French School Uniform:  Chronology


Figure 1.--French boys in the early 20th century still commonly wore school smocks. Notice the two boys with a belt over his smock. They have written, "Long live the vacation" on the board. 
 

The decision to require French boys and girls to wear smocks was a decision implemented by French authorities during the 1870s. It was in keeping with the styles of the day as both boys and girls commonly wore smocks. France has such a centralized, highly respected educational system, that the decision was relatively easy to implement. The smock certainly served the purpose of a uniform, covering differences in the clothes worn by children from different economic circumstances. It also protected the boy's clothes. In an era when clothes were expensive and writing was done with basic pens and ink wells, a black smock made considerabe sense. Beside the schoolboy smock, nothing like the elaborate school uniforms common in England developed in France. While state schools generally did not require have a school uniform, such uniforms were generally worn in Catholic schools and at some private schools. Unfortunately I have managed to collect very little information on French school uniforms. I am hoping that a French visitor to this web site will eventually provide some interesting information.

Chronological Century Trends

The father of French education is generally considered to be Charlemagne, the father of the French nation. Charlemegne, who was largely uneducated, respected learning and incouraged the resumption of formal education. He reversed the descent toward barbarianism in western Europe that had followed the fall of the Roman Empire. I only have limited information, however on how boys were educated at the time and what they wore. Nor do we have much informatioin on the overall medieval era. Education in 17th century France was for the privildged. The Government did not provide schools. Fee paying schools, dominated by the church were available for middle-class boys. Artistocratic boys were educated at home by tutors.HBC has very little information on the clothes worn by French boys to schhool in the early and mid-19th century. It is unclear to HBC if French boys commonly wore smocks before the late 19th-century. A fe available images suggest that many boys wore military style uniforms at seconadry schools. I'm less sure what the younger boys wore. The major event affecting schoolwear was the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). The Emperor Napoleon III's disastrous loss in the war cost him the crown and paved the way for the Second Republic. The decision to require French boys and girls to wear smocks was a decision implemented by French authorities during the 1870s. The smock was in keeping with rhe Republican sensibilities of the day. The smock was viewed as a very democratic garment, hiding the inexpensive clothes that might embarras pooer children. It was in keeping with the styles of the day as both boys and girls commonly wore smocks, altough I am not sure if they were commonly worn to school. France has such a centralized, highly respected educational system, that the decision was relatively easy to implement. I'm not sure just what age boys wore smocks. Presumably it was just elementary schools, but I have seen photographs showing what appear to be younger teenagers wearing smocks as well as younger boys. French boys continued to wear school smocks and berets in the early 20th century. Some boys appear to have worn military styled uniforms. Smocks became somewhat less common after World War I (1914-18), but were still quite common until after World War II (1939-45) in the the 1950s. Berets also largely disappeared after World war II. Most French boys wore kneepants with three-quarter socks in the early 20yh century. After World War I, short pants becamee more common. Shorts were commonly worn through thr 1960s, but mostly by younger boys by the 1960s. Kneesocks were also common, although by thr 1950s they had become more common in the winter than the summer. French boys by the 1980s were dressing in the American-influemced pan-European style in jeans, sweatshirts, and other casual styles. The French in the 21st century have begun to debate the efficacy of school uniforms, but they are still not very common.

