*** children's pinafore pinafores

Children's Pinafores

Figure 1.--This Sir Thomas Lawrence painting set in the early 19th Century shows Mrs. Henry Barting and her children in 1817. Her son wears a white garment to cover his expensive velvet suit. I'm not sure just what type of garment it is, but it may be an early pinafore or smock. Note that the boy wears a short-sleeved garment. While boys in dresses had short sleeves, but boys suits were always long sleeves. I'm not sure if the child at left is a boy a girl, but he is young enough to a boy still wearing dresses.

Pinafores were essentially abbreviated smocks or aprons worn over other clothes for meals and play. I'm not positive when the pinafore first appeared. It appears to have appeared in the late 18th Century, but it is clearly a widely worn garment by the early 19th Century. I am also unsure as to which country or countries it first appeared. Based upon available images, the pinafore was particularly popular in England and France, but this may be just a function of the greater availability of images from those two countries. There may have been a variety of different styles, but by the mid-19th Century back buttoning pinafores seem to have been most common. Pinafore lengths seemed to have been largely determined by the lengths of the dresses in style during any given period. After the turn of the 20th Century pinafores were not commonly worn by boys, although they were worn by French boys after the style had passed out of fashion for boys in England. Pinafores for girls in the 20th Century became very fancy, stylish garments and not the utilitarian garments of the 19th Century.


A "pinafore apron" or simply "pinafore" is a type of protective apron worn by children and women. The word pinafore means "pin afore" ("pin in front"), suggesting a practical apron-like covering pinned over a dress. This reflecting that the bib part of an apron that was earlier often secured to the chest using pins. In British English, "pinafore dress" corresponds to the American English term "jumper" (dress). Pinafores were often referred to as "pinnies" in America and Britain. While this is a garment for women of all ages, it was commonly worn by girls in America, Britain, and Western Europe during 19th and early 20th centuries. Younger boys also wore pinafores in the 19th century. The term "pinafore apron" is also often applied to elaborately frilly bib aprons with shoulder straps that criss cross in the back and tie in a ribbon. Standard bib aprons are sometimes referred to as pinafore aprons, but this term is confusing and is an inappropriate use of the term. I think that means that early pinafores may have been front opening. Pinafores appear to have evolved from the often dressy aprons were worn whenever a woman was at home even in the evenings. I am not sure when the term "pinafore" was first used. We note that in America the term pinafore is generally used in the sence of a child's apron-like garment. In Britian it is often used in the sence of an apron for adults as well. The pinafore is often confused with an apron.


This is a garment that we had only vaguely heard of before, a tucker. I'm not sure quite how to archive this. I thought perhaps neckwear, but believe that the collar section may be the more appropriate section. This was a garment made from a fine cloth or lace worn over the neck and shoulders. It was primarily a garment for girls and women, but was also worn by younger boys not yet breached. It seems to be a garment that appeared in the 17th century. It may have been the precursor of the pinafore. I have not noted a lot of boys wearing these, but I did not quite understand just what this was and therefore may not have noticed them. It came to be used in the expression "best bib and tucker", meaning one's best clothes.

Aprons and Smocks

Pinafores are often confused with smocks. Some foreign languages do not descriminate between these different garments. The pinafore is an apron-like or protective garment. The difference is that a pinafore is designed to cover all of a person's clothes, in the case of girls all of the dress except the sleeves. An apron is usually a protectice garment for just the bottom or skirt part of the dress and not the bodice. Also the apron in recent years has become seen primarily as a protective kitchen garment for adults. The pinafores differs from a smock in that it does not have sleeves and usually there is no back too the bodice. Smocks have both sleeves and a full bodice, both front and back. There are pinafore smocks which can be considered types of smocks or pinafores. In modern usage, several types of apron designs are popularly referred to as pinafore aprons. Basically a pinafore is a full apron with two holes for the arms that is tied or buttoned in the back, usually below the neck. Basically pinafores provide protection above (at least in front) and below waist and aprons are a protective garment worn below the waist. Here the difference is a fine line. Pinafores have complete front shaped over shoulder while aprons usually have no or only small bibs. Of course there or so many different kinds of pinafores and aprons that in some cases it s diificult to destinguish. Here the key would be usage. An adult garment for use in the kitchen would be an apron and a child's garment to wear at school or for play would ve a pinafore. Further confusion results from foreign languages which, unlike English, do not have a destinctive term for the pinafore. In German, for example, there is no precise term for pinafore. Sch�rze means "apron" and thus "Kinderschuerze" is used to describe a child's apron or pinafore.

