Italian School Smocks


Figure 1.--These Itlalian children in 2001 model different styles of school smocks. As common with younger children, they wear light-colored smocks. Notice that they all have collars and the enbroidered designs.

Italian schoolboys in the 20th century also commonly wore smocks. The Italian boys generally wore dark-colored smocks with large white collars and floppy bows. Such smocks were commonly worn through the 1960s, but became less common for older boys in the 1970s. There is no national standard. The decision to require a smock is up to the individual school. Many state and private schools, especially schools for the younger children, do opt for smocks. Many younger children still commonly wear school smocks. The colors are now much more diverse. It is all up to the school, but brighter lighter colors are now common as are patterns such as checks or gingham. Some schools have different colors for boys and girls. Mothers have different attitudes toward smocks. Some just went along with what the schools required. Other found them a handy way of dressing children for school. One Italian boy tells HBC that his mother insisted he wear a smock for the first year after primary school. He was the only boy in his class who wore a smock and was teased about it. Smocks are still worn in Italy, unlike many ther countries like France where they are now rarely seen.

Terminology

In Italian "smock" translates as "grembiule". A "school smock" would be "grembiule della scuola".

Purpose

The puropse of wearing a smock is to protect clothing as well as to reduce obvious social destinctions. This is the same purpose as in other countries where smocks were commonly worn (Belgium, France, Portugal, and Spain). An Italian reader confirms, "Many school districts in Italy chose the smock in order to protect the children's clothing and to reduce the contrast between the varying economic and social condition of the children." Italy until after World War II was a very poor country. Poverty was endemic, especially in southern Italy. Thus it was embarassing for poor children to attend school in old, sometimes tattered children. This was all covered up by having the children wear smocks. It also had the advantage of protecting the children's clothes as well as cutting down on laundry which in the days before washing machines was a major undertaking.

Usage

We are not yet sure to what extent Italian children began wearing smocks to school in the 19th century. We do know that they were commonly worn in the 20th century. The smock sees to have been primarily a school garment. We do not see smocks being worn much at home, but they were very common at school. Virtually all Italian primary school children wore them at one time. We see many schools with all or almost all of the children wearing smocks. It may well have been a national rule or at least a recommendation. An Italian reader tells us tht the public schools could not require the children to wear smocks, but from the level of compliance, it is clear that some schools promoted smocks more than others. We do not have information on the precise regulations. Smocks seem especially common during the Fascist era between the Wars. They were still quite common after World War II through the 1950s. Some schools promoted smocks as schoolwear, but could not require the children to wear them. Some mothers liked the idea as they helped tonkeep school clothes clean. We are less sure what the children thought about them. We see, however, fewer public schools where all the children were wearing them. They are now much less common, but are still widely worn. This varies from school to school. They seem to be more common in rural areas and in private schools.

Gender

Both boys and girls wore school smocks in Italy. We believe that the Government required both boys and girls to wear them, but we have few historical details at this time. We believe that smocks may have been worn by older girls than boys. Also as smocks became a parental matter rather than Government and school regulations that they have become more common for girls than boys. Historically HBC is not sure what color smocks boys and girls wore. In more recent years, Italian boys generally wore dark-colored smocks. Girls and very young boys have been more likekly to wear light-colored smocks, often with Peter Pan collars. Both boys and girls wore the smocks with weide Peter Pan collars. In more recent years, the Peter Pan collars have become less common for the boys. We have noted some boys wearing smocks with pointed collars. White smocks seem to have become more common in recent years and are worn by boys and girls. Both boys and girls wear large white collars and floppy bows. White collars are still common, but today the bows are less commonly worn for both boya and girls.

Chronology

HBC is unsure just when Italian boys began wearing school smocks. The school smock was adopted in Framce during the early 1870s. They may have been adopted about the same time in Italy. School smocks appear to have been commonly worn in the early 20th century, but HBC has few detais. There does not appear to have been one style that was worn at any one toime, but dark smocks with large white collars appear to habe been especially prevalent. Such smocks were commonly worn through the 1960s, but became less common for older boys in the 1970s. Smocks are still worn in Italy, unlike many ther countries like France where they are now rarely seen. We have just begun to build some chronological information.

