*** school smocks -- country trends

School Smocks: Country Trends

The smock was an important school garment in several countries. This was primarily, but not exclusivly common in European countris. Smocks were also worn in Latin America and the Middle East. Styles of school smocks and policies for wearing them have varied from country to country. The school smock which was once common in several countries has disappeared except for very young children in most countries. The traditional back buttoning smock in particular is now rarely worn in most countries--especially by boys. HBC has cpllected information on the school smock in quite a number of countries, but there are still many countries where we yet have no information. We hope that HBC readers from those countries will provide us information.


We do not have much information about school smocks in Africa. Belgium, France, and Italy, countries where school smocks were common, and had African colonies, but we do not see African children wearing school smocks. Climate may have been a factor. Utility may have been another factor. The purpose of the smock was to protect clothes. And most African children wore few clothes.


The only African country we have found so far where the children wear school smocks is Madgascar. This was of course a French colony. Our information on Arica is liimited. There may be more countries with smock unifors, but this is the only one we have found so far. Actually we only have an image from one school. We do not know if other Malagasy schools wore this or similar uniforms. The photo depict the pupils attending a primary school in Mandriambero, a suburb of the capital Antananarivo. The class is quite large. All the pupils are wearing green checkered smocks, the styling a little different for boys and girls. Most of the childtrn come to school barefoot.

Figure 1.--Children in both Argenntina and Uruguay have for mny years worn white snocks toschool. These are argentine children during the 1930s. Children there still wear these white smocks. Both boys and girls ear them, although the styles are different. .

America, Latin

We notice children in several Latin American countries wearing school smocks. Smocks were not very common in Latin America, but we notice them being worn as a kind of school uniform. This was especially common in the southern-cone countrues (Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay). The influnce here was European, primarily Italian. Argentina and Uruguay in particular had large numbers of Italian immigrants in addition to the Spanish immigrants common throughout Hispano-America. Both Italy and Spain in the 20th century used smocks as a kind of school uniform.


Argentine children wear white smocks, although private schools may have colored smocks. Girls wear back buttoning styles with Peter Pan collars. Boys wear front buttoning styles. 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 20th century, but smocks are worn by school children in other latin American countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay. 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.


Bolivia is one of the Latin American countries where school children wear smocks. Al of the children appear to wear crisp white smocks to school. There are different styles for the boys and girls, but both wear smocks. I'm not sure when this begun or what the origins are.


We do not have very much information about smocks in Mexico, We have noted a few images of younger boys wearing smocks to school. This appears to have been primarily a convention at private schools. The younger children apprarently wore smocks instead of a unifirm. We do not have any information on how common it was or the chronology involved. It is still a convention at some schools.


We do not have much information on Paraguayan schools at this time. We do note what we believe to be a Mennonite school during the 1930s. The children at the school wear the labcoat style white smocks that were popular in Argentina.


Uruguayan children, both boys and girls, mostly wear white smocks to school. This is a national standard set by the Government for all state primary schools. Large numbers of Italians have immigrated to Uruguay and the smocks are a reflection of the Italian influence on Uruguayan education. The style of the smocks vary as several companies supply smocks. They are, however, uniformly white. Uruguayan children wear their smocks with large blue bows. The bows are not very popular, especially with the older boys who can often be seen removing them as soon as possible after school.

America, North

Very few boys in North America wore smocks to school. tHe primary exception here is French children in Canada. We assume this ais a French indluence, nut even in Quebec we do not see very many children wearing scgool smocks. We see a few children wearing smocks in the early-20th century. After World War I in the 1920s. HBC has wondered just how influential French fashions were in Canada, especially amomg French Canadians. As far as HBC can determine, French Canadian boys never wore smocks at home or at school to any extent as was common for French boys. American schools have, for the most part, not require smocks. A few private schools did use smocks for the pre-school children, mostly in the 1920s and 30s. But even this was not very common, in part because few mothers dressed boys in smocks at home. Although not unknown, espe ially by wealthy families, they were much less common than in Europe. School smocks have never been worn to any extent in America. American boys, in fact, saw smocks as suitable for girls, but certainly not for themselves. Many even resisted wearing them in art classes.


