A smock is an outer garment traditionally worn by rural workers from the early 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 is made of heavy linen or wool and varies from thigh-length to mid-calf length.
The fisherman’s smock is a fully reversible hardwearing sailcloth smock typically dyed indigo (or white or red colour) once worn as an outer garment by Atlantic fishermen across Cornwall, Brittany and the Channel Islands often worn over a knitted gansey.
It is now often favoured as an artist’s smock by association with the Newlyn School who often depicted characters in this dress. The spread of the smock-frock matched a general decrease in agricultural wages and living standards in these areas in the second half of the 18th century.
The smocks were cheaper than other forms of outer garments, and were both durable and washable.
By the mid-19th century, wearing of traditional smock-frocks by country laborers was dying out. As the authentic tradition was fading away, a romantic nostalgia for the rural past, led to a fashion for smocks to be worn again.
More recently, smocks have been cherished as practical working clothes for labourers, gardeners and artists – as well as becoming a fashion item in themselves.
Left: Newlyn School artist Walter Langley portrays Cornish fisherman wearing smocks in his work Between The Tides, 1901.
FROM A-Z TO THE SMOCK SHOP
Established in Newlyn in 1976, we were originally called A-Z smocks, soon changing to Shipmates.
We relocated to a workshop in Causewayhead, Penzance, in 1978.
Opening our first shop at the Barbican, Penzance, in 1979, George retired from sea (commercial fishing ) and developed the practical and decorative rope work aspect of the company.
In 1982, we opened a shop in St Ives, at the Harbour Craft Market, where we stayed for three years before moving to our present location. We also relocated our home and workshop to Gulval.
In 1986, Riviera Displays at Marazion was purchased and printing and embroidery was added to the portfolio.
We gave up the Barbican workshop to concentrate on the printing workshop and our new site , The Old Harbour Master’s Weighbridge Office on the wharf, adjacent to the famous Sloop Inn, in St Ives. In 2022, we left our shop in St Ives to spend more time in the workshop, concentrating on online sales and local outlets.
With the addition of the printing facility, personalised smocks took off. One of our first customers being The Sail Training Association of Great Britain – The STA. Hundreds of smocks were produced for The Malcolm Millar and Sir Winston Churchill.
At this time we started attending various nautical shows, Southampton Boat Show, London Boat Show, Douarnenez, Paimpole and Brest Festival in Brittany and all of the international festivals of the Sea and Cutty Sark Tall Ships events in the UK.
In 1990, we were approached by the skipper of Captain Cooks replica of the Endeavour, built in Freemantle Australia, and we produced the crew and guide uniforms for her various trips. On her first visit to Cornwall they fired a ‘salute’ to The Smock Shop, in Mount’s Bay, en route to Falmouth.
As the years went on and the changing ways of purchasing we stopped attending the shows. We have now developed our website and work the summer in the shop and have the winter months to get the stocks up for the wholesale and internet orders.
We supply Nauticalia and Guy Cotten with our smocks and have had the pleasure of developing smocks for two local companies. Seasalt, who had our smocks when they were just The General Stores, in Adelaide Street, Penzance, and Celtic Co, of Newquay.
The Smock Shop Ltd,