Figure 2.--This Irish family consisted of four boys, a girl, and a baby. The two older boys wear Eton suits, the younger boy a white pinafore, and the younger boy wears a dress with a lace collar. Irish fashions at the time for well to do families were identical to those worn in England. The photograph was taken in 1905.

Foreign Language Terms

Because of the confusion over aprons and smocks, in many foreign languages there is no one definative work for smock. A HBC reader writes, "It is a hopeless task to try and look for a 1 to 1 relation of many clothing terms in various languages. Problem is that different languages stress different aspects. This works both ways. English has not, to my knowledge, a single term that covers, like French "tablier" and Dutch "schort", all protective clothing above and below the waist. It does have apron for such garments below the waist." The Dutch would usually say "schort" (equivalent to French tablier, but this may also mean apron or smock. Kinderschort (childrens' apron) would be appropriate in many cases. There is no single French term for pinafore. Different terms are used, depending on the style of the garment. "Tablier" is probably the most common term, but this also means smock. Germans may use "Kinderschuerze" to describe a child's pinafore. In German Sch�rze means "apron" thus "Kinderschuerze" means a child's apron as there is no precise term for pinafore. Some HBC readers have asked why we give such emphasis to foreign languages. This primarily because to limit HBC to England and America would make it impossible to fully assess boys' fashion and clothing. We also want to make our site accessable to foreign readers as well as to assist English readers working with foreign language sources. HBC does not expect to find a precise equivlent foreign language term for every garment and style. We are attempting to find a comparable word or how the garment is described. The lack of a precise ord is in interesting in itself and reflects on the geral importance of these garments. In addition, the words used and their etymology provides valuable insights into fashion history.


HBC has little historical information on the chrnology of the pinafore. We have, however, begun to compile some information. Unsights can be discerned from an examination of available images. The earliest evidence of pinafores I have noted is from late 18th Century paintings. This is, however, just an initial observation and requires further investigation. Pinafores and other apron-like garments. These pinafores were commonly worn during the early 19th century. They were usually linen, though some more durable fabrics were also used. have little information on the pinafores worn during the early 19th Century. Some early images show front buttoning garments, which may have been early precursors to the pinafore. Pinafores at mid-century were very widely worn in Europe and North America. There are many images showing children wearing pinafores in America, England, France, and Italy. I believe they were worn in many other countries as well, but have little information confirming this. The pinafore worn during the mid-19th Century was shorter than early 19th Centurypinafores as the dresses worn by girls and little boys were shorter. Some were worn with pantalettes, as many still, considered it necessary to cover the bare legs, even of children. Pinafores were widely used in the late 19th century to protect clothes. Formal clothing was much more common at the time. People did not wear casual clothes as is now common. Nor did ordinary people have many changes of clothing. In addition clothing was much more expensive in real terms. Given the cost--very important to protect. The pinafore was also a handy labor saving device for the hard pressed mother, with few labor-saving devices and often a large family. The pinafore by the early 20th century had come to be seen as primarily a girls' garment. The pinafore widely worn in the early 20th century. Most pinafores by the early 20th centiry were worn by girls. These were very popular garments to ptotect girl's dresses. most were white, but there were colored pinafores as well. There were also both plain and fancy pinafores. We have not noted boys commonly wearing pinafores in the mid-20th century. We have noted, however, boys in some European countries wearing pinafore-like smocks.


Clothing advertisements in the 19th century often offered childrens and girls pinafores. Childrens pinafores were for both young boys and girls. Unlike dresses, there were at the time no pinafores styled just for boys. Both boys and girls wore the same style. For older children, only girls wore pinafores thus these were styled girls' pinafores. After the turn of the 20th century boys no longer ciommonly wore the traditionally styled pinafores now commonly assiociated with girls. We have, however, noted boys wearing some very plain pinafore-like garments. These pinafores did not havde many of the features assocaited with girls' pinafores like shoulder ruffles anf back tying bows. We have noted these garments being worn in Germany, but assume that they were worn in other countries as well, although our infornation is very limited at this time.

American pinafores
Figure 3.--This little American boys wears a starched pinafore.I'm uncertain how to date the photograph, but the strap shoes and the absence of long stockings suggest a period after the turn of the century.


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.

boy pinafores
Figure 4.--It was not just little boys who wore pinafores in the late 19th Century. This Philadelphia boy in a photograph taken probably in the 1880s wears a pinafore with fancy sleeves. He looks to be about 8 or 9 years old. Note that the dog has a little bow.