Garment Chronology

The popularity of various French school garments have varied over time. We are not sure just when bertets begame popular. We notice them being worn with smoks, but rapidly disappeared after World War II. We note major differences in the late-19th century with the appearance of both smocks amd gtowing importance of cadet uniforms. French education was considerably different than the Britain. There was not a large system of private boarding schools with uniforms as was the case in Britain. Many of the Catholic boarding schools required uniforms of some sort. Thus changed over time. We notice military uniforms in the late 19th and early-20th century, but more simple uniforms after World war I. Except for the military uniforms, we do not notice the elaborate uniforms that developed in Britain. And after smocks declined in popularity after World war II, we do not see state schools afopting uniforms as was the case in Britain after World War II. While state schools generally did not require have a school uniform, such uniforms were generally worn in Catholic schools and at some private schools as. We are ot sure what kind of pants French boys wore in the early 19th century, but after mid-century, kneepants became increasingly common. Knickers were also popular. I believe they were primarily below-th-knee knickers. Short pants appeared after the turn of the cdentury anf after World War I had mostly replaced knickers, except for older boys. French boys commonly wore short pants through the 1960s. After Worl War II (1939-45), shorts became shorter and began to be worn mostly by younger boys. French boys by the 1970s began to wear mostly long pants. The boys that did wear shorts began wearing mostly longer-cut ones.

Beret

French school boys commonly wore berets. It is a gaments associated with French boys. HBC does not have information specifically on school berets. We simp,y believe it was a common gament or boys and many boys wore them to school. As far as we can tell,they were for the most part not school berets as such simply berets worn to school. A few private schools, however, did have formal school berets. The beret is so old no one can be sure of its basic history, but it seems to have originated in France, 'beret' being a French word. Yet, like many words, beret actually comes from a Latin word, in this case "birretum", which means "cap". And basically, "cap" is exactly what a beret is. A floppy cap, but one without a brim. We o not yet have information on the early, 19th century. We do not boys earing them in the late 19th century, often with smocks. This of course mean hat they were bring worn to school. We see them veing worn in the early-20th century through the World War II period. For some reaon, however, they rapidly went out of style after the war.

School smocks

We are not sure to wht extent French boys wore smocks in the early- or even mid-19th century. Without photographic images we are unsure how to assess trends. We do know that France began requiring French children to wear smocks after defet in the Franco-Prussian ar (1870-71). The new French Republic pursued a policy of egaltariaim to improve opportunities for the working class. The smock certainly served the purpose of a uniform which was introduced for older boys. The smocks covered the differences in the clothes worn by children from different economic circumstances. It also protected the boy's clothes. In an era when clothes were expensive and writing was done with basic pens and ink wells, a black smock made considerabe sense. For some reason, many boys, especially before the 1920s, wore belts over their smocks. I'm not sure why this was--there does not appear to have been any practical purpose.

Cadet uniforms

We note Frenc boys wearing cadet uniforms. This seems to be a secondaru unifom rather thana primary school uniform. There may have been some younger boys wearing these uniforms, perhaps at colegios, meanin private schools with primary and secondary programs. We are not sure when these miitary-style uniforms were first introduced. We have no information on the early-19th century. We do not see them until the 180s, but this is whn our photigraphic archive begins so they may have been worn earlier. We see them being worn throughout the late-19th cenbtury. Styles varried from school to school. France's defeat by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War may have given impetus to wwearing these uniforms as a kind of natiinal renewal. We still see thee uniforms in the early-20th century, but they were mostly discontinued after the War, pesumably reflecting public revulsion with war and the military. We only see a few schools with these uniforms after the war.

Pants

We are ot sure what kind of pants French boys wore in the early 19th century, but after mid-century, kneepants became increasingly common. Knickers were also popular. I believe they were primarily below-th-knee knickers. Short pants appeared after the turn of the cdentury anf after World War I had mostly replaced knickers, except for older boys. French boys commonly wore short pants through the 1960s. After Worl War II (1939-45), shorts became shorter and began to be worn mostly by younger boys. French boys by the 1970s began to wear mostly long pants. The boys that did wear shorts began wearing mostly longer-cut ones.

Hosiery

I nelieve that French boys mostly wore shorter socks at the beginning of the 10th century. As keepants became more common after mid-century, boys began wearing either three-uarter socks or long stockings. The lonf stockings were never popular as in America. Kneesocks appeard after the turn of the 20-th century. They were commonly worn in the 1920s and 30s, but by the 1950s were mostkly worn in the winter.







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Created: January 16, 2000
Last updated: 7:06 AM 3/17/2014