The Hidden History of the Smock Frock by Alison Toplis (University of Wolverhampton, UK)
Traditionally associated with rural ways of life in England and held up as one of the only items of English folk dress to survive into the 20th century, the smock frock is an object of curiosity in many museum collections. Drawing on a wide variety of sources from surviving garments to newspapers and photographs, this book reveals the hidden history of the smock frock, bringing to light new social histories. Discussing the smock frock in its widest context, Alison Toplis explores how garments were made and specifically manufactured by the ready-made clothing industry, and bought by many working men. She traces the smock frock's usage across England as well as in export markets such as Australia. Following the garment's decline in the late 19th century, the book investigates how this essentially utilitarian workwear came to be held up as an example of a disappearing 'peasant' craft in an emotional response to urbanization and, with influence from dress reform movements, was preserved by collectors. Around the turn of the 20th century, the smock frock was reinvented as both women's and children's wear and is now regularly revived in fashion collections by designers such as Molly Goddard. Drawing together extensive visual and material cultures, Alison Toplis unravels the complex history of the smock frock.