** French smock tablier sarrau

French Smocks

Figure 1.--Large numbers of French boys wore smocks to school. This 1952 French advertisement shows various school smock styles for boys and girls.

Smocks for boys are probably more associated with France than any other single country. Smocks were worn by French boys during the late 19th and early 20th Century. It was most common for younger boys still in dresses to wear them, but some older boys wearing bloomer like knickers also wore them, sometimes boys as old as 8 or 9 years of age. They were worn as play clothes--often around the house, but less commonly as dress up clothes. Much more common was the school smock. Large numbers of French boys wore smocks to school, althoug this has varied over time.


HBC does not yet have detailed information on the chronology of French smocks. We know that they were mandated by the Third Republic for schoolwear in the early 1870s. We do not know, however, if smocks were being worn by boys for school before the 1870s and the Third Republic was adopting an already popular style or if smocks were rarely worn by boys and the Third Republic was introducing a largely new garment. The adoption of smocks, however, suggests that it is a garment that was being worn. HBC at this time does not have information on smocks being worn in the mid-19th century. We do have some images from the 1890s, but almost certainly French boys were wearing smocks at home well before the 1890s. Smocks from the 1870s through the 1950s were weidely worn by French boys at school, we have less information on homewear, but a few images from the 1900s suggest that some French mothers had their boys wear smocks as play garment. We do not know, however, how long this was a common fashion. Available omages from the 1940s and 50s suggest that most boys would take their smocks off as soon as they came home from school.


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.

School Smocks

The French school smock became a tradition for several generations of French school boys. The smocks were introduced by the new Government of the Third Republic in the 1870s as a way of reducing class differences. Earlier in the century, smocks in Europe were more associated with work clothes, much as overalls in America. But the same factors which eventually led to children wearing overalls induced mothers to adopt smocks. In France, the use of the smock as a children's garment became quite widespread after they were adoopted as school wear. The school smock (black, blue , or grey smocks) became the common dress of French school boys well before the turn of the Century. In the days in which boys wrote with pen nubs dipped in an ink well, ink stained fingers and clothes were a common result. Thus black and blue smocks were a practical solution to protect clothes.

Home Wear

The smock in France appears to have been primarily a school garment. The popularity has varied over time, but this appears to be the primary usage. The smock was also worn at home. Here there appear to have been gender trends involved. Girls appear yo have worn the smock at home more thn boys, but this varied over time. French boys, perhaps as the school smock was so common, also wore smocks at home more than boys in most other European countries. French boys commonly wore smocks at home. This was particularly common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Little boys still in dresses wore smocks, but also boys in bloomer like knickers and kneepants as well. During this period, once a boy was allowed to wear long pants, he no longer wore smocks. Smocks were probably most common for pre-school boys, but not excluseively. Unfortunately HBC still has very limited information about the extent of wearing smocks at home. As far as we can determine, most boys would take their school smocks off when they came home from schools, but not all boys bothered to do this. Some mothers may have insisted that they take off their smocks to keep them good for school-but again we do not have first hand accounts of this yet. French movies in contemporary scences diring the 1930s-50s sometimes depict boys playing after school. While a range of boys appear in school smocks, usually only the younger boys are shown playing in smocks after school or on family outings.


Smocks have been made in a wide variety of styles. Early smocks were plain, back buttoning garments. Front buttoning smocks became more common after World War II (1939-45). These developed into lab-type smocks. There were also apron or gardner smocks. These were called pinafore smocks by French boys in Switzerland. HBC has also noted styles we do not yet know how to describe.

Folk Costumes

The smock was a garment that was worn in rural areas during the 9th century. This was also true in England. As a result smocks seemed to have been integrated into folk costumes in different areas of France. Here our information is very limited. We have noted some images of folk costumes including smocks. These were no children's smocks. Folk costumes in general were age destinctive, but were styles worn by both children and adults. We are not yet sure about the regional nature of the smock in folk costuming. We hope to develop more information on this as HBC develops.


HBC has only limited information on smock styles at this time. Most of what we know is about school smocks rather thn smocks worn at home. We note that the few images we have of 19th century and early 20th century smocks worn at home were quite long. By the 1920s much shorter smocks had appeared.

