School Uniform:  French School Smocks--Chronology

The school smock, beginning in the 1870s, dominated French school wear for nearly a century. in smock and the beret and smock became a symbol for the French schoolboy. Smocks are now little seen in France. HBC has little information on early school smocks. The Government of the Third Republic in the 1870s required elemetary school children, boys and girls, to wear smocks. The primary reason was to reduce differences between afluent children and those from more modest families. The early smocks appear to have been mostly black and back-buttoning. Schools smocks were still commonly worn by French boys after World War I (1914-18) in the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s during German occupation (1940-44). Many photographic images during this period show boys in smocks. Americans are familiar with images from World War II. French boys still commonly wore school smocks after World War II (1939-45). Photographs from the 1940s and early 1950s still show many boys in smocks. The popularity of smocks, however, began to decline by the late 1950s. This custom began to become less common in the 1960s. Over the years conventions as to waht age boy wore smocks as well as styles and colors changed.

Mid-19th Century (1830-70)

France like some other European countries fosted public education before the principal had been firmly adopted in England. At this time, however, I have no information on how French school children dressed. I do not know if smocks were worn at this time. It is likely that some boys did wear smocks and some schools may have required them, but there was no national requirement.

Late 19th Century

The Government of the Third Republic in the 1870s required elemetary school children, boys and girls, to wear smocks. Unfortunately we have few details on this. The primary reason was to reduce differences between afluent children and those from more modest families. The earliest smocks for boys were black. HBC knows less about what a French boy would do after school. Would he take his school smock off? Change into another smock for play or go without a smock after school? While smocks were commonly worn by Frebch schoolboys in the late 19th Century, but not by all schoolboys. We note some photographs of French schools where mostly the younger boys wear smocks. We are not yet sure just what the regulations were and how they varied over time. While most of the boys' smocks were dark, we notice some of the yiounger boys in the 1890s wearing brightly patterened smocks.


Figure 3.--This image appears to have been taken in a French or Belgian school or orphanage, probably during the 1910s. Notice the light-colored smocks and belts. The boys wear short pants and socks of various length.

Early 20th Century (1900-1919)

French elementary boys through the 1950s wore smocks to school, almost always black smocks.  They were instituted by the Third Republic in the early 1870s. I'm not sure who issued the exact nature of this requirement and the role of the local schools or national educational authorities. Available images indicated French boys were wearing berets and smocks before World War I. The smock does, however, appear to be very commonly worn by French school children during this period. They were mostly plain, dark back buttoning smocks. HBC knows less about what a French boy would do after school. Would he take his school smock off? Change into another smock for play or go without a smock after school? While smocks were commonly worn by Frebch schoolboys in the early 20th Century, but not by all schoolboys. I'm not sure if the French Government changed the regulations, however, clearly some boy were not wearing smocks to school. One interesting account from 1900 describes a French boy who began the lycee wearing a sailor suit and to his embarassment--with the long curls that his mother dearly loved. France also had an important Catholic school system. I'm not sure about the uniform or dress requirements at these schools. I do not know if the Catholic boys were more or less likely to wear smocks. The smock was generally worn with short pants and often a beret. The image of a boy going off to school in a beret, smock, and book satchel on his back is a nostalgic one for many French people. Most boys wearing smocks during this period appear to be wearing kneepants or longish short pants, usually with long, but not kneesocks. Few boys wore knickers or long pants with school smocks. I know less about what a French boy would do after school. Would he take his school smock off? Change into another smock for play or go without a smock after school? Were the play smocks different from school smocks in design, color, or pattern? Or were they just old school smocls? Or did this vary from family to family by income level?


Figure 4.--Many of the smock ads in the 1930s ads appear to have been primarily modeled smocks for girls. Perhaps this was because boys' styles were more standardized.

Inter-War and World War II Era (1920-45)

Schools smocks were still commonly worn by French boys after World War I (1914-18) in the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s during German occupation (1940-44). Many photographic images during this period show boys in smocks. Many images show a mix of attire. At some schools almost all the boys wear smocks while at others even in the 1920s only about half wear smocks. At most schools it seems optional and up to the parents. Americans are familiar with images from World War II. Many of those images exists swowing French boys in smocks. While smocks do not appear to be as common as before World War I, they still appear to have been quite popular during this period. We also see a greater variety of smocks with side buttoning smocks becoming common in the 1920s.There appear to have been quite a variety of styles available to French mothers during the inter-war period. Many of the smocks available in the 1930s were back button styles. Side buttoning styles were also popular. One side buttioning style was called the Russian blouse--referring to the Rusian blouse tunics popular for boys at the turn of the Century. Front buttoning styles were worn during this period, but were not yet very common. I have no information on how commonly smocks were worn. Most photographs sho the boys wearing solid colored smocks, but reports suggest that some boys wore patteres smocks. Patterened smocks were being worn by the girls even in the early 20th century. Clothing ads in the 1930s suggest it was more common for girls to wear smocks, buy I have no real information. Most boys wore short pants with school smocks. I'm not sure about the winter months, but it is likely that most if not all boys wearing smocks to school wore shorts and knee socks even during the winter. Note that all the available adds and photographs show the boys wearing short pants.


