Are smocking and smocks having a fashion moment? Since I began working on the history of smock frocks a few years ago, smocking seems to have gradually crept into contemporary fashion. With the move from body-con to what has been termed ‘frumpy’ or ‘dowdy’ fashion, where shape seems secondary to comfort, and perhaps chiming with politics today, both current feminist movements with women wearing what the heck they want to, ignoring conditioning to reveal flesh, and the idea of the homespun, handcrafted and nostalgic in a turbulent era, it also ties in with, increasingly importantly, what is seen as sustainable and wearable over a longer period of time. Influences for this ‘new’ fashion range from the smocks of Laura Ashley and the styles of Little House on the Prairie re-interpreted for TV in the 1970s-80s, to remembered childhood dresses and a sense of playfulness and dressing-up.
Vanguard fashion designers such as Molly Goddard, Batsheva Hay and the Vampire’s Wife have also been working with this look for several years. As it has garnered more press, featured in Killing Eve series 1 for Molly Goddard for example, with her famous shocking pink tulle dress, and as celebrities choose such clothes for red carpet appearances, it has finally hit mass-production and the high street. The phenomenon of the Zara polka-dot dress this summer is perhaps the result.
Smocking is in fact an elementary way of shaping what otherwise could just be loose and tent-like. Shirring, an even easier derivation from smocking, which uses elastic ‘to smock’ and negates the need for time-consuming needlework, has had a revival particularly for summer dresses. Vogue’s summer dress of 2019 was a neon green shirred sundress.
Smocking, in its many forms, is an easy half-way house between the capacious tent dress and something more form-fitting. Since it became popular for women and children in the 1880s, smocking has periodically been used in fashionable dress and is now being referenced by modern designers with a nod to historical influences. For example, the 1890s https://www.zara.com/uk/en/sweater-with-puff-sleeves-p09874106.html?v1=20664105&v2=1281662
(and that is just from one brand this season!), all eras when smocking has previously been popular. The shirred ruched version can be quite form fitting, as seen recently on Lila Moss at New York Fashion Week, in a mint green outfit, far from the capacious tent dress. https://www.hellomagazine.com/fashion/hfm/2019091077496/what-happened-at-new-york-fashion-week-spring-2020/
With echoes of a traditional male smock frock, it also increasingly chimes with remembrance of the rural and nature in times of climate emergency. It harks back to the past whilst being anchored in contemporary feminism and social issues, evoking modesty, nostalgia, comfort, practicality, ease and playfulness.
Think it is having a moment!