Ages

Smocks in Italian schools were primarily for pre-teen pre-school and primary school children, both boys and girls. We believe that the schools that required a smock as a kind of school uniform were mostly pre-schools and primary schools. We have noted. however, some realtively old children wearing school smocks in the late-19th and early-20th century. And in the 20th century we also see older girls wearing school smocks. At this time we are unsure just what the regulations were in Italy. Nor or we sure about government regulations. The photographic record suggests gthat much of gthe fequirements were set by individual schools. We also believe that smocks were also worn by some younger teenagers attending schools in the 20th century that did not have a uniform requitement. And our limited Italian archive makes it difficult to follow age trends in any detail. HBC's understanding of school smocks in Italy is still very limited and this requires further investigation. Hopefully our Italian readers will privide some detail here.

School Types

Italian nursery and primary school children once commonly wore school smocks. They may have even been required for a time by the government. I'm less sure about secondary school children. I believe that this varied chronologically. Today boys and even girls in secondary schools do not wear school smocks. I think in the 1940s and 50s that younger secondary school boys might have worn smocks. The author during a 1980 visit to Rome did seen a group of what looked like junior high school boys and one was weraing a smock. Presumably it was more common earlier. I'm not sure about how private and state schools varoed as far as smock usage is concerned, but there seems to have been more diversity in the smocks worn at private schools. Today in Italy, smocks seem to be more common at Catholic schools than ordinary state schools.

Styles

There is no national standard as to school smock styles. HBC has noted back, side, and front buttoning smocks. Virtually all smocks were once back buttoning. Modern smocks are increasingly the front buttoning lab smock style, especially for boys. Even so there continue to be back buttoning smocks worn at some schools as well. Other stylistic elements exist such as gattered or bloused sleeves. The most characteristic stylistic feature of Itlalian school smocks is the large white collar and bow. This collar is normally a part of the smock and niot the collar of a blouse worn by the boys. The bpws have varied in size, color, and style of knot.

Collars and Bows

Both boys and girls wear large white collars and floppy bows. A common style for boys was a darl blue smock with wide white collar and red floppy bow. White collars are still common, but today the bows are rarely worn. HBC is not sure just what the collars were. Some appeared to be sewed on or otherwise attached to the smock while others are simply normal shirt collars worn folded over the smock. Some appaer to be simialr to the collar on a girls' dress in that that they do not extend all the way around at the back.


Figure 2.--The older children in this company ad wear the traditional darl blue smock while the younger children wear the lighter-colored smocks. Also notice the kight blue smock for the boy and light pink smock for the girl.

Detailing

Many smocks for nursery school have enbroidered designs. This appears to be a realtively recent development. Most school smocks are simple solid colored smocks wothout any detailing such as was common in French school smocks. Some smocks have the name of the school on them.

Colors

HBC has no information on the color of school smocks Italian children wore in the 19th century. We note both light and dark smocks in the early 20th century. Dark blue smocks appear to have been especially prevalent in the mid-20th century. We have also noted royal blue and light blue smocks. Blue as far as we can tell has been the most common color. The colors are now much more diverse. It is all up to the school, but brighter lighter colors are now common as are patterns such as checks or gingham. Some schools have different colors for boys and girls. Others have boys and girls wearing the same color smocks. Trends here have varied over time, but we do not have enough chrological information to fully understand this. Girls and younger boys commonly wore light-collored smocks in the late 20th century, although it is not uncommon at coed schools for both boys and girls to wear the same color smocks. Some schools, however, continued to require the dark blue smocks even in the late 20th century.

