The agricultural worker's smock probably originated as an overshirt in stout linen or fustian (linen and cotton mix) sometime in the seventeenth century. By the early nineteenth century it had become associated, not only with country labourers and field workers, but also with an increasingly threatened rural way of life as industrialisation and mechanised production changed the face of the country. Sentimental depictions of country workers, resting on their hoes or pitchforks and contemplating their rural bliss, were increasingly circulated, as in this image from 1814. Writers such as Thomas Hardy also looked to the smock to symbolise this lost "Olde Englande", and photographers posed rural characters in smocks which may or may not have been their own garments. Although usually unbleached linen or off-white cotton, some could be dyed, like the example below in blue.
By the early twentieth century, the aesthetic and artistic dress movement had promoted the adoption of the smock by women for use as a charmingly decorated overall, suitable for light gardening work or studio painting. Children too could wear a form of loose smock as a pinafore. This completed the transformation of the smock from a robust outdoor garment to protect against rain, dirt and cold, to a bourgeois symbol, intricately decorated and decorative.
Full item descriptions:
"Picturesque Representations of the Dress and Manners of the English" [1986.232], Murray, Mr John, W. Bulmer & Co.