’s yet another element we can add to this ensemble, thanks to guitarist Liam Clancy. He would sometimes favor a simple fiddler cap, and we’re always in favor of adding a fiddler cap to the mix. Here’s what he looked like in one:

Looking grand, Liam!

Looking grand, Liam!

Our favorite online store for fiddler caps is Etsy, and we’re going to suggest the suitably floppy distressed leather fiddler cap from Hatter Shop, $68.

Looking rugged!

Looking rugged!

Now grab your guitar and head toward Greenwich Village. It’s been a long time since anyone sat on a barrel and sang “O’Donnell Aboo,” and that means it’s been too long.

Irish-American Fashion: Policewoman Bold

Mary Sullivan: First female homicide detective, fashion leader.

Mary Sullivan, pictured above, wasn’t an immigrant, but she was the daughter of immigrants from Killarney, and she possesses such a bold look — befitting her bold story — that she’s the perfect model for the installment.

Firstly, her story: She wrote of it in a book called “My Double Life,” published in 1938 and available from the Internet Archive as a sort of online library book. In brief, she came from a family of policemen (three of her brothers were cops, her uncle ran a squad of detectives, she had a cousin in Scotland Yard). Beside that, Mary had a childhood tragedy: She had a brother disappear when she was a girl, and spent years going to spiritualist mediums for answers, who all gave different answers.

As an adult, Mary was widowed young and went to work in a department store to support herself and her young child. There, she became friendly with a store detective whose sister was a female policewoman. The sister informed Mary of a civil service test coming up, Mary took it, and, in 1991, joined the police force. For a while, Mary worked as a jail matron, and she demonstrated a skill at interrogating suspects, and this led to her transference to the Detective’s Bureau, at first temporarily but eventually as a member of the Homicide Squad.

So let’s talk about her blunt, bold policewoman ensemble. There are only for elements we are given here, but each is marvelous. First, there is her blouse, which in likely blue, with slightly puffed shoulders and possibly pearl buttons.

It’s old-fashioned, but in the world of fashion, what is old is new again. The Ladies Emporium sells a blue ladies essential work shirt for $49.95 that would fit the bill very nicely, I think. It has a ruffled front, and you would need to swap out the buttons for pear, but otherwise it’s a near-perfect match. Especially nice is the fact that it is collarless, as we shall be adding a collar.

This short means business.

We are going to add a collar, and the same store’s men’s department gives us the high white collar we are looking for, a steal at just $7.95.

You’re going to nee starch for this.

But what makes this combination truly noteworthy are its two accessories. Firstly, there is a Victorian cameo at the throat. Mary’s seems to have a person’s portrait on her’s, but we’re going to go with a shamrock cameo pin from Etsy, selling for 12.99.

You need good luck when you’re walking the beat.

And finally, there is Officer Sullivan’s badge. It’s possible to get historic police badges, but we’re creating fashion here, not historical reenactment. This is the place to get creative with any sort of pin or basge you feel is appropriate. Me? I like the Irish Setter Dog pin available from Chloe’s Vintage Jewelry for just $28.00. Nothing says dogged Irish determination like an actual dog!


Noe go out there and do some good!

Irish-American fashion: Fisherman Fabulous


If there’s one look that seems to crop up often enough among our Irish forebears, it is that of the fisherman. And no wonder — Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard alone stretches 1600 miles, giving rise to all sorts of oceangoing industries, including commercial whaling and shipbuilding.

Mostly, I’m just fond of the hats. A surprising number of Irish have taken to the Greek fisherman’s cap, including John Lennon, son of a sailor and an Irish woman, who eventually owned an island in Ireland, and wore the cap on his first American tour. Me, my taste is for the so-called fiddler cap, which is similar, but a little more rakish, and lacks the Greek fisherman’s cap’s embroidered leaf cluster. It’s called a fiddler’s cap because it is the sort of cap favored by Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” — itself a modified Polish Maciejowka cap. But there are all sorts just now, including a number that look especially Irish. My personal favorite is a woolen version in a Tartan pattern offered by VitaStudio for $66.

Apparently it’s made with kangaroo leather.

Our model at the top of the page has tied a scarf around his neck, and we shall do the same. As we’re going for a seafaring look, I have selected a nautically themed scarf from Gypseatree, unfortunately dubbed a “man cowl” by them, for $41.

Man Cowl? Really?

Our cheerful sailor also has a simple black coat on. You’re going to need something warm for those cold nights at sea, so I’m going to recommend replacing this with a duffel coat. Target makes a classic version, which they sell for $63.99.

The coat was originally popular with the British navy.

We also need a shirt, and our sailor seems to have a dark-colored sweater on. This is a perfect opportunity to wear a blue knit sweater, and LL Bean offers one they specifically identify as an Irish fisherman’s sweater for $159.

This will keep the chill off youse.

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!