Swiss Smock Personal Experiences: The 1940-60

Figure 1.--This is me about 1942 in my class photo. I beliecve it was thee first year of school. I am wearing the red gingham, back buttoning smock that mothere preferred for schoolwear. Notice the pinafore-type smock in the background.

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.

Swiss Schools

Before narrating this unusual history, some words on the school organization in my town of origin in Romandie, in the years 1940-1960. The schooling started by the optional nursery school as of 4 years. Then obligatory school with the primary education from 6 to 12 years, followed by entrance into secondary schooling either in a college known as "classical" giving access later on to the university upon obtention of "maturity" (baccalaureat) or in a college known as "modern" leading to apprenticeship. The school attendance was compulsory until the age of 16 years.

Boys' Wear

Accepted boys clothing of the time for the boys meant wearing short pants up to 13-14 years. Except the scouts, only 10-15 percent of boys continued wearing short pants by the time they reached 15-16 years, and for that reason a good teasing opportunity for their comrades. Needless to say that a more than 16 year old boy still wearing short pants was--although not excessively rare--the exception.

Seasonal wear

As you may know, winters can be quite severe in Switzerland. We get a lot of snow. From November to March the majority of the boys exchanged their short pants for more protective knickrs and kneesocks.


At nost French-speaking schools, wearing some kind of a smock at school was obligatory for all children up to 10 years and it was relatively current to still see boys wear their school smocks until the end of the primary education.


Our smocks were not worn solely to school, but very often at home or to play in the street. One could even see some younger boys with their smock on Sundays at the mass, at restaurant or walking in family. Some rare parents insisted their son of 12-13 years to put his smock during first year of college (secondary school), or even until around 16 years for chores around the home that might result in soiling ones clothes.

Our Smocks

In my family there was as for the wearing of smocks a ruling strictly applied. My mother three of each of these four kinds of smocks. One was in use, one at the laundry and the third in reserve:


Red ginham: At the primary school up to 12 years I was to wear a red/white guingham smock buttoned in the back and pleating everywhere, this togheter with shortpants throughout the year.

Blue ginham: Back from school or on days without school I had the same smock style but in blue-white colour. Actually I am not sure why these two different ginham colors were used. These were the two most common colors of ginham smocks. I think mother just wanted to be able to tell which were my school smocks and which were my mome smocks.

Black: Sunday was devoted... for me to put on my black smock throughout day. This smock also back-buttoning and pleated everywhere, and I wore it as well to the mass, to restaurants, or visiting friends or parents.

Plain blue: The school holidays enabled me to exchange these smocks for a plain blue smock which buttoned rightside on front. It had red trim around the neck and the cuffs and the pocket were a dark red. I was to wear this smock at home as well as when we went on holiday in a hotel or to visit relatives.


Our smocks never had any collars. Sometimes we would wear shirts with the collars under the smock. Othertimes we would wear the collars of our short outside our smocks. Note the collar I wear here (figure 1). My smock was red gingham. The collar looks like it is part of the smock, but actually it is a slightly different material and the rather destinctive collar to the shirt that I was wearing.


My two older brothers followed this ruling until end of primary school, and had still on Sundays put on the black smock until they were 14 years old. So that us three boys were dressed every sunday the very same way, ages from 8 to 14, in short pants and black smock the entire day.

First Communion

For maybe the first time I did not have to wear smock at church during this very special ceremony. So I had a brown short pants suit that previously was used by brother for same occasion, wearing also this "white arm ribbon". But as soon as back home for the big family luncheon I returned ... to a brand new black smock, that I kept the whole day even when returning to church in the evening for the special first communion vespers. I never saw that suit again, was surely given quickly to some poor family.

Secondary School

At the time of my first year at secondary school when I was 12 years old, I did not have to wear a smock to school anymore, a distinctive sign of primary school. Just like most of the the other boys of same age, I still wore short pants. One day of October came to me the unfortunate idea to say to my father that I was now big enough to replace my short by long pants. I must not have broched the idea very diplomatically. He apparently thought, probably for good reason, that I was getting to big for my britches. His reaction was simple and fast: "As you do not want any more that one sees you in short pants, you just put on again your smock of primary school." He disappeared in my room and returned at once with the red/white smock that I had worn a few months earlier in primary school. Holding it out to me, he said: "Here, you right now put on that smock and you go to college with it. And you will remain in smock and short trousers until the end of the college." Thus I found myself the only pupil of my class with a smock, although there were two or three boys of the same age who had also a smock in this college. The following year I was the only boy of all the school that still was dressed with a smock and later on, 16 years old I was the only one being as well in short pants as in smock. (And it was still the same pink/white smock back-buttoned and pleated from everywhere!) And the former rule still applied with Sundays' black smock, the blue/white guingham smock on non school days and the vacation smock.

At the beginning my class comrades or other little neighbors made fun of me and my smock, but they got used to it quite quickly and nicknamed me "Tabli" (from french word "tablier=smock). Even, would I put off my smock for a football game, a sudden chorus would shout: "Eh Tabli! Put on your smock quickly, otherwise you'll be scolded." Curiously if at the beginning these smocks did not enchant me, I got used to it and even started to like wearing them so much that around 16 years, if it had been said to me that from now on I did not have anymore to wear smock and that I could finally have long pants, I would have answered that I liked to be dressed thus and that I wanted to continue to wear my short pants and my various smocks. And it is without null resentment, but on the contrary with the nostalgia of my schoolboy smock that I can look at behind.


Both my parents were from German part of Switzerland, but originated from quite different social and religious families ... and cantons. My parents upbringing might explain why my parents enthusiastically adopted the smock fashion for boys.


My mother was from a very big French-speaking family of pure catholic education. In such big families, kids usually learn to be seen and not heard" Furthermore for my mother who would have enjoyed having a few additional kids, but could not, seeing his third and youngest boy still in smock may have seemed as if she had once again a very young 4th or 5th kid in house! Or maybe, she would have enjoyed having a daughter. Looking at a smocked boy, perhaps she could imagine that she at last had a cherished little girl.


My father was protestant, his parents had an hotel where notions of uniforms and cleanliness were important. He also was with some responsibilities in swiss army, here again notion of uniform. Before settling down in Romandie he traveled quite a lot in southern Europe, discovering the Mediteranean culture where boys commonly wore both short pants and smocks. When my father decided I should continue to be wearing a smock every single day, it was certainly also due to fact that I was not quite the scholar type of boy, with more interest in music, nature, literature than actual school and my school results suffered somewhat from my poetic and philosophical trends. There was here a hidden message included in his decision: If you want to stop being dressed like a primary school boy, conduct yourself as you should in secondary school. He was not so strict that he would not have accepted when I was 16 to discuss the smock and short pants rule and allowed me to go over to normal clothing, but as I really at that time had gotten so used to smocks, I never really questioned it.

Interestingly, I don't think my father ever wore a smock in his childhood. He was from the German part of Switzerland where school smocks were more or less unknown. I suspect also that as the son of hotel owners, he was to be always well dressed with clothes of a better appearance than smocks.

Purchasing Smocks

As I got older, I was expected to purchase my own school supplies at the beginning of the year. This meant my clothes as well as my smocks and other school clothes. I simply added to the list of books, gym clothing, school bag etc, the new smocks as needed and bought them.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: December 26, 2000
Last updated: December 27, 2000