close up of baby wearing floral print pink smocked tulle bodysuit dress

Smocked Baby Dresses Then & Now

By: Brooke Hamilton


Smocked baby dresses remain popular in today's fashion trends. But the smocked look is hardly a "trend." This centuries-old technique has been used in fashion since perhaps the Middle Ages, evolving through the times and now placing itself as a timeless look for girls and women's apparel.

Here, we define this timeless trend, discuss how it has evolved over time, and how smocked patterns are used in baby and women's fashion today.

History of Smocked Embroidery

According to, smocking is defined as "a decorative embroidery or shirring made by gathering cloth in regularly spaced round tucks." They suggest that the first known use of the word was in 1888, though other sources state that this embroidery technique was used much earlier than that.

Originally, this technique was developed by the British to stitch fabrics in a way so that they would stretch. Elastic did not exist, so it was often used in lieu of buttons and seen at necklines, cuffs, and bodices. It was usually worn by workers because it gave garments a comfortable stretch.

The Evolution of Smocked Dresses

Smocking gained popularity in the 18th century, and it continued to evolve to be used in baby and women's clothing. Looking back across the 20th century, we can see it used in traditional baby gowns from the 1920s to darling jumpsuits and vintage baby dresses in the 1980s.

Of course, with the invention of elastic, smocking was no longer needed to make clothing stretchy. The technique moved from pure function to more as a decoration on clothing. Designers began experimenting with different kinds of smocked stitches to create different patterns, and they even added cute picture embroidery.

Typically seen at the bodice or the collar, the picture embroidery added fun details to baby outfits. Flowers, holiday-inspired motifs, and classic baby toys, like blocks and teddy bears, were embroidered in contrasting colors onto the shirt.

Modern Smocked Baby Dresses

These retro-inspired, smocked baby dresses are still popular today in the 21st century. Many modern moms love the nostalgia these vintage dresses bring and continue to dress their babies and toddlers in them for special events.

But what about parents who don't love vintage baby clothes or retro-inspired looks? Thankfully, there is still a place for the smocking technique in modern fashion.

Despite the evolution of fabrics and elastics, the smocked stitch continues to be used in modern designs. As its original purpose, it gives clothing extra stretch and typically a more flattering and comfortable fit.

Modern Details

At Posh Peanut, we put a modern twist on the smocked baby dress. Instead of puffed sleeves and Peter Pan collars, our baby girl dresses feature darling design details that make our dresses and bodysuits unique!

And though we don't use cute picture embroidery, they come in bold, whimsical patterns and bright colors that you and your little peanut will love. You can find smocked stitching on several of our baby and toddler girl dresses, as well as rompers and jumpsuits! The stitching gives these styles an adorable look while keeping your little one snug and comfortable.

There's no denying that vintage smocked baby dresses are adorable and have withstood the test of time. But if that's not a look you love, Posh Peanut has you covered. We've modernized the smocked baby dress with cute bows, soft tulle, and plenty of ruffles. We also updated the fabric from cotton to viscose from bamboo.

Modern Fabric

Instead of cotton, which can feel stiff, our viscose from bamboo material is buttery-soft. It is also 4x stretchier than cotton, so it moves and stretches with your growing little one. Machine washable and designed not to shrink or fade in the wash, it's no wonder why viscose from bamboo is such a popular choice among parents.

Perhaps one of our favorite things about this fabric is that it falls and drapes beautifully, giving each piece an elegant feel. In our expert opinion, it makes the perfect twirly dress!

Final Thoughts

From the Middle Ages to the 21st century, the smocked stitching technique has undoubtedly made its mark on fashion history. This timeless trend continues to make waves in children's and women's apparel today. Whether in retro styles or modern-day looks, smocked baby dresses are here to stay!

Posh Peanut offers an array of smocked baby dress styles, from tulle to tiered and cute baby bodysuits. We also have a cute sleeveless smocked bubble romper that's perfect for summer. Shop for new arrivals every Thursday, and subscribe to our emails so you never miss a new smocked style!