French School Smocks: Individual School

Figure 1.--My French girls school required all the girls to wear smocks. The few boys who attended all wore light-blue smocks. As I grew older I was one of only 3 boys at the school and the only boy in my class. 

French boys have not commonly worn formal school uniforms like their across the Channel English cousins. Through much of the first half of the 20th century, elementary school boys in France wore school smocks over their clothes. As this was a very common practice, it gave the appearance of a school uniform.  Not all French schoolboys wore smocks. Manty did and some had uniform requirements. The children had to wear the same color and style of smock. This was most common at private schools, many of which were Catholic schools.

A French contributor to HBC has provided us some details on his his boyhood experiences during the 1950s.

I was born in 1950 a few years after the end of World War II. From my earlist days I rember wearing smocks. French boys in the 1940s still commonly wore school smocks but it became less common in the 1960s. Wearing smocks at home for play was even less common. Most little boys wore short pants with sandals during the summer and kneesocks during the winter. My mother was quite strict and believed that the smock was a sensible clothing item for a boy to wear. It protected my clothes and we had little money during the 1940s for new clothes. Thus mother believed that a smock was just perfect for me.

The smocks I wore were most commonly hand me downs from my older sisters and thus girls styles. Of course smocks are smocks and some styles could be worn by boys are girls, other styles and colors were obviously boys' or ] girls' styles. As a little boy it didn't maje a great difference. As I got older, I was a bit embarassed by it. The other boys would tease me. I complained about it to my mother. She didn't take my complaints seriously and dismissed them. My mother was a redoubtable person. As I mentioned she was quite strict. Not in any mean way, but she had an idea of how proper children should behave and insisted that my sister and I behave properly. This extended to how we dressed. She didn't think that a child should hve any say in the matter and was particularly unconcerned on what my friends had to say about how I dresses.

When I began school in the early 1950s school smocks were still comminly worn although less commonly in the past. Boys wore black or dark blue smocks while girls wore white, pink, or light blue smocks. The styles were different. Actually there were a wide variety of stykes with back, side, and front buttons, different neck styles, pockets, collars, ect. The back buttoning styles were most common for girl's smocks, but both boys and girls wore them.

My mother sent me to school in smocks all through elementary school. When I started as a little boy in a lot of the other boys wore smocks. But as I got older fewer and fewer of my classmates wore them. Before World War II it was very common for French boys to wear school smocks. It was, however, becoming less and less common in the 1950s and in my last years of elementary school only a few older boys wore them. Those of us that did got teased by the other boys. I was a particular target because some of the smocks I wore were hand-me-downs from my older sisters. Thank goodness I didn't wear the pink school smocks my sisters wore, but they were clearly recognizeable and back buttoning which I didn't like.

Virtually all of us boys wore short pants both for play and dress up. I always wore short pants to school. All of my suits were had short pants. My last short pants suit was bought when I was 14 and I wore it until I was 16. Shot pants were then much more common for boys, but it was becoming less common for boys older than 13 or 14 to wear short pants. Major changes ocurred in boys' clothes during the 1960s and the clothes worn by boys in the 1970s were very different than what I wore as a boy.

Figure 2.--Here is an enlargement of me in my school photograph wearing a smock just like the girls. 

I was a rather sickly child. As a result, my mother decided that I shold not go to the all boys state secondary school. Instead she sent me to the private Catholic school (called a college in France) that my sisters attended. Not only would I not have to contend with the rough and tumble of a boy's secondary school, but my sisters could look out for me. When I started school there were a few other boys. The school allowed brothers of the girls to attend. It was a rather large school, nearly 1,200 girls. When I started there were three other boys, but one didn't stay long, So there were only two others. They were in other classes. I was the only boy in my class. The other boys were younger. As I got older, however, I was allowed to stay on because of my health problems. Also I was a good student and the sisters and teachers liked me. I stayed at the school until I was 16 years old to attend a boys' school.

The school had no uniform as such, but we all had to wear smocks:
Color: We wore light colored smocks, changing colors between pink and pale blue. I think the school did this to make sure our parents regularly changed our smocks.
' Style: The school recommended a back buttoning style which my mother purchased for my sisters. I often wore their hand-me-downs, bit when she did buy me a new one she bought that same style. Some of the girls had front buttoning styles, but that was not the predominate style the girls wore. All through my schools years there I wore back buttoning smocks. A few girls showed up in different styles, but we all worevthe same color smock and for the most part we all wore this same style of smock.
Clothes: While the smocks completlely covered our clothes, the school still had rules about what we wore. Skirts was obligatory for girls and pants were strictely forbidden. The few of us boys had to wear short pants.

For the first few years I don't remember being concerned about the school. But as I got older and the other boys leaving for boys' schools I began to object to my school and the girlish smock I had to wear. My mother dismissed my complaints, however, and I stayed in the school until I was 16 years old. I was the only boy at the school in my class. No special provision was made for me. I had to wear the same smock the girls wore.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: October 23, 1998
Last updated: November 11, 1998