Color and Patterns

HBC has considerable information on the color of school smocks. Less information is avialble on the smocks worn by generally younger boys at home and no specifically designed for schoolwear. While school smocks were mostly dark blue or black, we know less about smocks worn at home. We have noted some boys at the turn of the century wearing what looks like gingham smpcks. We have also noted very young boys by the 1920s wearing brightly colored smocks. It is not possible to list every color. Once you get beyond the basic colors the list of possible colors is mind bogling. Boys wore smocks in most of the basic colors, except for pink. White was not used for either boys' or girls' smocks. We note that a very wide range of colors have been used for the smocks worn at home for young children, boys and girls. This has included many bright colors which were not commonly used for school smocks. A 1924 newspaper ad, for example, offered smocks in raspberry pink, blue, orange, jade, yellow and mauve.


One of the most popular ways of triming smocks was the use of "croquets". This trim was commonly used to edge the collars. "Croquets" came in a variety of styles and color. It could be use to edge collars in a corordinated or contrasting color. They were also used for edging in romper suits and dresses, depending on the mother's sewing ability. The purpose according to one French reader was to give a "chic" look to the garments.

Figure 2.--Most French schools by the 1940s no longer required smocks, but many mothers still sent there sons to school in smocks considering to be the ideal school garment for both boys and girls.

Smocking and Embroidery

Smocks are one of the garments on which both smocking and are embroidery are used for trim or decoration. The other garments are blouses, dresses, and rompers. Emroidery and or smocking can be used on both one piece rompers and the blouses worn with romper botyom bottonms, such as sduspender rompers and button-on rompers. Somocking and emroidery can be used in combination or separetely. The smocking is generally used on the upper front of the garment. Emroidery can be used in many different places.


There were a range of reasons that smocks became popular school garments in France. The Third Republic introduced smocks for social reasons. Even when not required, smocks were still worn for many years. Mothers chose smocks for their children for a variety of reasons. Many of the reasons were problems also faced by mothers in other countries. Thus we are not sure why the smock became so commonly worn in France and not in other countries. We suspect that after the Third Republic introduced the smock, it became widely accepted and many mothers insusted their children wear them to school even when not required by the school.


Some mothers thought their sons looked nice in smocks.


Dressing a boy in a smock was convenient. It made the job of dressing little boys much easier, especially the back buttoning style. Even for older boys dressing themselves, it was easier for mothers as it was so simple.


A primary factor for many years was the cost of clothing. Clothing requird was a much greater proportion of the average person's income than is the case today. And the fact that children are often careless about their clothing caused considerable tension in many housholds. Another facto A French Canadian reader explains, "It could be disastrous for a boyhim to tear his clothes. You have no idea how is was for a French parent to get angry when good money had to be spent to replace torn clothing. A slap was (if not is) often the result." Of course sometimes money was not available and the torn clothes had to be mended, which also didn't make mother all that happy. The cost of clothing also mean that hand-me-downs. Smocks were garments that both boys and girls could wear. Thus a boy with older sisters could make use of their old clothes. Boys and girls wore slightly different styles of smocks. Thus the boys usually didn't like wearing their sisters smocks. This was an important factor in past decades when clothes were more expensive than today. Smocks also helped to protect a boys clothes.


Another factor was laundry. This is often not fully understood by modern readers. Laundry used to be a terribly laborious undertaking. Before World War II, most French mothers did not have washing machines. Laundry was even an even more exhausting undertaking in the 19th century before the invention of modern laundry detergents. Because mom may have spent an entire day of backbreaking labor doing laundry, she was not at all pleased when junior came home with soiled clothes. The easily laundered smock was thus a very useful sollution for children.

Boys' Attitudes

French boys, at least in the post-war era generally disliked having to wear smocks but their mothers were often insistent. Some boys wore smocks until 10 or even 12 years old. Before World War I even older boys, in some cases boys of 15 or 16 years might wear smocks at home. Boys continued wearing smocks to school after the Second World War, including both front and back buttoning smocks. After World War II, however, the front-buttoning style became most common for older boys. Boys before World War II did not think as much about clothing and fashion as is now the case. However, the fact that most boys took their school smocks off after school suggests that they did have some opinions about clothes.

Individual Experiemces

Jean Philippe Guyon

Emile Zola


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Created: February 20, 1999
Last updated: 8:26 PM 11/5/2008