HBC has wondered just how influential French fashions were in Canada, especially amomg French Canadians. As far as HBC can determine, French Canadian boys never wore smocks at home or at school to any extent as was common for French boys. We note one Montreal Catholic school in the 1920s with a few boys wearing smocks. We assume the conduit was French priests and nuns teaching in the schools. A HBC reader has done some research on the topic. His efforts to search for information on smocks ('tablier') in Canada has only yielded information on girls wearing smocks. He concludes that the French style of school smocks was apparently not imported to Quebec. We do not yet have a page on Canadian school smocks, but we have some infornation on an Canadian orphanages. We have noted them at what appear to have been charity institutions in Canada such as oprphanages. HBC has little information on Candian orphanages. We do note one Catholic orphange in Montreal where the boys were dressed in white smocks. Although the 1909-10 image is not very clear, it is apparent that the younger boys wear pinafore-like white smocks.

United States

American schools have, for the most part, not required smocks. A few private schools did use smocks for the pre-school children, mostly in the 1920s and 30s. But even this was not very common, in part because few mothers dressed boys in smocks at home. Although not unknown, espeially by wealthy families, they were much less common than in Europe. School smocks have never been worn to any extent in America. American boys, in fact, saw smocks as suitable for girls, but certainly not for themselves. Many even resisted wearing them even in art classes. We hve found a few imges over time. We note a Kentucky school where some children including boys seem to be wearing school smocks in the 1860s. We note what looks like a school group at the beach at the turn-of the 20th century. The boys are all wearing identical hats and smocks. We think that an orphanage group may be more likely.


Very few Asian children wore smocks to school. It was more of an European approach to school wear.


Armenia is a difficult country to assess. We are not even sure whwre to place it. Culturally it is European. Geograpically it is in Asia. But the a case could be made for placing Armenia in the Middle East. This is all further compicatedby the fact that Armenia disappeared as an independent country in the Medieval era when they were invaded by the Mongls. The Soviet Union had a Armenian SSR which is the basis for the modern country of Armenia. Tragically the Young Turks launched the terrible Armenian genocide (1915-16). Some Armenians survived in Turkey. Many survivors reached the Levant where they were rescued by Christian communities and Western aid. We have found a 1954 portrit of an Armenian boy wearing a smock. The problem is that we have no idea where he lived. Armenia as an independent coumtry dod not exist. He could be from the Soviet Armenian SSR, but we thought theSoviet Union has a nation-wide school uniform that did not include smocks. We supose it is possible that the Armenian SSR had its own uniform and we do see a few Soviet children aring schol smovls before World War II. Er have, hoever, no information to conform this and there are no Soviet sleeve patches. The smock looks to us more like those worn by Turkish school children. Note that there is no belt, but a kind of elasticised waistband. Children in Lebanon and Palestine, including Armenian children, also wore smocks, but the smocks looked different.


Japanese school boys do not wear smocks. Younger boys and girls in kindergarden and day care, however, do often wear brightly colored smocks and beanies. Japanese Nursery Schools (hoikuen) are primarily for children whose parents both work. Tuition, registration and entrance fees vary considerably, depending on whether public or private. Uniforms (smocks and caps) required. Parents take and pick up the children, and provide lunches and bedding for naps. Saturday is a half-day. HBC does not know of any primary schools that use school smocks, but they are often used at both nursery schools and kindergarden.

French school smocks
Figure 2.--This pattern was offered about 1950 to make these different styles of school smocks. All the ones shown are for boys except the ine at the upper right. This pattern was for boys up to age 7, but the patterns were available in larger sized for older boys. The caption at the tops says, "The Practical Smock".


We notice children in several Europran countries wearing school smocks. They are most asociated with France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain, but they were worn to a lesser extent in several other countries. They were introduced to reduce obvious social-class differences in the public schools, First by the Second French Republic (1870-1940). We think the French influence was important in spreading the school smock to other countries. For some reaspon we do not fully understand, except for the importance of France, we mostly see smocks in souther, largely Catholic pegions of Europe. The classic schoolboy dress in France is the beret and smocks. Most French schoolboys by the turn of the century were outfitted in smocks, originally back-buttoning smocks. French boys trudging to school with their smocks and school satchels (book bags), as French schools requited extensive home work, is a common image in France. Schools smocks were still commonly worn after World War II, but most schools apparently no longer required them. It seems to have been left to the discretion of the mother. They began to disappear in the 1950s except for girls or younger boys. French visitors to HBC indicate that as older boys they were teased for wearing smocks because French boys began to look on them as girls clothes.

Lebanese school smocks
Figure 4.--While we have little information on Lebanese schools at this time, we do have some information on the French schools in Lebanon. French schools in Lebanon, like this school in 1963-64, appear to have been very insistant that boys and girls wear smocks to school.

