Smocks in the United States

Figure 1.--These brothers and sisters in the late-19th century were all dressed in identical smocks. Note the smocking at the front. Smocks were not very common in Ametica, but we see some children of well-to-do families wearing them.

Smocks are a loose, lightweight overgarment worn to protect the clothing while working. The smock was not initially a child's garment, but rather a work garment widely worn by European farm workers and laborers in the early-19th Century, but this was not the case in America. We have not noted American farmers wearing agricultural smocks nor factory workers wearing smocks. Only later do we begin to see chikdren, mostly European children, wearing smocks. The popularity varied substantially from coyntry to country. While workers commonly wore smocks throyghout Europe, usage by cildren was much more varied. And in America seems particularly rare. European boys, especially on the Continent (especially France, Italy, Portugl, and Spain), have commonly been outfitted in smocks both at home and even more commonly for schoolwear. For some reason it seems most pronounced in Catholic southern Italy. We know less about how widely smocks were worn by boys in America. We know they were not work for school, but details on homewear is less available. As far as we can tell, American trends see more like Protestant northern Europe, understandablt becaise until the late-19th century, America was a largely Protestant country. We have been able to acquire relatively little information on smocks in America. Available images suggest that some American boys were dressed in smocks during the late-19th century, but not very many. A mother might dress her entire family, boys and girls in identical smocks. The back buttoning styles were generally chosen. This appears most common in wealthy families. After World War I it became even less common for boys to wear smocks. They were not popular with American boys. The few American boys who still wore smocks were was mostly boys being raised in wealthy families, but even this had mostly disappeared in the 1940s.


American boys have not commonly worn smocks. The smocks that we have noted being worn by American boys have been primarily back buttoning style. This is primarily because the era in which they were worn mostly during the late-19th and early-20th Century and at the time this was the primary style of smock worn. By the time that front buttoning smocks appeared, primarily after World War II, the smock was rarely worn by American boys. Even in nursery schools and kindergartens.


The smocks HBC has noted in the 19th century appear to have been mostly white. HBC has, however, noted some colored smocks in available period images. In some cases they were dark colors although the available black and white photography makes it difficult to assess actual colors (figure 1). We are unsure as to just what colors might have been worn. Such information is sometimes abailable from fashion magazines advertisding clothing. Smocks may well have been made by individual seamstresses or mothers, so unlikes suits and dresses, less information is available. Colored smocks appeared to have become more common than white smocks in the 20th century.


As best we can tell, few Americab boys have worn smocks. We have found relatively few images of smocks in America, even for girls. Our American archive is so large tht we believes this is am accurate relectiin if thevpopulsrity of smocks. We believe that smocks were less commonly worn by American than European boys. And they were not wirn as achool garment, unlike the case of everal Europen countries. Smocks did nt begin as a child's grment, but were worn by European farmers and workers. This was never the case in America. One weakness in our assessment is that smocks began to be worn by children in Europe during the when the late 19th Century. At that time there were no amateur snapshots as we now know them. Photographs were taken at studios and were major events in which children were dressed up in their best clothes. As smocks were considered informal dress suitable for wear around the house, children did not commonly have their photographs taken in smocks even though they commonly wore them. Even so, we believe that they wre not very common even in the 19th century.


We do not have much information on smock usage in America. We note as in Britain, some farmers weating smocks. An example is a farmer in a 1849 painting. We have not found much information about smocks, but believe that as in England they were worn, probably mostly in New England, but we have very little information. And by the mid-19th century we believe that they would have showed up in the photographic record. We also have little information on children wearing smocks. Some children no doubt wore smocks, but they are not common in the photographic record. We think that they were mostly worn at home, especially by boys. They may have been a play garment to protect clothing This probably is not acurately depicted in the photographic record which in the 19th century was mostly studio photography. Thee may have been some work wear. We also think there was some institutional wear. As best we can tell there was no schools which had smock uniforms as American scholls except for a few private schools did not have uniforms. America is, however, a large country and we do not rule this out at some private schools. More likely is usage at orphanages. This would have been likely at a Catholic orphanage which may have had European nuns. The only evidence we have found of this so far is an unidentified beach outing by some group in Newport, Rhode Island


HBC believes that smocks in the 19th century were generally made out of plain, serviceanle materials like linnen. Ginham smocks appeared in the early 20th century. More information, however, is needed here.

Figure 2.--Mrs. Cocroft of Staten Island in 1886 carefully dressed her nine children and picturesquely arranged them in a sumac tree. Note all the children, except the oldest girls, are outfitted in white smocks--including all the boys.


We have so far collected almost no written information on American boys wearing smocks. Virtually the only information we have is from available images. We have not yet found paintings with boys wearing smocks. And unlike Euriope we do not see many farmers and workmen wearing smocks. We do see ity boys from fashionable families wearing tunics. And there is considerable similarity between smocks and tunics. Much larger numbers of images become available with the advent of photiography. We have some information on American boys wearing smocks in different eras. Photography provides a coverage of popular trends to a degree not possible with painyings that were done in smuch smaller numbers. Thus any fashion that was at all prevalent shows up in the photographic record. And we just do not see many examples in the photographic reciord, although it is possible that mother did not bring childremn to phtographic studios even if they did wear them at home. Smocks were a casual protective garment and thus would have been worn at home if worn at all. Tunics were very common, but not smocks. And some tunics seem similar to smocks. They were worn by American boys in the 19th century--although not as commonly as in Europe. The few examples we hav found were affluent familis. In the 20th century they have been worn even less. And with the advent of the family snapshot, they would show up if they were being worn to amy extent.


A smock is mostly seen today as a girl's garment in America. This was not always the case. We see both boys and girls wearing them in the late 19th century, although here there were social-class differences. It is difficult to make definitive assesments as our information is still quite limited. Many of the children we see wearing smocks are children from affluent families. After the turn of the 20th century we see fewer boys wearing smocks, but there are still some in the early 20th century. Most boys wearing smocks after the turn of the 20th century look to be pre-school boys. After World War I (1914-18) we see very few American boys wearing smocks, especially after the 1920s.

Personal Experiences

We will collect here personal expeiences we can find as well as images of specific families or individual boys which we have analized on separate pages. Most of these images or accounts come from the 19th century. In some cases all the children wore matching smocks.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Smock-related pages:
[Return to the Main national smock page]
[American] [English] [French] [Turkey]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Smock-related pages:
[Return to the main Smock page]
[Pinafores] [Fauntleroy suits] [Fauntleroy dresses] [Sailor hats]
[Park outings] [French page]
[Renoir page] [School smocks]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Cloth and textiles] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: February 20, 1999
Spell check: August 4, 1999
Last updated: 2:15 AM 12/13/2015