Swiss Smocks

Figure 1.--This charming photograph shows two Swiss brothers enchanted by their Christmas tree at home. The photograph was taken about 1938. It shows that while the smock was primarily schoolwear, some boys also wore it at home. Neither boys have yet begun school. Notice the collar on the smock.

Switzerland is a multi-cultural and linguistic country. Smocks were commonly worn by Swiss-Italian and Swiss-French boys, but less so than the Swiss-German boys. They were mostly worn to school. As far as boys clothing is concerned, the French speaking part of Switzerland was comparable to France. It was compulsory for boys to wear a smock until 9-10 in the years 1930-1960, about one third would then continue up to end of primary school around 12 years. The style and colors of these smocks were left to the parents discretion, there was no uniformity but a wide variety in mainly three styles: back buttoning, side buttoning, and a pinafore style.



Since Switzerland has no natural resources, education and knowledge have become very important resources. Therefore Switzerland claims to have one of the world's best education systems. Because the cantons are responsible for educational services (kindergarten, schools, universities), education may vary significantly between cantons. This means the the language of instruction, the curiculum and rules concerning school atire

Linguistic and national differences

Switzerland is a multi-cultural and linguistic country. Switzerland may be neutral but it is certainly not flavourless. The fusion of German, French and Italian ingredients has formed a robust national culture

Boys clothing

Smocks were commonly worn by Swiss-Italian and Swiss-French boys, but less so than the Swiss-German boys. Smocks were mostly worn to school. The clothing worn by Swiss boys was strongly influenced by styles in the particular country thatvthe family was linguistically tied to, although there was much blending of these styles in Switzerland. The smocks types, for example, were not exactly the French or Italian types, there was much more variety and local fashion trends.

School smocks

There was no national rule in Switzerland about wearing smocks to school. While Switzeland has three linguistic regions (even 4 with rumantsch)m there are 23 different cantons with 23 separate educational regulations. Some older Swiss will refer to 22 cantons. The Swiss decided to create a new canton (Fench speaking Jura was part of german speaking canton Bern). So there are 23 cantons. Each part of Switzerland is culturally linked to either France, Germany or Italy. Boys in the German cantons did not commonly wear smocks like Ticino (Italian) and Romandie (French) boys who in their cantons more or less has schools with compulsory rules--depending on the canton.


Smocks were primarily worn as schoolwear in Switzerland as they were required in many schools in French catons. Smocks in Switzerland were usually worn by French-Swiss boys on school days. This often also meant at school and at home. Few boys when they came home from school took off their smocks. Some mothers also had boys wear smocks at home, especially younger boys. They would wear their smocks for play at home and outside after school. About 80 percent of the boys did so. On weekends and vacations only 10-15 percent of the boys would still wear smocks. Occasionally older boys might also wear smocks after school. This may have changed over time. We see a boy and girl wearing smocks for a bike ride in 1919. Even when older boys stopped wearing smocks at school or at home, they might still put them on to protect their clothes for chores like helping father was the car or cleanning their bikes

A Swiss contributor provides his personal observations during the 1940s. "I can just confirm how frequently boys of primary school level did wear their smock at home. Obviously you see the boys in the streets, not in their home. But I remember quite well having seen frequently boys up to 12 years old in their smock going to visit them at their home or receiving them at my home to shoot marbles or play with electric trains. A few also I saw in church on sunday or in restaurants, at movies etc. It was much less common to see boys older than 12 years, but there were a few boys up to about 16 whose mother insisted that they wear smocks at home."


Outside of school smocks, we do not hae aot of chrnological informtion on swiss smocks. We notice children on a bike ride near Geneva during 1919. Here we see twounidentified boys athomeduringChristmas dueing 1938 (figure 1).


French Swiss boys were the kargest group of Swiss boys to wear smocks. Italian-Swiss boys also wore smocks, but they were generally a much smaller part of the population. Generally German-Swiss boys did not wear smocjs unless they lived in A french-speaking majority village.


