Smocking and Smocked Collars on Boys' Clothing

Figure 1.--I believe the term smocked collars comes from the decorative work called smocking which used to be done on 19th Century smocks. The smocked collar, however, is of relatively recent origins.

I am a little confused about the term smocked collar. As best I can determine the terms derives from the smocking, or sectioning of gathered fabric, used to control the fulness of a smock. Some smocks with this smocking had decorative embroidery as early as 15th Century. Only later in the late 19th Century did the smock become rehaded as a child's garment. Today the smock is less commonly worn. The smocked collar does not have the gathered fabric, but often does have the embroidery. They are still used in dressy, formal outfits for younger children.


Smocking today is generally associated with the English in the 19th century, although clothing historians believe it has much more ancient origins and was worn in many European countries. Smocking is basically embroidery on pleats. The material has to be pleated before smocking. It is a handicraft, some would say an artform that has been passed down through generations. Smocking is assocaited today with smocks, both adults and children in the 19th century wore smocked with decorative smocking. Smocking despite the clear reference to the smock garment can be done on all kinds of fabric for a wide variety of uses, such as curtains, apolestry, and much more. Of course our iunterest in HBC is with smocking on clothing. The primary garment here of course has been the smock, but modern smocking can be used for dresses and a variey of outfits for younger boys as well. It is especuially popular for shortalls in America. Smocking can be traced back several centuries. Smocking was clearly popular in during the Renaissance in Europe. Many paintings from the 14th and 15th centurries show men and women wearing smocked garments. The use of smocking as a decorative embroidery can be easily traced to the 15th century. Albrecht Darer's Self Portrait (German) shows a smocked shirt, and the Mona Lisa (Italian) has a smocked chemise. The use of needlework to control fullness is a very old technique. Smocking is most associated today with little girls. Even when it was more common for boys to wear smocks in the late 19th and early 20 century, they were often not decorated with smocking. Smocking looks harder than it is to do. Nowadays we work on smocking with pre-pleated fabric, rather than making the pleats with your stitches. The first step is to look at your pleated piece and know that the gathering threads (pleating threads) are now called the rows.

Figure 2.--Smocked collars are sometimes used for boys' costumes at formal weddings.

Smocked Collars

I can only guess about the origin of the term smocked collar. As best I can determine the terms derives from the smocking which I believe developed in the 19th Century. At the time smocks were commonly work by working people throughout Europe. A section or panel of gathered fabric in the front of the smock was used to control the fulness of a smock. Some smocks with this smocking had decorative embroidery.

The smocked collar, of course, does not have the gathered fabric. In fact some are all white. Often these large collars do have the embroidery. They are sometimes used in dressy outfits for younger children, both boys are girls. They are most commonly used on shortalls for boys.

This smocking as an applique for children's clothes is a relatively recent fashion innovation. I believe the style first appeared in the 1950s, but at this time, it is only a guess.

Some boys were dressed in smocked collars for formal occasions such as weddings, often serving as ring bearers at weddings. Smocked collars are large, usually white collars with elaborate embroidery work. The pictures I have seen have been from weddings beginning about the 1950s. I have no real information on when this style actually began. I think, however, that it is fairly modern as earlier fancy dress for boys relied on lace and ruffles.

This was not a commonly worn style of course, but was worn for very special occasions like weddings. Most of the pictures I have seen come from wedding photographs, mostly very formal society weddings. Also some pictures exist from sewing magazines and advertisements. The smocked collars usually went with velvet suits or fancy short pants wedding costumes.

Sewing magazines through the 1990s have continued to sell patterns for the smocking on the collars. Many are quite elaborate and veritable works of art, although it seems unlikely that the boys themselves appreciate the artisanry and effort put into such collars. It is unclear how many such patterns are sold and actually used. It would seem that they would only be appropriate at very formal weddings. As shorts have become less common dress up clothes for boys, these outfits have increasingly been incorporated with below the knee knee pants or knickers.

Figure 3.--Smocked collars are still seen in the 1990s at formal weddings, but mostly with knee pants and knickers rather than with shorts.

Smocked collars can be purchased separately and then used on any desired garment. One company, for example, offers smocked collars for boys and girls. The smocked collars can be paired with shortalls.


Smocking on boys children's clothing has been done in several countries. One of countries in which smocking was especially popular was France. This was in part because the garments on which smocking was used (blouses, rompers, smocks, and frocks) were especially popular in France. This French-language terms are especially important. (Terminologie du vocabulaire de la confection enfants):
Tablier or blouse d'écolier: Both "tablier" and "blouse" are used for smocks. "Tablie" is generally used for school smocks. The English word for smocks was rerived from the smocking work that was done on the front.
Smock: The French word "smock" is used quite differently than the Enhlish word. "Smock" in French means "smocking" in English or the pleated and enbroidered from of smocks, blouses, rompers, and frocks. The use of the word "smocks" in French rather suggests an English origin for both smocks and smocking.
Smocks: Smock in French means smocking
Smoking: The French (and the Dutch) say "smoking" for what the British call a dinner jacket and the Americans call a tuxedo. This is probably derived from the English "smoking jacket" which, of course, is a totally different thing. (We mention it here only because it can so easilly be confused with smocking. In times when men were heavy smokers (and women were not, or were not supposed to be), the men retired after dinner to a another room and enjoyed cigars. They changed into a smoking jacket usually made of velvet so as not to incommode the ladies with the smell. The nearest equivalent is "huisjasje" in Dutch and "veste d'intérieur" in French, but these words do not necessarily imply that they are being worn for smoking. The English word smocking is 'smokwerk' in Dutch and 'smocks' (plural) in French.
Broderie: Broderie in French means emboidery.


Smocking & Embroidery

Glenda O'Connor from Country Bumpkin Publications in Adelaide, South Australia publishes Australian Smocking & Embroidery and Inspirations magazines, two of the worlds leading embroidery magazines, as well as the famous A-Z series of how-to books. There is a wealth of unformation on embroidery and smocked collars here s well as other sewing topics.

Heirloom Embroidery for Boys

By Wendy Schoen: C'mon - Heirloom sewing for BOYS? Yes! You'll be amazed at the number of heirloom designs and embroidery are available for boys, including some very "masculine" day gowns, rompers, button-on suits and collars. Shadow embroidery, Madeira applique, and surface embroidery are all outlined with numerous patterns for designs for boys.

Embroidered collars:

HBC has noted embroidered collars for shortalls, but the companies involved keep chnging their sites, mking it difficult for HBC to make a permanent link.


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Created: May 25, 1998
Spell checked: August 4, 1999
Last updated: January 13, 2003