The chemise, called a "smock"
or "shift" in the 16th century,
was a simple garment worn next to the skin to protect
clothing from sweat and
body oils. Chemise is the French term. Italians called it
a "Camicia". The English called the same shirt
a "Smock" and the Irish called it a "Line"
A chemise or shift was the foundation
of most multilayered garments. As such it varied from utilitarian
to decorative according to type of material used and visibility.
It was used in various forms from early 10th century to
15th century Italian through to the end of our period. In
the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was usually the only
piece of clothing that was washed regularly.
The earliest smocks were simple shirt-like garments,
and came into being in Anglo-Saxon times. Many European
countries also used smocking on their garments. They gradually
developed in the 18th and early 19th century into a fuller
garment with much more room to move while working. The fullness
was gathered in tubes or reeds at both back and front. These
garments, known as 'smock frocks, were worn in England by
the shepherds, carters and wagoners in the 1700s. Not much
is recorded of the wearing apparel of the working class
up to this period, but occasionally in paintings of rural
life one can see them.
Smocks were made of fine
linen; many of the better
quality smocks were made of what we now call "handkerchief-weight"
linen. These smocks hung to just about knee to calf-length,
on average. There were several varieties of smocks worn
in the 16th century; below is a listing of the main types.
- THE ROUND SMOCK as worn by the girls of Woodend
School is considered to be the most traditional. It
usually has a peter-pan collar and a generous neck opening
in either front or back. This made it very easy to slip
on. There was smocking at the centre back, front, upper
sleeves and wrist. The round frocks were reversible
and were not washed until both sides were dirty. They
were mostly knee-length or shorter.
SHIRT SMOCKS are thus named because they are similar
to a nobleman's
shirt and have a short
opening at the front. They are usually shorter than round
COAT SMOCKS were worn mainly by the Welsh shepherds.
They were buttoned at the front and had a large, cape-like
collar to protect the wearer from the wet and misty conditions
in Wales. They were knee length or longer and usually made
The tradition of wearing a smock had declined by the
1800's, and it was rare to see them being worn after this
time. It was about then that smocking became a fashion statement
on tea gowns, children's wear and nightdresses. When lawn
tennis became popular in the 1800's, bodices were smocked
with silk and caught at the waist by a sash. Today, once
more, smocking is very popular on babies
and children's wear.
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