A Rayadillo Tunic of Questionable Origin:
Costume, Fake or Undocumented Original Pattern?
New information on this jacket has been added below the main article.
Although variations exist, most Spanish uniforms of the colonial period follow recognizable set patterns and regulations. There are a few, however, that cannot be classified. When these garments have good colonial provenance and documentation, there is no problem in including them in the rayadillo story. On the other hand, there are some pieces that are of questionable origin. These must be carefully studied before they are accepted as original colonial uniforms. One such garment is the jacket presented here.
Three photos of the example of the suspect jacket in my collection.
A fairly sizable number of jackets of this same exact pattern are known both in Spain and the US. In Spain , one is in the Marine Infantry Museum , another with engineer insignia is in the army museum in Coruna. There is one at the Asturias Infantry Museum with officer's rank insignia, one in a private collection that is pictured in the back of the book "El Ejército Español en Ultramar y África 1850 - 1925" and another one in private hands with artillery insignia. In America one is in a private collection and I have one that is missing all the insignia, buttons and shoulder straps. There are probably more of which I am unaware. All of these jackets appear to be exactly the same in pattern, material and construction. All are made of the same very thin pin stripe cotton material and all are sewn with black thread. All of these jackets I have examined have some age to them and were not recently manufactured. They pass the black light test dating their construction before the late 1940s or early 1950s. However, they may not be as old as the Spanish American War.
Three suspect jackets in Spanish museums. Left, Marine Infantry Museum; center, Army Museum at Coruna; right, Asturias Infantry Museum.
Examples of this jacket first appeared in the US about 15 years ago and were brought here by one Spanish militaria dealer. He had acquired them from a very old costume house in Madrid. That these jackets came from a costume house is not necessarily a condemnation of them as many 100% original colonial uniforms came from this same source, including the guayabera in my collection. I was once, briefly, in the back rooms of this place and it was an "Aladdin's Cave" of wonders for a Spanish uniform collector. I believe all the examples of this jacket in private collections, and possibly the jackets in the museums, originated from this same costume shop.
I am not suggesting that any of the militaria dealers intentionally sold these jackets as originals knowing that they were copies. I know many of these dealers and they are, for the most part, honest fellows. I am sure they all believed them to be real. After all, they were found along side completely original garments. But believing that something is real and it actually being so are two different things.
Here is my problem with this type of jacket; I have never seen any period photos of Spanish soldiers wearing this pattern jacket and none, to my knowledge, were ever brought back as a souvenir by an American soldier. I have looked closely at thousands of photos of Spanish colonial troops and one would think I should have seen one of these jackets by now. I have also seen extant examples of every regulation pattern colonial tunic or blouse from the 1890s in the context of a documented souvenir. I have yet to find one of these jacket as part of the souvenir record.
These jackets also do not match any of the published uniform regulations of which I am aware. The closest these jackets come to a known regulation is the description of a proposed tunic made by the Havana clothing commission in 1896. The hidden buttons in the front and the pockets are similar, although there should be 7 buttons, not 5, and the pockets should be much larger. Unlike these questionable jackets, on the1896 proposed tunic the back is supposed to have pleats or a draw string where as these jackets have backs tailored like a tunic. In the 1896 description there is no mention of the style of collar on the tunic so I do not know if it was to be standing, like these jackets, or rolled as had been used for years in Cuba . Only rayadillo tunics worn in the Philippines had standing collars and even these were being changed to the more comfortable rolled collars by 1896 - 1897. I have seen photos of jackets that come close to matching the jacket in the 1896 description and they all have a rolled collar, so I do not think these suspects jackets are the same as the proposed 1896 tunic.
Also, the material used to make these jackets is made from a significantly lighter weight fabric with much thinner stripes than other tunics and guayaberas known to have been used in the colonies. Now, many small differences exist in rayadillo material. Not all of it is the same all the time. Rayadillo fabric was woven by many different mills in Spain, Cuba, the Philippines and even England. In Puerto Rico they even used some printed cotton, probably from England or the US, for some volunteer uniforms (I own two examples). The size of the stripes will vary in width just a little on many examples. However, they are all close in size and not as thin as on this material. This does not prove they are fake, but it is one point from which they differ from all other documented colonial tunics. Another odd feature, the pointed cuffs integral to these jackets are not found on any of the documented tunics from the colonies (although the Philippine Independence Army did feature pointed cuffs on some of their tunics). They do, however, resemble the cuffs on some later Spanish uniforms, notably the Model 1926 tunics.
