Protective Clothes

Figure 1.--

Children in the 19th and early 20th centuries, both boys and girls, were much less likely to have an extensive wardrobe of clothing including dress and casual items. In addition clothes were in real terms more expensive than today. As a result, children wore in expensive protective garments over their clothes, both smocks and pinafores. Conventions and popularity of these garments varied from country to country and over time. Coveralls were developed for chidren in the 1900s. A new development in the 1990s was sun-smart clothing.


Smocks are a loose, lightweight over garment worn to protect the clothing while working. Initially the smock was a garment for adult workers, especially farm workers. Eventually mothers faced with the need of protecting expensive garments from the hard wear associated with children began dressing their children in smocks. The smock by the late 19th century had become primarily a child's garment, although it was also wrn by shop workers, artists, and other adults. The smock was essentially a large shirt or overgarment with the fullness controlled by the smocking (embroidery on pleats). The use of smocking (the decorative embroidery can be easily traced to the 15th century). Albrecht Durer's Self Portrait (German) shows a smocked shirt, and the Mona Lisa (Italian) has a smocked chemise. The use of needlework to control fullness is a very old technique and became known as smocking. Smocking needle work continues today and is a popular addition to fancy collars as well as garments for younger children.


Pinafores were esentially abbreviated smocks worn over other clothes for meals and play. I'm not positive when the pinafore first appeared. It appears to have appeared in the late 18th Century, but it is clearly a widely worn garment by the early 19th Century. I am also unsure as to which country or countries it first appeared. Based upon available images, the pinafore was particularly popular in England and France, but this may be just a function of the greater availability of images from those two countries. There may have been a variety of different styles, but by the mid-19th Century back buttoning pinafores seem to have been most common. Pinafore lengths seemed to have been largely determined by the lengths of the dresses in style during any given period. After the turn of the 20th Century pinafores were not commonly worn by boys, although they were worn by French boys after the style had passed out of fashion for boys in England. Pinafores for girls in the 20th Century became very fancy, stylish garments and not the utilitarian garments of the 19th Century.

Jump Suits

The play suit was conceived after the turn of the century as the modern concept of play was developing as beneficial activity. Early play suits were smocks, pinafores, and rompers. The romper was probably the insporation for the jump suit, the first long pants play suit. The Levi Straus company was probably the first company to create long pants playsuits with their coveralls. Many other designs were to follow.


No clothing item as assumed more importance in a boy's wardrobe during the second half of the 20th century than blue jeans. The first jeans worn by boys, although it was not a boys' style, was overalls. I have collected relatively little information on this style. It is esentially Aerican. It was worn mostly in rural Americaas work clotyhes, but in the 1990s has become stylish for both boys and girls.

Sunsmart Clothes

It was once thought that a deep tan was a healthy look for summer. As we have learned more about skin cancer, modern partents are increasinly aware of the dangers of too much exposure to the sun. The concern is increasingly accepted in New Zealand and Australia. The growing hole in the ozone layer has creating great concer, especially in the countries cloesest to the hole. Clothing companies now market sunsmart styles and schools are introducing sunsmart garments as part of the school uniform.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 14, 2001
Last updated: June 14, 2001