Pinafores were widely used in the late 19th and early 20th century to protect clothes. Formal clothing was much more common at the time, and given the cost--very important to protect. Pinafores were esentially abreviated smocks worn over other clothes for meals and play. They were primarily worn by girls, but young boys were also dressed in pinafores. The practice was most common on the continent, but young boys in England also wore pinafores. European countries.