Argentine School Smocks


Figure 1.--These nursery school children all wear smocks, blue for the boys and pink for the girls.

Argentine children wear white smocks, although private schools may have colored smocks. Girls wear back buttoning styles with Peter Pan collars. Boys tend to wear front buttoning styles with pointed collars. This appears to be a reflection of the Italian influence as Argentina was one of the major destinations for Italian immigrants in the late-19th and early-0th century, but smocks are worn by school children in other Latin American countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay. We begin to see school smocks in the early-20th century. The children in state schools did not require uniforms and children wore their own clothes under their smocks, however, many private schools did require uniforms. Argentine children continue to wear white school smocks, althouh they are not as correctly worn as they once were.

Background

The smocks worn by Argentine school children appears to be a reflection of the Italian influence. Argentina was one of the major destinations for Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. Several European countries in the late 19th century, especially France and Italy, instituted smocks as a school uniform. They were seen as a way of covering the differences in the clothing of children so that poor children would not be enbarassed by their poor clothing. They also proved to be a very practical garment for protecting clothing--which used to be much more expensive in real terms than clothing today.

Purposes

Argentine school authorities made two arguments in favor of uniforms. First, they promoted social equality, erased differences, everybody looked the same. Second, they were an hygienic attire (hygienist discourses were very important in the construction of the nation). White smocks have been the school dress code for all the 20th century. An Argentune reader wrutes, "The idea was of cleanness and pulchritude. Also to show that we were equal among ourselves."

Chronology

Argentina school children began wearing school smocks around 1905/1910 (first at manual activities' classes and then in some experimental schools). The first Government regulations appeared about a decade later (1914). The regulations initially authorized the use of smocks but not mandating them. There was a former rule that said that no uniforms could be mandated. We have not found so far a regulation that mandates them for children, although they have always been used and people think that they are mandatory (I think it's the same thing than in France: to make it mandatory would imply denying access to children who did not wear them and that was something that the school system could not afford to do). Soon after, parents' associations began distributing them for free among the needy, and in the 1930s, a conservative government launched a national campaign of distribution of clothes and food, smocks among them, to school children in poorer districts. This is the time, when they really were adopted everywhere in Argenyina. Earlier photographs from outlying provinces show students in ragged clothes, without smocks, but in the 1930s, there is a notable tendency for students all over the country to wear smocks. Smocks were still commonly worn in the 1980s. Argentine sources report that in the early 2000s that they are still widely worn.

Teachers

An Argentine reader tells us that smocks were made compulsory for teachers in 1914, because they were perceived as an appropriate attire that showed modesty and austerity. We have no details on actual government regulations. It's interesting that teachers could be mandated what to wear, but not children. Our reader believes, "It perhaps made sense from the point of view of the state, but on the other hand it remains highly symbolic of whose "property" the teachers are." We note that school,portraits do commonly show teachers wearingb smocks both in and outside the classroom. This appears to include both men and womenn teachers. Many of these smocks are white, but we notice other colors as well.

Terminology

Unlike English where only one word is use to mean smock, seceral words are used in Spanish. The preferable word varies from country to country. In Argentina there were two different terms use. Smocks ("delantales") were front-buttoned, looking like lab coats and always done in white. There were also "dusters" ("guardapolvos") which were back-buttoning. A reader tells us that in the 1950s. "delantal" was used for back-buttonung smocks worn by girls and younger boys. The "guardapolvo" was duster in English, the lab-coat style garment worn by the boys. By the 1970s the term "guardapolvo" was being commonly used for both types. "Guardapolvos" litterally means dust protectors, but a better translation is "duster".

Style

HBC has little chronological information on Argentine school smock styles. I am not sure when they were first adopted. Smocks in Argentina initially buttoned in the back, especially for women. A reader reports that his mother pointed out that there were two different terms: smocks were front-buttoned, and dusters were back-buttoned. We see both types worn at school. By the 1970s when our Argentine source went to school, the two different terms were used indistinctly. The lab-coat style of front buttoning smock became standard for boys. Girls used both types. Boys except for the very youngest only wore front-buttoned smocks. Girls wear back buttoning styles with Peter Pan collars. Boys currently seem to wear front buttoning styles with lapels like jackets.

Bows

Boys in neigboring Uruguay also wore white smocks, often with blue bows, both boys and girls. Argentine children, however, do not seem tonhave ever worn their smocks with bows. An Argentine source reports that he has not seen similar bows in old photographs. There were white adornments, generally with dusters buttoned in the back, but in fact they were sort of a ribbon, resulting from a nice belt laced in the back.

School Types

Argentine primary school chilren commonly wear smocks. An Argentine HBC reader reports that they are not required at state primary schools. Children in Argentine state schools were not required to wear uniforms and children wore their own clothes under their smocks. Many private schools also require smocks even though there is a school uniform. The children wear their uniforms under their smocks. Often on special days they do not wear their smocks. One Argentine source indicated that on gym day smocks were not worn Private schools decided on their uniforms, but many private primary schools require smocks. Currently in Argentiba, Adolescents at high schools generally do not wear smocks. HBC is unsure if smocks were ever worn in secondary schools.

Colors

HBC has very limited information on Argentine school smock colors. Argentine children appear to wearing primarily white smocks through the 1980s, although our information is still very limited. We note private schools with colored smocks as early as the 1970s. We are not sure how common this was or if it was also common in the state schools. HBC is unsure why white smocks are so common in Argentina. White smocks are also common elesewhere in Latin America: in Uruguay and Bolivia.) It does not appear to be the Italian influence. There are a lot of Italian immigrants in Argentina. HBC has some information on Italian smocks, but blue and other colored smocks appear much more common than white. White smocks seem more common in Spain. One Argentine reader believes the white smocks may have come from doctors' smocks. Colored smocks seem much more common in privatre schools by the 1990s. A common color coinvention was blue for the boys and pink for the girls. We are less sure about the state schools where white appears to be still popular.

Home Use

The smock in Argentina appears tio have been primarily a school style. HBC has little information about children wearing smocks other than as schoolwear. With so many Itlalian immigrants, perhaps some boys did wear smocks at home, but HBC at thios time has little information on this.

Regional Trends

Smocks are worn by school children in other Latin American countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay. White smocks appear to be particularly popular in Latin America.

Popularity

One Argentine reader reports that he used to hate smocks when he was at school. He reports, "I went to school, during the military dictatorship, and could not understand why students did not rebel against them once the dictatorship was over. (I finished high school that year so could not do that myself). But it turns out that they are perceived as a democratic and comfortable attire nowadays. A student of mine at the University of Buenos Aires conducted some preliminary research on populat attitues towar school smocks. Almost everyone in her 40 interviews could not think of a different dress code and thought they were a symbol of public schooling that ought to remain the same. In one of my last visits to Buenos Aires, I remember seeing a 6th or 7th grader (11/12-year old boy) walking after school in the street, with his smock unbuttoned (but put on nonetheless) and wearing a punk hair style and a heavy metal attire beneath his smock. It was an interesting image. He did not feel the urge to take the smock off, and instead was making a statement with it, whether consciously or not."







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Created: May 4, 2000
Last updated: 1:17 AM 1/2/2011