A comparison of the sleeves of a suspect jacket on the left with pointed cuff and an original 1890 pattern tunic issued in Cuba. Note the difference in the size of the stripes.
One other item worth mentioning, I have examined a pair of trousers made of the same material as the jackets in question and coming from the same costume house. These retained what appeared to be their original fly and waistband buttons. They were made of gray plastic! Not a good sign of their originality in my opinion.
A detail photo of a matching pair of trousers. Note the gray plastic buttons on the fly. The trousers also have no pockets on the side seams, a feature found on all documented colonial trousers.
So what is this jacket? It may be 100% real and used in the colonies, but the evidence does not support that conclusion. I have not found a photo or regulation to document anything close to this pattern. While it is certain that I have not seen everything and I may have missed something (no one is perfect) I work diligently and carefully at my studies and feel I would have found something in 15 years of looking.
Another possibility is that it may be a jacket worn by any number of public workers in Spain from the late 1890s to the 1930s. In the last years of the 1890s many workers were given rayadillo uniforms. Period newspapers report that the street cleaners in Madrid wore rayadillo with white pith helmets. The Carabineros in Pamplona also received rayadillo uniforms about this time and, not surprisingly, railroad workers had rayadillo suits. There were likely many others employed in civil government service that wore rayadillo work clothing. This jacket could be an example of one of these work suits.
While all of the possibilities mentioned above are plausible (and that is why I keep one in my collection), I think the most likely explanation for this jacket, and the others like it, is that it is simply a costume. The evidence is compelling that these are old copies made some time after the Spanish Civil War for the theater and used in those great Franco era propaganda movies that extolled the admirable Spanish virtues of courage, faith and self-sacrifice.
If these jackets are only costumes, then they have no value in the study of Spanish colonial uniforms. The problem, however, is that they have become accepted in the Spanish museum and collecting community. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of examples already on display in museums and published in reference books as period uniforms. If they are not colonial era uniforms, then their inclusion in books and museum exhibits presents an inaccurate historical picture of the appearance of the Spanish colonial soldier. This could lead the serious researcher astray and could cost both private collectors and museums significant dollars or Euros for an item he may later regret purchasing.
It is important then to determine conclusively the status of the originality of this pattern of jacket. I think the best place to start is to discover when and how the examples in the Spanish museums were acquired. If they have been in their collections from before the Civil War or have come through the families of veterans or other reliable sources, then more research should be done to pin point their exact origin. If they have had them for 20 years or less, have no clear history before they acquired them, and purchased them from militaria dealers, no matter how honest, then they should be taken off display or clearly marked as representative copies.
If any of you has contact with any of the museums mentioned or knows of other examples of this questionable jacket pattern, I would greatly appreciate you looking into their provenance and contacting me with your findings at: firstname.lastname@example.org . You would be doing an important service to the study of rayadillo.
I have been in correspondence with several Spanish curators and collectors. They have pointed out that a large number of these jackets were used in the making of the 1969 TV movie musical "Gigantes y Cabezudos." Between 50 to 80 extras portraying soldiers returning from the colonial wars are dressed in these exact jackets. A youtube clip from this movie can be seen by using this link:
The soldiers appear toward the end of the clip riding on a train and walking into the city.
In addition, one of the examples in a Spanish museum shown above was purchased just a few years ago and has no colonial provenance.
While some may still disagree, I am convinced that these jackets are simply movie costumes made specifically for this film and not original rayadillo tunics from the pre-1898 period. I my opinion, those interested in acquiring a rayadillo uniform should avoid this pattern. Museums that have them in their collections should mark them as copies.
I grant free fair use copying rights to all information on this page in the hopes that it will lead to answers.