Regulations

HBC is unsure as to if the Italian Government ever required school children to wear smocks. HBC believes that there were at some point Italian Government regulations or school smocks in Italy would have never become so widespread. HBC does not, however, have information on when these regulations were introduced or the nature of the regulations. In adiition the Government regulations there are also school regulations. The individual school regulations became more important once actual Government regulations lapsed. Today the decision to require a smock is up to the individual school. Many state and private schools, especially schools for the younger children, do opt for smocks. Many younger children still commonly wear school smocks. At other schools smocks are entirely optional, even so some children do wear them.

Popularity

We are not sure how popular smocks were in Italy. The extent of usage certainly suggests thzt they were popular with school officials and mothers. We are less sure how popular they were with the younger children, especially the boys. We suspect that when the school did not require smocks to be worn, that the mothers were the primary reason that the children wore smocks. Here we assume that the primary reason was that it protected clothing. Until after World wr II, Italy was a poor country and clothing took a greater share of a family's disposible income than is the case today. Getting children, especially boys to take care of their clothes, is a chllenge. Thus smocks were helpful here. They also cut down on laundry, another important concern in the days before laundry. We have no real information on what the children thought about wearing smocks.

Mothers

Mothers have different attitudes toward smocks. Some just went along with what the schools required. Other found them a handy way of dressing children for school. The styles appear to have been fairly standard, leaving little possibility for mothers to embellish the smocks are adding stylistic details. One way mothers could add a little flare was in the tieing of the floppy bows which Italian boys often wore with their smocks. The children odten seem to wear the same color, but mother could vary the mength of ribbon or bow material as well the way the bow knot was tied. Some boys had very small plain bows while other boys had large floppy bows tied with flare by their mothers. HBC believes that it was the mother who usually tied the bows, not the boys themselves.

Regional Trends

HBC at this time has no informaion on regional trends. We do not know if school smocks were or are now more or less popular in specific regions of Italy. Nor do we know if certain styles such as white collars and floppy bows were more common in specific parts of Italy. We think they may have continued to be more commonly worn in rural areas than in Rome and other big cities. One 2001 report from Sicily indicates that primary school children there still commonly wear blue school smocks.

School Suppliers

HBC has little information on Italian companies that made school smocks. Presumably they were quite a number of them. Pergaos the government set standards. While smocks are not a pervasive as they once were they are still worn in Italy unlike other coubtries such as Belgium and France where they have virtually disappeared. HBC knows of at least one Italian company which still makes school smocks.

Personal Experiences

One Italian boy tells HBC that his mother insisted he wear a smock for the first year after primary school. He was the only boy in his class who wore a smock and was teased about it.

One Italian boy whose family moved to Australia remembers the reaction of his new Australian schoolmates when he wore his school smock. An Australian official, His Excellency, The Honourable Sir James Gobbo, who emigrated from Italy remembers his first school experiences. He delivered an address on diversity as opposed to conformity. He explained. "I had early experiences of that; As you heard I came back to this country when I was about seven, having lived most of my childhood in Italy and I came not knowing any English, and I was delivered into the tender mercies of Errol Street State School in North Melbourne at that age. That would have been difficult enough, but my dearly beloved mother sent me to school in the gear that Italian children used to wear at that age. The practice for them was to go to school in smocks; large, checked smocks with big blue bows for boys and pink bows for girls. Well, you can imagine the reception I got when I went into the school yard at Errol Street State School dressed in this gear. I thought that I would never be able to venture into a classroom or a school yard again, but I survived that, with some difficulty." HBC is not sure just when this may have occured, but would guess this would have been the late 1930s or late 1940s. (Immigration would have been closed during the World War II years (1939-45).

An Italian reader tells us, "I lived near Milan and went to school during the second half of the 1960s and the early 1970s. I can talk about my experience in primary school (grades 1-5) and middle school (grades 6-8). In my primary school the girls had to wear a white smock, with white collar and pink bow tie. The boys attending grades 1-3 had to wear a black smock with white collar and blue bow tie. In grades 4-5 we wore a short black smock (a sort of jacket) without collar and bow. In my middle school the girls wore a black smock without any collar and bow, while we boys didn't wear any type of uniform.






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Created: May 22, 2001
Last updated: 10:35 PM 1/24/2009