Male character in pantomime. Pierrot derives from Pedrolino of the Italian commedia dell'arte. In France he evolved into a pale-faced lover with a loose white suit and ruff, moping under a full moon. In Britain the solitary pierrot became the pierrot troupe of men and women in dunces' caps who were formerly popular entertainers at the seaside.
France The original Italian pierrot was a booby, in an ill-fitting white suit and large, soft-brimmed hat. Imported into France by Giuseppe Giratone, who joined the Italian company in Paris in about 1665, he soon became popular with the audiences at the Paris fairs, and remained a rustic simpleton, his face whitened with flour through the influence of the French farce player Turlupin (about 1630), until Jean Deburau made him the hero of his mime plays at the Funambules, a childlike, pathetic figure who gave rise to the late 19th-century idea of a pierrot, still familiar today.
Britain Meanwhile, imported into Britain in the harlequinade, the pierrot multiplied himself in the early 1900s into the pierrot troupe performing on the beaches. The white costumes of the men were echoed in the girls' white frills; both wore dunces' caps, the men with a black silk scarf drawn tightly over the skull, and brightly coloured ruffs, buttons, and cuff frills. The apotheosis of this form of entertainment, which included comic and serious songs, dancing, conjuring, and short sketches, was Pélissier's Follies, which came to London in the early 1900s. A successful revival of the pierrot show was staged by the Co-Optimists under Dave Burnaby (1881–1949) in the 1920s. The pierrots have now virtually died out.