Swiss French School Smocks

Figure 1.--These two Geneva boys were photographed in their school smocks about 1985. Notice the younger boy has a back buttoning smock and the older boy has a side buttoning smock. Note how the pockets can not be seen in this photograph. Also note the different belting arrangements on the two smocks.

HBC has compiled extensive information on the smocks wore by Swiss boys in the French-speaking areas of the country. 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. Then in secondary school it was much less common, especially after about age 13-14 years. The fashion began to decline in the 1960s. Today in Switzerland boys no longer wear school smocks. Several different styles of smocks were worn in a variety of different colors and patterns. There were also avariety of pocket and belting arrangements.


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 1930-60. HBC is not sure why this fashion was adopted in 1930 and how common it was for boys to wear smocks before the 1930s. Most Swiss schools stopped requiring smocks in the 1960s and the fashion declined. Today Swiss boys no longer wear school smocks.


Most French Swiss boys until about 10 years of age wore school smocks because it was compulsory or incoyraged in the schools--depending on where he lived. Many of these boys would also wear smocks at home. About one third would then continue up to end of primary school around 12 years. Then in secondary school it was much less common, especially after about age 13-14 years. One HBC contributoer who wore a smock in secondary school remembers having been able to purchase all types of smocks in shops up to 18 years. He also remembers occasionally seeing boys up to about age 16 wearing school smocks around town or for chores like helping their father wash the car or cleaning bikes.


The style and colors of these smocks were left at parents discretion, there was no uniformity but a wide variety in mainly three styles. 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.)

Back buttoning

The smock buttoned in the back (in French "sarrau") as illustrated on your fig 4 by the little boy in a gingham ("vichy") smock, usually with extensive pleating.

Side buttoning

The smock buttoned mostly on right side (left side for girls). A few boys wore this style, but the back buttoning style was more common.


This style was less protective (but also less expensive). This appears to have been an especially popular smock style in Switzerland. I have not noted it worn extensicely in other countries.


Swiss school children wore smocks in quite a range of colors. Smocks were commonly black or blue. There were many different shades of blue. A few were grey or pink. There were also some green smocks.


Swiss boys wore a wide variety of smocks which had many different pocket arrangements. Of course boys like pockets to provide places where the various little treasures of boyhood could be secreted. Some of the smocks worn by Swiss boys clearly have a front pocket. Many of the pinafore-style smocks have very obvious front pockets, but some look like they are very simple garments without any pockets at all. The pocket arrangements of back and side buttoning smocks are less easy to observe.


Notice also the the variety of belts on the smocks. Available photographs of smocks often do not show the belting arangement as the belt is in fact fastened or tied behind the smock and not visable from the front. Some smocks have a sewn-in belt whose main function was to keep correctly in place the pleating. Some of the back buttoning smocks had also a loose belt that could be on back side with either a button or belt would be tied up making a knot, in which case some boys would do such complicated knots that only their mothers could untie them.


The colours of ginham ("vichy") smocks worn by children were either the red/pink-white (usually girls, seldom boys) or blue-white. There were also some stripy smocks. 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.


School smocks might have a variety of detailing. Again this was affected somewhat by the type of smock. Some smocks had borders of a different color. This was especially common around the pockets and belts. A few smocks might have different colored borders around the neck or hem. Another stylistic detail was smocking at the front of the smock in the chest area, but this was not very common. More common was pleating on the skirt part of the smock below the waist. Furthermore there is also on the chest a blue ribbon indicating where the actual pleating begins.


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 usually worn without collars. Italian boys often wore smocks with large white collars. HBC is not sure yet what type of smocks Swiss-Itakian boys wore.

Boys' attitudes

Younger boys of 8-10 years did not think anything about wearing smocks as long as the smocks were commonly worn by most of the boys, and well fitted ... and it was compulsory. Boys especilally liked te well fitted smocks so they did not flare out like a girl's dress. Some of the older 10-12 year old boys objected to wearing smocks, especially if they were a minority in a class. A Swiss contributor points out, " For boys up to 9-10 years clothes, be it smocks, pants, socks or shoes, were not a subject of discussion. Neither did we have any preferences." Boys at the time just took it for granted to wear what their parents bought for them or what the school designasted. The idea of boys having preferences amd more importantly catering to those preferences is a modern phenomenon.


Boys commonly wore a shirt and short pants in the warmer months. A sweater might be added on cooler days. About 50-60 percent of the boys had knickers bound below knee for cold winter months. The other boys remained with in short pants and knee socks. For younger boys about 5-6 that had short pants during winter it was not unfrequent to wear long over-the-knee socks so the entire leg was covered. (Tights were not yet avialble.) On top of that most had a coat and a beret covering ears and back of head. Knees were supposed to suffer less from cold than ears. Boys continued wearing their smocks during the winter.

HBC wondered if there were their seasonal smocks, that is heavier weight/warmer ones for winter wear. Our Swiss contributor reports that smocks were same weight for entire year. In winter boys used to put on additional clothing such as coat or jackets to keep warm. From about 1955 the duffelcoat started to become popular. These garments were worn over their smock and could be taken off during class. Boys also wore sweaters that were worn under their smocks pullover.

Individual Schools

Some information is available on individual Swiss schools, showing both the various styles worn by the boys and available information on the school regulations. The information is abstracted from the available images, but some information is available on the several different schools. At this time, HBC's information is mostly from the the French-speaking catons. Many schools there required the boys to wear smocks. It is likely that boys in the Italian-speaking catons also wore smocks, but HBC at this time does not have any information on these schoools. The schools in the German-speaking catons generally did not require smocks.

Home Wear

One question is to what extent the boys wore their smocks after they came home from school. Our Swiss contributor tells us that it was quite common to see boys wearing their smocks after school. Some mothers apparently insisted upon it and would have them put on an old smocj after school to make sure that they had a nice smock for school. Our corespondent remembers seeing boys commonly wear their smocks after school. HBC speculates that the boys wearing pinafore/apron smocks were the least likely to wear them after school. HBC assumes that the parents choosing the least expensive, and least protective school smock would be the ones least likely to insist their boys wear them after school. Our Swiss contributor agrees this may have been true to some extent, but he does remember seeing boys wearing pinafore smocks after school

One interesting source of information on this subject is movies. HBC speculates that many European films were relatively low-budget projects. Thus films with children, instead of having expensive Hollywood costumes, would often have children wear their own clothes. This was particularly true if the children were not the main characters. HBC notes a film, The Happy Road made in 1957 about an American boy at a private Swiss boarding school. Strangely the film offers little infornmation about the private school uniform, but as the story unfolds between Switzerland and Paris, one gets a good picture of what boys were wearing in the area between Switzerland and Paris. Although the film focuses on the French area, presumably what the French boys were wearing at the time had some influence in what Frebch-Swiss boys wore. Quite a few boys figure in the plot. Almost all of the boys wear short pants, but there were a few smocks as well. One scene inclides a large French family and two younger boys in the family wear school smocks. A few boys in the town scenes also wear smocks. See the movie page for more details. Hopefully some HBC contributors can suggest other movies that might offer some insights to this question.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 18, 2000
Last updated: December 21, 2000