Monday, 27 July 2015

Smell The Cotton - East Coaster Clothing: Traditional Fisherman-Type Smocks

At the last count I had six different sailing smocks and so have pulled out two of the better conditioned for a closer look. As I look around I see every conceivable form of dress is worn on board a sailing boat today. And throughout the last 40 or so years of technological advancement in waterproof and wicking clothing, with all the big name brands that spend huge sums of money on advertising in the monthly mags, there are those sailors, boating types and people in general who withhold an affinity with nautical things of old and still favor a simple piece of cotton that is the traditional fisherman type smock.
This simple smock remains a staple garment of choice for fishermen and boating enthusiasts, artists and manual workers and evolved from fishermen around our coast hundreds of years ago who would have a heavy-duty work over garment, often made using the same canvas material as the sails on his fishing smack (boat).
Both smocks appearing in this review  retail at around £25.00 and are made in England, and are, respectively, the Yarmo smock (Breton red) and The Smock Shop smock (Navy blue).
The Yarmo smock material in this review and pictures is 100% Sailcloth. Yarmo are based in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and sell a large selection of sailing and fishing wear as well as work-wear.
The Smock Shop smock in this review and pictures is made from 100% drill cotton. The Smock Shop in Penzance, Cornwall sells a comprehensive range of traditional and contemporary smocks.
Traditional sailing wear - smocks
The style of both smocks is V-Neck and both have a 4 inch collar which can fold down or up to suit your mood or the weather. Both of the materials are hard wearing and tough and withstand, quite remarkably, the abuse they can get in the everyday working aboard my small cruiser and yet retain enough softness so is comfortable to wear over a tee shirt and against bare skin. The seam stitching is close knit and straight with both smocks having reinforced stitching on the tops of pockets.
The Yarmo smock has a 1.5” easing in the lower sides whereas the Smock Shop smock has not. In use, while beating or close hauled, the V-Neck can feel open and a little exposed without a neckerchief on and after one chilly northerly passage I fitted a teak toggle button to the Breton red Yarmo smock, while sat at anchor awaiting a tide, to give the option of closing it. I also just happen to like adapting things like this but it would be no problem to slip a scarf round ones neck for a time if you felt it is needed.  
Both garments are made of one piece front, back and sleeve panels with collar and pockets sewn on and are, if laid flat, T shape.  What I have found with my smocks in general is the reinforced stitching is so thorough at the pocket tops that if you do get them caught in anything the tendency is to rip a small hole in the main garment cloth as opposed pulling undone the stitching.
Breton red sailcloth Yarmo smock
Navy blue Smock Shop drill cotton smock
Both smocks have two front pockets; the Yarmo: 7” wide x 6” inch deep. Smock Shop: 7” wide x 7” deep therefore are roomy and come in very handy for small tools like pliers, a torch or a knife, food and nibbles even, while working around the boat. I find the pockets so handy in fact that it’s hard not to overfill them and end up with a swinging weight around your mid-section.  For the maintenance season, and doing any painting, smocks make a great overall and the big pockets are useful for spare brushes. For sailing, I wear a round neck smock as well. This traditionally has no pockets and you might find this type is better for working around the boat in confined spaces or when doing any kind of wood-work as there is nowhere for any wood shavings to collect and nothing to get caught on those awkward fittings on a boat such as a cleat or bungee hook.
Sizes: Smocks are an over-garment so are meant to be roomy therefore be realistic when considering the size you choose. If you are around six feet tall and average build a Size Large will suffice to wear as a shirt would be worn, however, when the weather turns chilly and you put a woolly jumper on under it, when hoisting sail or shipping 10 fathoms of anchor chain, you could do without any restriction in shoulder and arm movements therefore Size Extra Large would perhaps do you a better service.
V-Neck collar detail Smock Shop
V-Neck collar detail Yarmo (custom)
Durability: Cotton is an abundant, comfortable and natural material which is why almost every other person wears a pair of jeans today. But ‘natural’ fiber may not be best suited for every type of sailing environment... If you’re ocean sailing in storms, or blasting round the cans for a couple of hours and getting wet sodden, cotton quickly becomes very cold and heavy. Likewise, if you intend to sail a dinghy in a Force 4 or 5 wind over tide situation, or rain, in a cotton smock then this is something to be aware of when choosing to buy this type of garment. But then I rather think if you were engaged in the former you wouldn’t be looking for one of these to do it in and, like me, if you do not intend on getting wet when you go sailing you will have another waterproof over-layer to hand.
As far as 'wear' goes a smock becomes similar to a favorite pair of denim jeans. They fade in colour and can last for years. If you have a few in rotation they will last indefinitely.  A smock can also become like an old friend that has seen adventure with you - the good passages and the bad, and in this respect it can become a part of you…

Custom toggle
Pocket detail
If you are unlucky to be holed through your beloved smock being a natural material this can easily be stitched up again or, as I have done on one of my smocks, I have used one of the pockets as donor cloth to patch over a tear that happened getting off the boat one night while sliding over a cleat in darkness with my heavy backpack on.
Aesthetics: Well, that’s a very personal thing to each and every one of us but, personally speaking, a smock has a timeless look about it and an old boat coupled with a skipper in an old smock will, perhaps, always have a certain old England charm that continues to appeal. If, or when, you slip one overhead and ‘smell the cotton’, take a moment’s thought before you set about the deck, for wearing your fisherman’s smock you are partaking in a seafaring tradition that has carried on for centuries. Good sailing, Tony
Side relief in Yarmo smock
Pocket detail

No relief in Smock Shop smock


Alden Smith said...

As always, the simple and the natural are usually the best!

Jack said...

Absolutely love this! Thanks so much

Unknown said...

Hi Tony

I have just come across your review of Smocks. How wonderful it is that you have done this.
I am Zoe Payne owner of the Smock Shop with my husband George.
I am glad you enjoy our smocks and that they have become an old friend to you.
Many people want the worn in smock and go through strange lengths to get they aged,some quite insisting on having the display ones from the front of our shop all sun bleached and sea gull calling card stained.
Thanks again and do take a glance at our website some time and you will see how we have developed the smock over the 40 years we have been manufacturing them.
We would love to put a link to your review on our facebook page if you would allow us.
Thanks Again Zoe an George

Creeksailor said...

Hi Zoe, Glad to hear you like the review. Thank you for passing by and taking the time to leave a comment, and for giving me the opportunity to thank you personally for producing such quality garments. By the way, I'm in the market for a v neck, blue, size large! By all means place a link to wherever you wish. Kind regards,Tony