Here are the French words used for smocks and related garments. The most common is "tablier". There are two further words in french for such protective clothing, although both are quite uncommon, if even unknown by french speaking people.
Tablier: The word "apron" translates to "tablier". Our Swiss corespondent, however, believes that it's English meaning is nearer to "pinafore"--evocing partial, primarily front protection than smock, suggesting total protection. [HBC note. In English, "apron" is a garment providing front proection, someties only protection below the waist and is often associated with cooking. Pinafores are more associated with children and provide both full front protection and full or partial back protection. It is primarily diferentiated from smocks by the absence of sleeves.]
Sarrau: "Sarrau" is used to describe exclusively back-buttoning smocks.
Chasuble: "Chasuble" translates to the same English word. It describes a sleeveless eclesiastical garment used by a priest ecelebrating mass. In French it is used to define a protective clothing covering back and front only with neither cloth nor bindings on both sides. These would be put on over one's head.


As far as boys clothing is concerned the french speaking part of Switzerland was comparable to France. It was compulsory for boys to wear a smock until 9-10 in the years 1930-1960, about one third would then continue up to end of primary school around 12 years. Boys did not wear smocks in secondary school.


The style and colors of these smocks were left at parents discretion, there was no uniformity but a wide variety in mainly three styles:
Back buttoning: the smock buttoned in the back (in French "sarrau") as illustrated on your fig 4 by the little boy in "vichy", usually with extensive pleating.
Side buttoning: the smock buttoned mostly on right side (left side for girls)
Pinafore: this was less protective (but also less expensive).

None of these styles were dominate, but a Swiss contributor to HBC reports, "I'd say the most common style for the younger kids was the one that buttoned in the back. The most common one for the older boys was the one that buttoned on right side. HBC was surprised to see that a pinafore style was also worn by boys. Our Swiss source reports that, "... in my class of 8-9 years old about 30 percent of the boys would wear the pinafore. In schools of other parts of the city the proportion could go from 5-75 percentm depending on the family income level. (The pinafore was inexpensive.)


The colours of smocks worn by children were either the gingham ("vichy") pink-white (usually girls, seldom boys) or blue-white, plain black or blue or pink or green, or stripy. Incidentally the French word for "gingham" is vichy. Perhaps the cloth was once made there. It comes from the Spanish word "guinga". Red and white gingham smocks were also worn. The gingham smock was very common and popular for both back and front buttoned smocks.


Boys mostly wore short trousers (except in winter) up to 13-14 years. Then long trousers became more common. Even so about 10-15 percent of boys up to 16 years still wore shorts. Scouts wore shorts all year long. These trousers were woolen made, very seldom were these in leather except scouts; I remember also a short period for the 5-10 kids where the fashion suddenly imposed the Bavarian leather lederhosen with braces.


In the French part of Switzerland, smocks were usy\ually worn without collars.

Boys' attitudes

Younger boys of 8-10 years did not think anything about wearing smocks as long the smocks were commonly worn by most of the boys, well fitted ... and it was compulsory. Some of the older 10-12 year old boys objected to wearing smocks, especially if they were a minority in a class.


Swiss-Italian boys like the Swiss-French boys commonly wore smocks to school. Smocks in the Itlalian part of Switzerland were more likely to have collars. They had collars of different colours, not just white.


I do not believe it was as common for Swiss-German boys to wear smocks.

Personal Observations

Some of the nmost useful accounts are the personal experiences that HBC readers have submitted. These accounts are particularly useful from other countries--especially if different languages are spoken. American and British readers have a reasonable understanding of each others culture. We know much less about Coninental experience. HBC suspects the same is true for Europeans.

French-Swiss boy: the 1940s-60s

Before narrating this unusual history, some words on the school organization in my town of origin in Romandie, in the years 1940-1960. My mother strongly believed that boys should wear smocks. This didn't bother me as a younger boy, but I began to object as I got older.


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Created: September 18, 2000
Last updated: 7:16 AM 12/17/2015