We have notedcpinafores being worn with a range of different garments. The conventions for wearing pinafores are not precisely clear to me. My preliminary assessment here is based primarily on an examination of available images. I would thus be very interested in the observations of HBC visitors to confirm, add to, or expand the following assessment. Boys still wearing dresses were the most likely to wear pinafores. I think this was most likely around the house and not for events like church or parties. I'm unsure about part outings. Boys wearing smocks were seem unikely to wear pinafores as both were protective garments. Both garments this would be primarily home wear, but might include outings to local parks. Some boys may have worn both, but we do not yet have photographic confirmation of this. I believe that a boy wearing rompers would probably not wear a pinny because rompers became popular after the fashion for dressing boys in pinafores had passed. I am not sure about boys in tunics wearing pinafores. Some images suggest that this mat have occurred in the early 19th Century. I do not have any edidence of kilted boys wearing pinafores, but this bears more investigation. I do not believe that boys in Little Lord Fauntleroy suits or other fancy party suits wore pinafores. This is primarily because these were formal suits to be worn at special events outside the home where pinnies were not normally worn. I do not believe that boys one breeched and beyond the kilt and Fauntleroy era wore pinafores. I have no evidence of pinafores worn with sailor suits or other more boyish styles such as Eton and Norfolk suits.

Stylistic Features

Pinafores had many different stylistic features. We have only begun to explore these different features, in part becvause of the limited nymber of avavilable images:
Closing: The earliest pinafores given the name were front clising. Virtually all pinafores, however, after the mid-19th Century were back closing, I believe with buttons, but some early ones mat have had ties. There were often a waist sash to ties at the back.

Color: I believe that pinafores were usually white. This was certainly the case for the dressy pinafores that appeared in the late 19th Century. It is possible e that the more utilitarian pinafores could have been grey or off white. I do not know, however, of any colored pinafores.

Trim: The first pinafores were plain utilitarian garments to protect clothes. I'm not sure of the time line yet, but fancier pinafores appeared by the mid-19th Century or earlier with increasingly elaborate lace trim and ruffles. I believe, however, that even these fancier pinafores were mostly worn at home and not as part of formal attire for parties, church, or other event.
Collars: The pinafore was a utilitarian garment. Thus normally there were no collars. The garment being covered mught have a collar. The pinafore simply has a head opening done in different shps, usually rounded. We note one Minnesota family with coordinated pinafores that had square openings. Here we are not sure if these are pinafores or dresses.

Shoulder ruffles: One popular feature of many pinafores by the late 19th Century were shoulder ruffles, often quite prominent. The ruffles could be plain or could be fancier ones with eyelet lace.

Sleeves: Pinafores were made in both sleeves and sleaveless styles. The sleeved style were generally the more utilitarian versions designed to more completely cover the child's clothes. More common, especially in the fancier versions, was the sleaveless style. It was the sleaveless style that was more likely to be trimmed with lace and ruffles. It was designed to protect a party frock, but not to completely hide it as in such a case there would be no since in having a fancy dress.

Starch: One fashion for white pinafores was to starch them so they stood out smartly. I'm not sure just when this fashion developed. I think it might not have been done on the dressier, lace and ruffle trimed pinafores, but I am not positive about this.

Length: I believe a pinafore's length was primarily determined by the fashionable length at which dresses were worn. Pinafores were not normally worn longer than the child's dress.

Hem: The fancier pinafores had ruffle or lace trim at the hem matching that at the collar and shoulders.

English pinafore
Figure 5.--This English photograph taken about 1890 shows the village children, boys and girls, mostly wearing pinafores. Notice the boyish peaked cap one of the boys in a pinnie wears. Pinnies for boys became increasingly rare after the turn of the century. I didn't notice it before, but the older child at the left has rather short hair and wears a boy's cap. I'm not sure just who it is.

Gender Trends

The authors believe that smocks were much more common for boys than pinafores which were more commonly worn by girls--even quite old girls.Pinafores were by the turn of the century primarily worn by girls, but young boys in the late 19th century were sometimes also dressed in pinafores. I believe these would primarily those boys kept in dresses. They would tend to wear the more utilitarian pinafore designed to keep clothes clean rather than the dressier pinnies that girls had begun to wear. Most boys were probably breeched by about 5 years or 6 years of age, although there was no set age, some boys were breeched earlier and a few latter. Although I do not yet have a lot of information on the subject, it appears that boys before breeching wore dresses all the time--both at home and for special occasions such as parties and church. While at home or for play outings such as to the park, it would be quite common for them to wear a smock or pinafore to protect their dress. In many cases, a mother might dress all the children in identical dresses, smocks, and or pinafores, with only minor or no differences between boys and girls or younger and older children. Some of these images are available on the smocks page. Note the Brooker painting on the smock chronology page. The two boys in smocks and pinnies, almost certainly the two boys or brothers with the same fastidious mother. We have some information on gender trends in Germany.


