Smockery

Today’s morning name came to me not as I emerged from sleep, but as the first thing I saw on my computer: today’s Calvin and Hobbes blast from the past (from 6/23/92, summer time 30 years ago) with Hobbes in the grip of onomatomanic fascination with the word smock (warning: it’s catching):


(#1) Smick, smock, sweaty old jock … Well how was I to know there was a party going on? (1958 apologies to Bobby Darin, Murray the K, and Murray’s mother Jean Kaufman; their version is much cleaner)

Zippy the Pinhead is celebrated for his onomatomania, but anyone can play, even stuffed tigers.

The modern smock is a plain functional garment, a kind of protective overshirt (functionally akin to aprons, coveralls, and the like), associated with artists, who work with messy substances. But its history is more complex.

Meanwhile, the word smock invites other kinds of linguistic play:

I was wearing a smock turtleneck in neon pink.
You smocked me mercilessly by imitating my voice.
NO SMOCKING Within 10 Feet Of This Building
I was lean and solid everywhere, like a smock.
They smocked me in the face with rotten fish.
That kid is smocking-hot!

A modern smock. In a tradition: The Nautical Company’s Breton smock (the company is “a British online clothing boutique for nautical fashion, authentic Breton shirts and nautical clothes”):


(#2) [ad copy:] Traditional Breton smock in navy blue perfect for heavy duty activities. Made in 100% thick twill cotton, this fisherman’s vareuse is primarily a work garment designed in true Breton style with the V neck collar, the internal chest pocket to prevent small belongings from falling overboard and the button fastener on the inside to avoid catching nets and ropes. Features include also side slits and a label on the left sleeve.

The model, shown in seaside brooding, is wearing a Breton striped shirt, or marinière, under his smock: une marinière sous vareuse (surely someone could write a sweet-sad ballad with that as refrain, on the theme of both concealing and revealing).

Some lexicography. From NOAD:

noun smocking: decoration on a garment created by gathering a section of the material into tight pleats and holding them together with parallel stitches in an ornamental pattern. noun smock:  [a] a loose dress or blouse, with the upper part closely gathered in smocking. [b] a loose garment worn over one’s clothes to protect them: an artist’s smock. [c] (also smock-frockhistorical a smocked linen overgarment worn by an agricultural worker. verb smock: [with object] decorate (a garment) with smocking: I had smocked the little pink rosebud dress she wore.

Smocking is still to be found in many pieces of clothing (largely for women), but these days most smocks are unadorned (as in #2); it’s the protective function that’s most important for smockhood, no longer the visible smocking — function wins over form.

Now, from Wikipedia:

A smock-frock or [simply] smock is an outer garment traditionally worn by rural workers, especially shepherds and waggoners, in parts of England and Wales throughout the 18th century. Today, the word smock refers to a loose overgarment worn to protect one’s clothing, for instance by a painter.

The traditional smock-frock is made of heavy linen or wool and varies from thigh-length to mid-calf length.


(#3) A 19th-century shepherd in a smock-frock: detail from Found by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1854) (Wikipedia image)

Characteristic features of the smock-frock are fullness across the back, breast, and sleeves folded into “tubes” (narrow unpressed pleats) held in place and decorated by smocking, a type of surface embroidery in a honeycomb pattern across the pleats that controls the fullness while allowing a degree of stretch.

2 Responses to “Smockery”

  1. J B Levin Says:

    The cartoon instantly brought to mind Steve Allen’s late night show on CBS (I was too young to see his Tonight Show, or we didn’t have a TV). He adopted a falsetto cry of “Smock! Smock!” as a punctuation to some of the humorous moments, and it became one of the trademarks of that show.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Astonishingly, I remember none of this. I remember the show; it ran through my high school years, and I was a fan, but “Smock!” didn’t stick with me. Memory is an odd thing.

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