What is a Smock?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Many people work in professions that involve the risk of soiling or damaging their clothing. Rural workers, painters, and professionals in many other industries face this possibility. In order to protect clothing on the job, some of these workers wear a smock, or an outer garment that fits over clothes designed for this purpose.

A smock is worn to protect clothing.
A smock is worn to protect clothing.

Also called a smock-frock, this garment is normally very loose over. Traditional varieties are made of wool or heavy linen; however, they can also be made of cotton, polyester blends, and many other materials. They can vary in size, ranging from mid-calf length to thigh-length.

A shirt smock resembles a large man's shirt.
A shirt smock resembles a large man's shirt.

Smocks are normally fully solid across the back and breast, though some are tied in the back, leaving an open space in that area. The sleeves are often folded into narrow lines of unpressed pleats known as tubes. They are also sometimes decorated by smocking, a honeycomb pattern of embroidery that creates a stretchable fullness across the front. Many tops also contain pockets for storing materials, such as writing utensils for a shopkeeper or art supplies for a painter.

There are three main types of this protective top that are widely available. Round smocks ones have an open neckline as well as a collar that is round and flat. This allows the garment to be reversible, able to be used on both sides. They are also made in a pullover style, which allows workers to quickly put them on. This style also helps prevent accidents that may occur with those that have long strings that hang down for tying.

Surrey or shirt smocks largely resemble men's shirts. They have collars and sport a short placket, or fastener reinforcer, in the front. Unlike round ones, this type is not reversible. Coat smocks, which are very long and button up the front like a coat, are traditionally worn by Welsh shepherds.

During wartime, windproof smocks have have been used to protect parachuting soldiers and their equipment. In Germany, they were known as the Knochensack, while in England they were called Denison smocks. Military combat coats are still referred to by this name in some areas.

Other types include the Walloon bleu sårot and the Lèine bhàn. The former is a dark blue garment worn in Belgium, considered a piece of National dress clothing for men. The latter was a Scottish garment designed for men who broke the law to wear while attending church.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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Discussion Comments


If you work at a job that is always messy, wearing a smock can help keep your clothing clean. Even though they might not look very appealing, they are also a way for customers to know who the workers are in a store.

There have been many times when I have been shopping for something and had questions about where something was located in a store. If you see someone who is wearing a smock, you know you can receive helpful information from them.


It seems like no matter what you do wearing a smock does not seem very fashionable. When I was in college and worked at a retail store, we had to wear plain blue smocks every day.

They had two pockets in the front which was the only thing I liked about wearing them. This was a good place to keep pens and other small items that I might need during my shift.


Smocks are really wonderful for anyone who doesn’t want to get their good clothes completely ruined, but also don’t want to wear the worst things in their closets to complete a task.

I wear them around the house all of the time. It makes perfect sense because I have two little ones. Before I began wearing these over my good clothes, I was constantly changing because of baby handprints.

And, whenever someone’s coming over or I want to look a little nicer, I just whip the bad boy off and throw in the wash. Problem solved!


I am usually the craft extraordinaire at our church's Vacation Bible School, but I have found that not many people are as tolerant with artistic messes as I am; particularly on their children’s clothes.

That means that I had to find a remedy if I wanted to continue our fantastic crafts – we go way beyond a popsicle stick, my friends. In my search for a solution I ventured to the local dollar store.

Voila! Perfection was found in the way of a one dollar smock perfect sized for my little, bitty half pints. They had a great time wearing them, and they loved how I stenciled their names on the fronts.

This has become an annual event, and their parents love it, too!


@JaneAir - Your post made me giggle a little bit. I can definitely remember being in college and thinking I was too cool for school, pardon the pun!

When I was in high school I worked at an ice cream shop and they made us wear a smock as part of our uniform. It actually wasn't that bad, and we did get awfully messy scooping that ice cream!


I was an art major in college, but surprisingly I don't think I ever saw anyone wearing a smock. I think it definitely would have come in handy during some of my studio classes!

However, at the time, I felt like a smock was just not a cool thing to wear. Apparently everyone else felt the same way. The funny thing is, I did actually go out and buy some clothes that I could specifically wear to my studio classes and not worry about getting them dirty. A smock would have been a much more economical option, I think.


Has anyone seen the smock such as the ones described in the article that were part of everyday clothing like the Scottish garment that was a smock worn to church in the United States?

With our love for fashion here in the U.S. I am surprised I have never seen either a modern take on the smock or vintage smocks being worn around! It seems it would make for a unique item.


@manykitties - I have never seen anyone randomly wear a smock around, but I did enjoy the mental picture of the lost-in-his-thoughts professor wearing a beret and a smock.

Rather I have seen people wear smocks with much purpose. In my school we have a pre-school section and these teachers just wear the smocks all day because they never know when they might be "handed" by a kid meaning grabbed with both hands directly onto clothing, the pre-schoolers hands often having food, paint, or other remnants on them.

My favorite smock memory is when we had a project for the kids to paint a rock outside for some visitors that were coming and we put them all in adult smocks (so they would be covered from head to toe).

One girl just loved her smock. She either pretended or thought it was a dress and she was just prancing around and swinging the smock around like it was the best thing she had ever worn!

But I highly suggest smocks for children and art projects.


For those who like doing arts and crafts at home having a few smocks around is always a good idea. I have kids and we usually end up making quite the mess when we work on things like paper mache and painting projects. I used to just grin and bear the extra laundry until I found a great store that offered smocks in every color and size imaginable.

Most smocks you find in stores just come in adult sizes but there are specialty stores online for crafters where you can pick up children's sizes and smocks with cute patterns. My kids love their smocks because they feature their favorite cartoon characters. Having smocks makes it so much easier to clean up.


When ever I think of smocks I always come up with a mental picture of a professor I had in university who was always wandering around in a beret and art smock. He must have had those berets and art smocks in every color of the rainbow, and he always kept well coordinated.

The funniest thing about that professor was that he didn't even teach art. I could have understood his wardrobe preferences if he was working with paint and clay all day, but his subject was so far afield from art that we just chalked his smocks up to eccentricity.

Has anyone else ever known anyone to randomly wear smocks around?

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