Believe it or not, mistaking an apron for a smock occurs more often than you first may think. We’re all familiar with the apron, the garment that you tie around your waist and stand in-front of a hot stove, preparing a Sunday roast. A smock is entirely different.
Before choosing an apron or smock for your individual purposes, it’s important that you know the small but subtle differences between both garments. Only then will you be able to choose a design that’s fit for your purpose.
So, for anyone that’s considering purchasing either a smock or apron, here’s a look at both garments clearly highlighting the individual differences between each. But, before we dive into the aesthetic appearances, let’s look at the history of each.
The History of Smocks
Traditionally worn by shepherds and waggoneers across England and Wales in the late 18th Century, the traditional smock was stitched together from heavy linen or wool and varied in size from thigh-length to mid-calf length.
The smock’s aesthetic characteristic features include a fuller design across the back, breast with sleeves folded to narrow pleats which were held together in pleats and decorated by smocking (a honeycomb-patterned surface embroidery allowing the material to stretch.)
It’s unclear whether smocks evolved from a shirt or underdress, however what we do know is that they were highly popular with agricultural labourers. The general decline in agricultural wages and living standards of the 18th gave rise to smocks because at the time they were cheaper, more durable and were washable.
"The history of aprons dates to the middle ages... their basic function was to protect clothing from dirt and grime."
The History of Aprons
The history of aprons dates to the middle ages. At the time, square or rectangular white cloths were tied around the waists of male and female labourers. Unchanged to this day, their basic function was to protect clothing from dirt and grime.
Throughout the sixteenth century, aprons were worn by tradesmen and craftsmen to indicate their profession. Barbers wore chequered aprons while butchers and masons wore white aprons. Most were made from heavier materials, including leather and canvas, ideal for shielding their clothing against dirt and stains.
The late seventeenth century saw aprons become more of a status symbol. The upper classes would intricately embroider fine white cloth with meticulous lace patterns. Not designed as a labour garment, these aprons were often passed down the generations as family heirlooms.
The Smocks of Today
When looking at what is a smock today, it’s important to remember that the garments have evolved greatly from hundreds of years ago. They are less of the fashionable garment of the late seventeenth century, having a broader functional use. Loose, lightweight garments, smocks are worn to protect clothing during a range of activities and can be sewn or shaped from different materials.
Commonly-worn in schools or industry to protect clothes from becoming stained or damaged, there are three distinct smock designs. Round smocks feature an open neckline and flat, round collar. Many are designed to be reversible and placed over the body as you would a pullover, which allows them to be put on and removed with ease.
Surrey or shirt smocks largely resemble oversized men’s shirts. They too have collars and sport a short placket or plastic reinforcer at the front. Unlike round smocks, Surrey or shirt smocks do not feature a reversible design.
Coat smocks feature an elongated design and are designed to protect the shoulders, arms, torso and back, falling just above the knees. Most are designed with buttons at the front that extend from the neckline to below the waist. Providing ample protected for clothing, they are used in a wealth of professions, such as medical, and provide ample protection for clothing.
The Aprons of Today
In contrast to smocks, aprons have largely maintained their functional use, yet today they are considered more of a fashionable accessory. Though never entirely obsolete in the twentieth century, the advent of the new Millennium saw an upsurge in their popularity.
Featuring the same bib-style front and dual pockets in the front, aprons are commonly worn in professional kitchens, with chefs using them to protect their clothing against food and liquid splashback.
Most apron designs do not feature a collar. Some are reversible. Their traditional square or rectangle front white cloth design has been retained, as have the dual front pockets. They are designed to be tied by the side or behind the waist, providing ample protection of the torso. However, most only reach to the waist and do not cover the arms or shoulders, leaving clothing or skin exposed.
"Custom smocks and aprons provide a great opportunity for UK-wide institutions to demonstrate togetherness and individuality."
The advent of digital printing has seen a surge in printed designs for garments of all descriptions. Institutions and businesses alike recognise the value of being able to emboss a logo, crest, image or even school motto onto clothing.
T-shirts and other casualwear have long used customisable designs to build their brand authority, though with such widespread application, garments such as aprons and smocks are increasingly used for the same purposes.
Custom smocks and aprons provide a great opportunity for UK-wide institutions to demonstrate togetherness and individuality. The simple addition of a school crest, printed at the centre of an apron or smock can even evoke a sense of pride in one’s school and education.
In addition, school’s especially can take this sense of individuality a step further by embossing the name of each student on a smock or apron. This personalised approach creates both a sense of individuality and collectiveness – qualities that school’s must foster to create the best possible experience for their students.
So, as you can see, the differences between smocks and aprons are quite apparent. They may seem to be very similar at first glance but the historic and present purposes and design features of each are quite different.
When choosing either a smock or apron for your school, workplace or recreational activity, the question that you need to ask yourself is, ‘does it fit my purpose?’
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