The eraly pinafore did not seem to have gender connotations and was worn by both boys and girls. The garment later came to be seen as primarily a girl's garment, an exception was nmade for younger boys.


As laundry became easier and dyes more permanent, keeping clothes out of the laundry was less important. But the pinafore remained popular, at least for girls in Britain and America. A good indicator of British children's fashion, for example, are E. Nesbit's children's books. In the books written at the turn of the century (The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899) and Five Children and It (1902)), the girls--including the older girls--often appear in pinafores, but never the boys. Small French boys, however, appear to have continued to wear them until World War I.

French boy pinafore
Figure 6.--While generally associated with girls, small boys in England were sometimes dressed in pinafores during the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century. These French children, a boy and girl, wear a light-colored pinafore over a dark smock. Notice the boy's beret.

Country Differences

The custom of dressing boys in pinafores was most common on the continent, much more common than in England or America. The authors believe that French boys in particular wore pinafores and smocks with dresses. Some younger boys in England, however, also are known to have been dressed in pinafores. It appears, however, that pinnies were reserved only for the boys still in dresses or wearing smocks. I do not yet have adequate information to properly assess the pinafores worn by children in different countries. It is, however, a topic I do want to assess. Some limited personal accounts are available frpm several different countries. The pinafore was commonly worn to school in several countries. Pinafores were worn in Australia, much like the pattern in England. Some younger boys in England, however, also are known to have been dressed in pinafores. It appears, however, that pinnies were reserved only for the boys still in dresses or wearing smocks. Water colorist Helen Allingham outfitted her son in dresses and pinafores during the 1880s. French children are more associated with smocks than pinafores. We do know, however, that pinafores were worn by French children, although our information at this time is relatively limited. We know that French boys commonly wore smocks. Less information is available about pinafores. We have, at this time, only a few clues. Naval officer and novelist, Pierre Loti, recalls playing in short pants and pinafores as a boy in the 1850s. We have no information at this time about German boys wearing traditionally styled pinafores. We think that they probably were worn, but can not yet substantiate it. After the turn of the centuty, however, we do seem numerous examples of German boys wearing pinafore-type pinafore smocks. After World War I they were worn only by pre-school boys. Irish boys like English boys in the late 19th centuru wore pinafores (figure 2). This was especially the case for boys from affluent families. We believe that the conventions were similar in both England and Ireland. One major use of the pinafore was in Soviet schools. Elementary age Soviet girls would often attend school in an elaborately frilled and starched pinafore over a blue dress. Often this was topped with a large white hair bow. This appears to have been a uniform requirement. I am not sure when this fashion began, but believe it was common from the 1950s through to the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Some schools in majority French-speaking villages requited children to wear smocks. One of the options was an inexpensive pinafore-smock. Some boys and girls wore a very simple style of smock. They varied in construction, but were basically sleevless covers back and from with simple ties. They were inexpensive garments, but not commonly set as a school uniform. I have no personal accounts yet, but available photographic images show that some boys from wealthy northeastern families were dressed in pinafores during the late 19th Century.


We notice that some mothers used the pinafore in much thesame way as a smock. They would dress all their younhfer children in pennies to protect their clothing. This included brothers and brothers, sisters and sisters, and brothers and suisters. Normaly this might mean sisters and younger brothers. Here we note, hosever, also older brothers and younger sisters wearing identical or similar pennies. Once a boy eached a certain age he would no longer wear pennies. This ager, however, varied from family to family. There were changes here both over timr and among countries. We do not at this time have adequate information to persue these variables, but hope to do so as HBC develops. Some mothers may have varied the pinnafores for boys and girls, but we do not yet have sufficent information to assess these. Clearly some mothers did not.

Photographic Record

The 19th century photographic record shows relatively few images of boys wearing pinafores. We suspect that this may be misleading. Most 19th century photographic photographs are studio portraits. Having your portrait takenm was a often a big event and people dressed up for the occassion. Children usually wore their best outfit and this meant that the pinafore which was a protective outfit was not worn, even though the child might commonly wear a pinafore arounf the house. Even so there are some portraits of boys wearing their pinnies even to have their portrait taken. A good example is the T.K Brown family of Philadelphia.


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Created: May 8, 1999
Spell checked: August 2, 1999
Last updated: 6:54 AM 8/16/2017