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Where are the Onion Johnnies Now?

Posted on 27th March 2015
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Blog Post about the Onion JohnniesOnion Johnny French Costumes

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One thing that has to be said about the French is that, as a whole, they have fine dress sense and style. Take a wander around any of the major French cities and you’ll see all but a few dressed in smart business attire whether they are shopping or strolling around the park. They want to be noticed and want to be seen as being smart and stylish. Not for them the more modern trend of ripped jeans – why do we pay people to pre-age and semi-destroy our clothes, surely time and the ravages of city life do that quickly enough? You seldom see slogan T-shirts and jogging bottoms, unless you are actually jogging, are a real fashion faux pas.
However, this is not the Frenchman that you instantly think of when you close your eyes. The one that you have in your mind’s eye is the classic Frenchman riding through the streets on his bike, wearing a striped shirt and beret with both bike and shoulders laden with strings of onions. And for most, this is the most popular French costume worn for the celebration of Bastille Day or French themed costume party.
Onion Johnny Bicycle spotted in Roscoff
So where does this strange image that we have come from? Well although the sightings of Frenchmen pedaling our streets chomping on a baguette whilst they sold onions to us from the handlebars are now becoming extremely rare, it is actually only the farmers in the Breton region of France who wore this outfit. It is they who used to load the ferries with their bikes laden with onions to sell their wares door to door in the southern parts of England
Thanks to the appeal of supermarket trolleys and turning a blind eye to the growing issue of food miles, these individual product sellers, nicknamed “Onion Johnny” over here or more simply “Johnny” in France are almost an extinct breed.  Personally, I’m so old that I actually do remember these Johnnies arriving once a year to sell us their onions and also I remember by father trying to grow onions that tasted as good, and perhaps more comically, watching as he attempted to create a string of onions would challenge those brought over on the Roscoff ferry! And it’s in Roscoff that you’ll find a museum dedicated to these icons of France; La Maison des Johnnies.

So why are we so fixated on the striped-shirt-and-beret stereotype? Certainly, striped shirts are classic for both men and women and are still worn fashionably but berets are few and far between these days. To us it seems like although you'll definitely see people wearing striped shirts, and some of them might be riding bikes and even munching on baguettes, our beloved Onion Johnny is now nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, the stereotype persists and is still seen in reruns of old TV favourites like “Allo Allo” and all over the UK when Bastille Day is used as an excuse for a costume party! So let’s all join in and remember the Onion Johnny the way he was. At Karnival Costumes you’ll find all of the components, shirts, berets strings of onions and Garlic all of which would make a great French Bastille Day Costume or “Allo Allo” film set extra, especially if you have a fake French accent to go with it. And if you want to hold your own French themed costume party, and you remember the TV comedy, why not read our Allo Allo party blog which will give you some hints, tips and costume ideas.
Here we’ll just take a look at some of the most suitable costumes and accessories;
Onion Johnny Costumes
Instant Frenchman Costume
The ideal starting point for any French themed costume, our instant Frenchman outfit comprises of the iconic blue and white striped top, neck scarf, black beret and stylised self-adhesive black moustache.  Add a bottle of red plonk or a string of onions, see the accessories list and you’ll be right at home in Café Rene but don’t get tempted to eat any of the sausage you just don’t know what it contains!  Perfect for the two bungling British airmen Carstairs and Fairfax
This is just a very small selection of our French themed costume accessories which will be perfect for creating your own French persona and these include wigs, false moustaches and lots more.  For the complete list, check out the entire range here;
For a quick and easy outfit, and useful for the host to have spare in case anyone should attempt to get into the party without fancy dress, these simple instant fancy dress outfits comprise of a beret, red for women and black for men and a blue and white checked scarf. In the men’s set there is also a black stick-on moustache which completes the look.
Onion String for French Costumes
Made famous by the Onion Johnnies who rode around the streets selling their onions to British housewives, a string of onions around the neck has become symbolic of the Frenchman.  Add these to any instant dress up set to complete the look perfectly – and without the tears.
Garlic String for French Costumes
Another prop made famous by the Onion Johnnies as well as onions, they brought with the an exotic little bulb which at the time was considered by most as "Foreign" and didn't belong over here. Guess this is why they were called Onion Johnnies rather than Garlic Johnnies! Add these to any instant dress up set or even hang over your handlebars to complete the look perfectly – and without the tears.
French Moustache by Smiffys 33403 from Karnival Costumes
A very distinctive French moustache in a black. A highly stylised black moustache which has curled whiskers at each side.  This is a terrific costume accessory when you want a highly stylised Frenchman look, great with a string of onions or garlic or a white apron to become an instant French wine waiter. A very distinctive moustache which is a self-adhesive product and is designed for single use and disposal.
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