Pinafores: Purposes

Figure 1.-- Here we see children at Burton Leonard. They look like school children, but are standing by the village church. Notice the girls are wearing white pinafores. The photograph is undate, but looks like it was taken in the 1900s. Burton Leonard is a village in North Yorkshire, England, located between Ripon and Harrogate. The village is typical for North Yorkshire. There is a green in the center, two public houses (pubs) , a church as can be seen here, a small primary school, a cricket field, and a village shop.

The primary purpose for a pinafore was to protect a child's clothing. Given the cost of clothing, the druggery of 19th century laundry, and the difficulty of cleaning wool and a expensive fabrics, this was a very important matter in the 19th centuty. Thus we se he 19th and early-20th cenury photographic record showing countless girls and even some younger boys wearing pinafores. The easily laundered white pinafore made it the ideal garment to protect clothes from the rough wear assocaited with childhood. We see school portraits with vurtually all the girls wearing pinafores. This varied over time, but the pinafore was a tremedosly popular garment. The popularity varied over time and from country to country. But the principal purpose was to protect the clothing the children were wearing. There were different tyes of pinafores for different occassions and for wear in different places. We notice pinafores being worn for everyday wear, workwear, charity institutions, schoolwear, and even dress wear. While primarily a practical, utilitarian garment, girls being girls and mothers being mothers, there were also fancy dress pinafores.

Everyday Wear

Some pinafores were made for everyday wear at home. These were made out of inexpensive materials with simple designs. These simple pinafores varied in style. Some pinafores in the mid and late 19th Century were more like aprons with bib fronts, primarily covering the front of the dress or smock. Other styles covered almost all of the dress or smock, except for the sleeves.

Work Wear

While we think of pinafores today as fancy adornments for prissy girls' dresses, the pinafores origins as we have seen were much more humble. Women workers in mills, shops, and other places might wear pinafores. Boys were often employed in jobs that were so dirty that pinafores were inappropriate, plus the loosely fitting garment would prove cumbersome or might interfere with the work. This was not the case in all instances and in some instances working boys like girls might be outfitted in pinafores.

Charity Institutional Wear

Some institutions in the late 19th and early 20th Century had uniforms which included smocks and pinafores. This was especially true of English workhouses as well as orphanages in Europe. Some institutions had identical uniforms for both the boys and girls. The clothes were provided by the institutions and the children were expected to take care with them. Of course the girls were much better at that than the boys. Smocks were quite common, more so than pinafores, but some institutions did use pinafores.

School Wear

The pinafore as schoolwear is most associated with girls. It was quite common for girls in the late 19th and early 20th century to wear starched white pinafores to school. Often mothers insist their girls wear pinafores to protect their dresses. The crisply starched white pinafore became almost a symbol of girls' school wear in Britain, the United States, and other countries. Some schools in the late 19th century still required them, but at most schools it was left to the mther's discression. The pinafore, however, was not exclusively worn by girls to school. Boys in the 19th century and even early 20th century might also wear pinafores to school. Normally these were the younger boys, but some older primary schools boys also wore them. In addition Some schools might have pinafores that the boys and girls might wear while at school or for cerain activities. They might be referred to as aprons or smocks. The pinafore survived until quite recently in some countries like Russia. Finally after the demise of the Soviet Union, girls began to refuse to continue wearing them. Some schools in the late 19th century still required them for the girls and younger boys.

Formal Wear

Some pinafores were designed to be worn over party clothes and could be quite elaborate. The pinafore by the turn of the century became a fashionable garment for girls. As it became an exclusively girls garment, it also became much more fashionable and not a primarily utilitarian garment. Pinafores were often trimmed with elaborate lace and ruffles or tucking. One pinafore made for party wear was described as, The white eyelet pinafore has self-lined bodice, back straps and tie ends. The skirt has two tucks to bring the hemline up a few inches shorter than the dress. The over the shoulder ruffles are cut with the eyelet trim to the outer edge to match the skirt. A big bow tied in the back.


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Created: 7:11 AM 8/16/2017
Last updated: 7:11 AM 8/16/2017