Fashioning friendships on the East Side


If you live on the East Side of Providence and need a tailor, you’ve probably gone to see Julio Iannone at 193 Cole Ave. I’ve known him for 35 years, but he’s been in business there for half a century! And he doesn’t have any plans to retire. Fortunately, he still enjoys his calling – and so many of his customers enjoy him.

Having spent his early years in Fondi, a small city between Rome and Naples near the Gulf of Gaeta, he didn’t meet any Jews. Or at least he’s not aware of ever having done so. But Julio estimates that perhaps half of his regular Providence customers are Jewish. And he has become friendly with many of them.

After tailoring clothes for countless special occasions, such as B’nai Mitzvah, weddings and anniversary celebrations, he has been invited to more than a few. He also enjoys exchanging New Year’s and other holiday greetings with his customers-turned-friends.

Born in 1950, Julio launched his career when he was only 8. He was apprenticed to a tailor, and he spent afternoons after school learning how to sew. He was also required to learn some important life skills; his father, Gerardo, spent much of each year as a factory worker in Germany, so Julio helped his mother, Emma, care for his three younger siblings.

Julio and his family wanted to join his maternal grandparents, Giulio and Teresa Diamante, in America. But the Iannones had to wait nearly a decade for visas. They finally joined their relatives in Providence in 1966.

Once here, Julio attended high school only briefly. Instead, while living in his grandparents’ two-family home on Federal Hill, he got a tailoring job on Washington Street.

In 1970, Julio enlisted in the military during the Vietnam War. Why did he choose the Navy over the Army? Seeking clean linens, he dreaded the idea of sleeping on a jungle floor. Before beginning basic training at Great Lakes Naval Base, north of Chicago, Julio was required to spend a month there studying English.

When given a choice of specialized training, he chose to become a medic. Having been sent to Chelsea Naval Hospital, in Massachusetts, he helped care for severely injured sailors in the orthopedic unit. No, he was not required to sew up their wounds; many patients had lost entire limbs.

While stationed in Chelsea, Julio also became further aware of racial prejudice. He had hoped to share an apartment with three other sailors, but his best friend, a Black man, told Julio that he would cause an unnecessary burden with landlords. Julio still seems ashamed for accepting his friend’s advice.

In the fall of 1971, while on leave, Julio met his future wife, Lois, a Providence native and a Providence College alumna. They had known each other only 10 days when he proposed to her. She replied, “You’re crazy!” But they did marry a few months later – and are still married 51 years later.

Immediately following his discharge from the Navy in July 1972, Julio sought a job. And what could be more “suitable” than a position as a tailor?

An acquaintance in Providence told him about a friend who had a shop on Cole Avenue. Within minutes of inquiring about an opening, Julio was hired as an assistant. Within a few months, he was invited to buy the business, and the owner helped him obtain a loan.

Julio figured that if he worked hard, did his best, was kind and considerate, and kept his sense of humor, the business would survive and possibly flourish.

During those early years, Julio also had a few other concerns. He had two young children, and his wife, Lois, commuted to Boston’s New England Law school, from which she graduated in 1987.

Over the years, Julio has been shrewd enough to listen carefully to his customers. For example, rather than creating from scratch a long white gown for my daughter’s high school graduation in 2005, he appreciated my wife’s suggestion: fashion one long dress out of two shorter ones. The result, in my humble opinion, was a sartorial masterpiece.

Some readers of this article may wonder if, in accordance with the Italian tradition of la bella figura, Julio sees himself as a fashion plate. He doesn’t. He dresses quite modestly and his shop, Cole Avenue Tailor, is simply adorned.

When he’s not at work, Julio can often be found in his kitchen. He’s particularly fond of preparing traditional Italian dinners. He’s also a Patriots fan, and loves walking along country roads.

Julio also takes enormous pride in his family’s educational and professional accomplishments. Lois practiced family law for 35 years before a serious illness led to her early retirement. The Iannones’ son, Jason, also became a lawyer. He married a Roger Williams University School of Law classmate from Minnesota, so the couple and their two children ended up living there.

The Iannones’ daughter, Christen, earned a doctorate in psychology and lives and works in Florida. Julio much enjoyed his former son-in-law, a Jewish physician, who remarried and now lives, coincidentally, in Minnesota. Christen, too, has remarried.

Though reared as a Catholic, Julio never developed deep ties to his church. Indeed, his childhood priest actually warned him against developing beliefs that were too rigid.

“Doing good to others,” Julio says, “is what the Almighty wants.”

GEORGE M. GOODWIN, of Providence, has edited Rhode Island Jewish Historical Notes for 19 years.

Musings, Julio Iannones, Cole Avenue Tailor