How the red shirt was created (lithograph of a volunteer in a Garibaldi soldier’s red shirt)

Mediagallery

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The red shirt

Garibaldi supports little Uruguay under attack by rich and powerful Argentina. He is in command of the Italian Legion, a military unit of some 500 Italian volunteers and, amongst other problems, he has to provide them with a uniform. Of course the country’s coffers were empty.

Lack of money was about to give rise to the most famous uniform of the 19th century. Due to the war and military blockade of the city, a textile company in Montevideo was unable to sell a batch of red woollen shirts, made for abattoir workers, “i saladeros”, and so agreed with the Uruguayan government to sell a number of them to Garibaldi.

Garibaldi, a true Ligurian, seized the opportunity and dressed his men in these red tunics, the colour of which was intended to mask blood stains, the main consequence of work in an abattoir.

The tunic which came down to the knees was held in at the waist by a leather belt to which the sabre was attached. On the head was a felt cap and round the neck the knotted ends of a coloured neckerchief which fell open down the back of this makeshift uniform.

The trousers were similar to those worn by Genoa’s sailors: the same fabric as used on ships for the sails and to cover the cargo, in either blue (bleu de Genes) or grey. Strong and practical work trousers: the precursor of today’s jeans.