Figure 5.--French boys still wore smocks in the 1940s and 50s, but were becoming less common by the late 1950s. 

Post-War Era (1945-68)

French boys still commonly wore school smocks after World War II (1939-45). Photographs from the 1940s and early 1950s still show many boys in smocks. The popularity of smocks, however, began to decline by the late 1950s. This custom began to become less common in the 1960s. I have little information on this period. One indicator is newspaper advertisements. By the mid-1950s smocks advertisments showed many diffent styles for girls, but only a few boys were pictured. Also by the 1960s, styles were changing. Smocks foe little boys were still pictured in the back buttoning style, but increasingly the ones for older boys buttoned in front. Also almost all smocks for older boys were dark blue. Only little boys and girls wore the lighter, brighter colors or patterns like plaids. A French contributor to this site tells me that he wore smocks as an elementary schoolboy during the late 1950s and early 60s. He wore short pants with his smocks, but did not wear a betet. You rarely see French boys wearing berets after the 1950s. French boys still did commonly wear short pants in the 1950s and 60s. Most boys wearing smocks to school generally wore shorts. This was especially true in the 1950s, even in the winter months. Short pants began to decline in popularity during the 1960s, byt were still worn--especially during the early 1960s. I'm not sure why this change took place. Certainly by the mid-1950s France had recovered from the economic disaster of World War II. The French people were experiencing increasing prosperity. It was no longer as important to protect a boy's clothes who had increasingly extensuive wardrobes. Some French observers also point to the American influence--boys desiring jeans and "T"shirts. I think by the 1960s, it was primarily the individual schools that required them. There does not appear to have been any national policy. I have little information, however, on school regulations. Many schools simply left it to the mothers to decide what the children wore to school. Some traditionally oriented mothers insisted on smocks, even for older boys. The smocks appear to have been much more popular with the mothers than the boys. The smocks were convenient and helped keep clothes clean. The ininital impetus for smocks was probably philosophical--the Reublican desire for all children to have an equal opportunity to obtain education. They also were a great aid for mothers--protecting clothes which were a major household expense in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and reducing the work load of laundry--all made good sence. But these factors had declined in importance by the 1950s. Increasinly, choosing the smock was a question of appearance for French mothers. Many mothers, however, liked smocks because they seemed to think that the children looked charming in their little smocks. As many of the older boys didn't much like this idea, some mothers just dressed the younger boys in smocks. The custom of wearing smocks declined greatly in the 1960s. Boys that did still wear them, often wore front buttoning smocks which looked more like lab coats than smocks.


Figure 7.--This 1966 ad shows that front buttoning styles had become increasing popular for older boys. 

Late 20th Century (1968-99)

Smocks began to declinr markedly in popularity durinhg the late 1960s, especilly after the Paris student riots of 1968. The Paris student riots of 1968 succeded in bringing down the French Government of General DeGualle. Demands for educational reforms were one of the students main goals. Many of these reforms were not achieved, but regulations on student dress were soon relaxed all over France. The students involved in the riots were mostly university students, but the wave of reform soon spread down the educational ladder. Smocks became increasingly less common. HBC is not positive why smocks declined in popularity, but suspect it was because boys were increasinly were expressing their own opioions. Also as France was begoing increasingly prosperous, clothing was no longer such an important part of family budget. Thus smovks were no lonr , manin In addition, fewer boys were wearing short pants to school. Even the Catholic schools which had been requiring uniforms, began relaxing regulations. Smocks are now not commonly worn to school, except by very young children.

Early 21st Century (2000- )

We have only limited information about French school smocks in the 21st century. As best we can tell they are not very common. A French reader tells us, however, that they are required at some schools. Most of these schools are Catholic schools which tend to have stricter descipline standards. Smocks are required wear at several of these schools. We do not have any information from individual schools, but we do not companies offering smocks. We note one company Bobine which offered school blue anf grey school smocks in side and front buttoning styles. They were done in sizes 4-16 years at 25 Euros. Another company, Cyrillus, offerd pink and light blue smocks for girls and light and dark blue smocks for boys in one style. Other styles were done in blue red, and green for both boys and girls as well. Their smocks are available in sizes 2-12 at about 20 Euros.years.






HBC





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Created: January 3, 1998
Last updated: 6:43 PM 8/5/2009