Middle East and North Africa

Quite a few children in the Middle East wore smocks to school. This was primarily children in the countries colonized by France both before and after Wold SWar I. Ironically these were former Ottoman (Turish) provinces. Turkey then introduced smocks in their schools after world War I. We also notgice smocks in Iran and Palestine. This has changed in the late-20th century, we think as a move away from Western influences. Perhaps other coyntrues were involved.




HBC believes tha Iranian elementary school children wore smocks, as was common in other Middle Eastern countries, but have few details. News reports from Iran in 2000 inducated that elementary school girls were being allowed to wear lighter-colored smocks rather than the dark smocks imstitued after the victory of the Islanic Recolution in 1979. HBC is unsure if boys still wear smocks in Iran.


We have no information on Lebanese schools at this time. France played an important role in Lebanon. Lebanon had been a part of the Ottomon Empire until the British drove them out at the end of World War I. France created a protectorate for Lebanon and thus help found the modern school system. While we have little information on Lebonese schools at this time, we do have some information on the French schools in Lebanon. French schools in Lebanon appear to have been very insistant that boys and girls wear smocks to school. Most of the smocks appear to have been a light color, perhaps blue. Styles varied widely. Curiously many girls wore front buttoning smocks. The boys appear to have more commonly wiorn side or back buttoning smocks. Given the warm climate they were usually worn with short pants. The girls always wore dresses.



Younger Palestinian boys and girls wear school smocks. The ones I saw were gingham. They were mostly worn with long pants. School smocks are worn in many other Arab countries from Syria to Morocco. I believe that this is at least in part the impact of French and Italian colonial rule and innfluence. I'm less sure about the origins of the smocks Turkish school children wear. The smocks were usually light colors and not the dark colored smocks worn by French school boys. The Arab children almost always wear them over long pants. We had thought that both boys and girls wore smocks, but our information is admitdly limited. 2001 press report from the Fras market in the Daza Strip indicated had a bief description of Mohammed Masmiyeh's school-clothing store. According to the report, "Masmiyeh sells blue-striped smocks for girls and blue shirts with clip-on ties for boys. He reduced the price for smocks from $5 to $2.50, and for shirts from $7.50 to $5. "I ordered only the cheapest clothes, from China," Masmiyeh said. "I should be doing $150 to $200 business a day, but I am doing no more than $75. And no one is buying new school bags." [Williams]


Syria was like Lebanon a French colony after World War I. France helped create a modern secular school system in Syria. We know that Lebanese children wire school smocks, but we are not yet sure about Syria.


Turkish school smocks
Figure 5.--This Turkish movie shows boys wearing school snocks with Peter Pan collars.


Turkey has a similar school uniform smock for elementary children, both boys and girls. I'm not sure just when this style was first implemented, but I believe it continues to be worn today. It appears to be a European style adopted as part of secular educational reforms. Blue was the most common color, but there appears to have been some variation. The children appear to mostly wear a back-buttoning style--some with pleats. They seem to be a shorter cut smock than those worn in Europe. We see boys wearing both short and long pants with them. They were usually worn with Peter Pan collars.



New Zealand

HBC has no information on New Zealand school smocks. We have no indication that New Zealand school children wear smocks now or have done so in the past. It is possible that some nursery school children have in the past worn smocks, but we can not at this time confirm this. We do know that some schools, especially private schools incourage the children to bring smock-like garments to art class to protect their clothes. Usually the children bring one of dad's old shirts.

Unknown Region

We have found some images that we can not even identify the contient involved. Many of the imges we have archived have no accompanying information. Thus we often have to guess about dates, location, and other aspects of the photograph. Identifying the country can be a challenge, but the continent is usually obvious. It is unusual that we can not identify the continent. Usually the racial chracteristics of the children nd teachers usually allow us to at least identify continents. This is somewhat complicated by colonialism. Thus we see Europeans in Africa, Asia, and Oceania. We are sometimes able to suss out just where the photographs were taken. Smocks are European garments. Several of the colonial countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) were countries where children wore smock. Colonial coyntries did not found public school system. (The Americns in their short-lived empirre were a rare exception.) While the Europeans fid not find public school systems, there were schools for the chilrem of the colonial administrators and businessmen. And even with the European children smocks were not all that common. Climate was a factor here. At any rate, we hope our readers may have some insights.


Daniel Williams, "Conflict deepens despair for Palestinians in Gaza," Washington Post, August 20, 2001.


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Created: October 23, 1998
Last updated: 11:32 AM 8/14/2022