Smocks and Smock Frocks

Smocks are a loose, lightweight overgarment worn to protect the clothing while working. European farm workers wore smock frocks in the 19th Century. They were also widely used by European and American mothers to protect the often elaborate and expensive clothing of their children. Before the turn of the Century when children's clothes became simpler, the smock was very useful to protect those clothes. An offshoot of the smock was the pinafore, a garmet which protected, but not compleletly cover the clothes. Pinafores were worn by small boys, but were prin\marily worn by girls. Girls well into the 20th Century would wear "pinnies" to protect their clothes.

Boys in the 19th Century and early 20th Century also wore smock-like tunics of various styles. One collection of Victorian nursery rimes decribes English boys in smocks:

The first of Eleanor Farjeon's London nursery rhymes appeared anonymously in Punch in 1916 and were an immediate success. They recalled a London of long lost innocence and simple pleasures, of little villages and boys and girls in linen smocks. It may never have existed, but it was a London that Londoners took to their hearts. This is a facsimile of the complete edition published in 1938, containing all 106 rhymes and illustrated by Macdonald Gill.

Unlike many clothing items such as sailor suits, kilts, Fautleroy suits, etc. do not appear to have been made specifically for boys. Rather they were generic children's clothes, but primarily used for girls. Mothers in the 19th Century, however, had much more latitude on how they dressed their children. Wealthy families often schooled children at home which meant they could dress them as they liked. Mothers with large families might dress all of them, sons and daughters alike, in smocks. Charming photos exist of large families of boys and girls from babyhood to 12 or 13 years dressed in smock frocks. Some mothers would insist on dressing their sons and daughters, in matching smocks. Other nothers might purchase slightly less elborate smocks for their sons, especially the older boys. Smocks for boys, for example, might have less lace and smocking or other aplique. In all cases the smocks buttoned or tied ast the back or pulled over the head like a frock. Generally by the time a boy reached 5 or 6, he would be dressed in more boyish clothes, such as kilts or Buster Brown suits. Some boys as old as 10 or 12, however, are known to have been kept in smocks by meticulous mothers. Often mothers opting for smocks would use them for every day wear or play to save wear and tear on their best suits.

Smocks were particularly popular on the Continent. Children in several countries wore school smocks. Blue smocks were the common dress of French school boys by the turn of the Century. French boys continued wearing smocks to school until well after the Second World War. Smocks were also commonly worn by Italian school chidren. The colors varied some what, but the style usually included a large white collar and colorful bow. Quite a number of Italian school children, boys and girls still wear them. Many schools have different colors or styles for the boys and girls. Other schools have boys and girls in idential colors and styles. Often the girls continue to wear back buttoning smocks while boys wear front buttoning ones. Some schools, however, continue to have both boys and girls wear the back butoning ones. Smocks were adopted by two Latin American countries, Uruguay and Argentina, with large Itlalian populations. The children there wear white smocks with blue bows. Smock styles were oiginally back buttoning, but now the boys' smocks button at the front. School smocks for boys were never as popular in the English speaking countries. A few British schools required smocks for very young children, but that was an anomaly.

Dressing boys in smocks at home and for playing outside was known in England as late as the 1920s and 30s. Boys until they reached 8 and were ready for their preparatory school might be dressed in smocks, especially during the summer for play. Chistopher Milne, who served as his father's prottoype for Christopher Robbin of Winnie the Poo fame, was dressed in gingham smocks until he had passed his 8th birthday. This was, however, unusual. When he went off to his boarding school, the other boys teased him for being Christopher Robin and wearing smocks as they had all read the Winnie the Poo books and seen the drawings.

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Christopher Robin

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