Smocked dresses are undoubtedly in fashion this summer. I don't care much about trends, but if you're wondering WHY smocks are so popular right now, I have a take.
When I was a kid, smocking was mainly all over little girls’ birthday dresses.
About 150 years ago, it was all over work shirts men wore to do back-breaking labor in rainy, manure-y English fields.
That’s a b
While smocking IS decorative, like so many techniques that come from traditional folk-wear, it's also highly functional.
You’ve just woven a few yards of cloth on the loom that takes up half your 1-room house. You used threads that you spun yourself—countless hours of work—from slippery, uncooperative flax fiber that your family spent the past 2 seasons beating, soaking, and combing to make it a usable texture.
Now you’re going to make a shirt. Do you want to cut into this fabric, scrapping the bits that aren’t part of the pattern? NO YOU DO NOT.
Smocking shapes a rectangle of cloth. It locks gathers in place, reducing the width of the fabric where you don’t need so much—like around the chest—and letting it flow where you want more, like around the legs. Stitching it together this way compresses the fabric and thickens it, which adds strength, warms, and water resistance... for cold damp days.
And of course, it looks cool. Your loved one may have stitched the pattern with a special motif just for you, to bring you luck and keep you safe.
Mass-producers of smocked fashion won’t lean into this history much, of course, and there won’t be many—if any—traces of utility in the modern applications of smocking.
But smocking is one of many RADICAL ways humans combine beauty, meaning, and utility in their clothing. And for that reason, it will outlive this moment on the trend-mill—and the next, and the next.
Long live smocking!