French Smocks: Terminology

Figure 3.--T

Several terms have been used for smocks in France. The most common French term for a child's or school smock is "tablier", but the other terms have also been used as well. HBC has noted several terms for smock. There are generally accepted conventions as to the time of smocks to which these terms refer. Not all French speakers, however refer precisely to these accepted conventions. In addition the usage of these terms as the popularity and style of smocks has changed over time.

Smock Terms

These are the French terms we have noted for "smock". We have a good understanding of what the term means, but we do not fully understand the entemology of the different terms,


"Blouse" has many different meanings in French and the use of the word has varied over time. One meaning is the same as the modern English meaning. ("Blouse" also has several different meanings in English.) HBC notes that in the 1890s that one meaning for blouse was a smock-like garment. It was also used for 19th century tunic outfits. "Blouse" in French is still used to mean smock, but it commonly means a front-buttoning smock as worn by doctors, nurses, lab workers etc, and not a child's smock.

Blouse paletot

Both blouse and pletot had different meanings. We have seen the term used to mean smock. See a French stote ad in 1937 for examples. Paletot was sometimes used to mean cardigan. As far as we can tell, however, there is little or no difference between the blouse paletot and those labeled just blouse. They seen to e front-buttoning school smocks with lapels.


"Cardigan" was sometimes used to describe a front buttoning smock. One observer believes as it was a foreign term, it was adopted, to make the smock seem a bit more fashionable. Cardigan is a rather new word in French, used since the 1940s to mean a knitted jacket or sweater. By extention, in the 1970s a new smock fashion appeared. It was a very short smock, rather like a short jacket. So this short smock is called a "tablier cardigan". When pnly "cardigan", in used the reference is to a knitted jacket with front buttoning and not a smock.


"Sarrau" is an old word for smock. This was coomonly used to describe the smocks worn by farmers and farm laborers in the 19th century. "Sarrau" originally meant a back-buttoning smock whereas the word "tablier" was more used for either only the smock covering front only or the full smock with front buttoning. The word "sarrau" is more or less out of fashion and now and the word "tablier" is used for nearly any type of smocks, be it for children or housewives. A French reader tells us that the word "sarrau" is not now commonly used in France, although it does appear in literature. Most French people use "tablier" for a child's smock or "blouse" for an older boy's and front buttoning smocks in general. He thinks "sarrau" is used more commonly in Luxemburg or Switzerland.


This is now the most common French term used for a child's smock, especially a school smock. Traditionally they were back buttoning, but many front buttoning styles now exist for children. "Tablier" is the most common term for a child's smock, especially a school smock. HBC is unsure about the derivation of the word. A French reader tells us the word may come from the word "table" which is used for a school desk in French. A French Candian reader believes that the term comes more the use of the word to mean apron and pinafore, because these garments were used by waitresses and mothers to bring food to the tanle. Smocks of course evolved from workmen's clothing, but the usage appears to have developed when children began wearing them to school. Pinafores at the time had become a child'd garment, so this may explain the transition. These are only preliminary assessments. Hopefully French readrs will provide us more detailed information aboyt the entemology of the word. What ever the derivation, "tablier" came to be the primary used for a French school smock. What ever the derivation, "tablier" came to be the primary used for a French school desk. I'm not sure just when "tablier" became the primary term for chidren's or school smocks. A French reader who wore smocks in the 1950s tells HBC that he and his friends always used "tablier".

Tablier d'ecolier and tablier d'étude

WE have seen the terms "tablier d'ecolier" and "tablier d'étude". We are not sure just why the student/stufy adjetives were added when "tablier" itself was understood to mean school smock. Perhhaps in the 1930s tabllier was not yet universally understood as a school smock. See a French stote ad in 1937 for examples.


A Frenchg reader reporys, "In french also we say about smocks des "cache-poussière" (it's the dust of chalks). This is used mostly to describe boys' smocks. This is similar to the Spanish term, "guardapolvo".


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Created: May 14, 2002
Last updated: 3:34 PM 8/22/2005