Whatever Happened To The Ubiquitous House Dress?

As you might know, House Crazy Sarah likes to lounge around her house in fuzzy pajamas. When she does housework or walks the dogs, she wears old sweats with bleach stains and fraying hems.

But there was a time not so long ago, when our grandmothers and even our mothers, wore only dresses around the house.

1940s and 1950s house dresses

And out in public…

the classic house dress

Oh how far we have come (or fallen, depending on your point of view).

It was only a couple of generations ago when women did not wear pants. Pants were for men, and dresses were for women. Period.

the classic house dress

For formal occasions, women wore fancier designs made of silk, rayon, or wool. But, for everyday wear out in public or around the house, it was the ubiquitous cotton house dress.

the classic house dress

Back in the Victorian era, long, full-body covering dresses were the only acceptable attire, even for doing housework.

Victorian house dress

But by the Roaring ‘Twenties, fashions and tastes had changed toward the more progressive and shorter hemlines were in.

vintage house dress

By the Great Depression, necessity and practicality drove women to wear their daily house dresses out in public to do errands.

By the 1950’s, the classic house dress – paired with white gloves and heels – was the quintessential uniform of women in the western world.

vintage house dress

the classic house dress

These dresses were designed both for fashion and comfort.

vintage house dress

classic house dresses

The dresses may have been comfy, but could you imagine doing all the housework in high heels?

vintage house dress

vintage house dress

And why were the women always smiling in these photos of them doing housework?

vintage house dress

Notice how in some photos there is a paternalistic man looking on…

vintage house dress

vintage house dress

Don’t forget the pearls!

classic 1950s house dress

Second wave feminism of the 1960′ and ’70’s ensured that pants became culturally acceptable and widely popular attire for women.

women's pants in the 1960's

It’s good that times have evolved.

people wearing pajamas at Wal-mart

…Or is it?    😉







7 thoughts on “Whatever Happened To The Ubiquitous House Dress?

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  1. Hi: I loved this. They are definitely a fashion relic of a bygone time. My Italian grandmother/paternal often wore house dresses…she called them house coats actually and preferred the ones that snapped up the front, they were usually floral and she loved pink/prints the best. I know they carried them and often tried to buy them for her at Jordan Marsh — a now defunct Boston department store. Jordan’s rival to Filene’s also had a basement, with mark downs and also merchandise that let’s just say was not as trendy ended up in the basement departments rather than the street or upper floors. I remember trying to buy one as late as the early 90’s and got a gift receipt so she could take it back, she was infamous for that for all gifts, the other being in clothes category sweater cardigans/usually black. If you remember Cindy Crawford on House of Style/MTV’s style/fashion/mix mash show, she once had Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran go out to a shopping mall somewhere out in the LA suburbs, this was late 1980’s/early 90’s and go shopping in a department store there as sort of joke. I think it was Burdines/or Dillards or one of the other west coast chains that is no longer/Macy’s bought up and digested (along with Jordan’s and Filene’s). I think it was supposed to be all funny/ironic but they were looking at frilly floral house dresses and the sales lady, probably older in her 50’s, had no clue who they were, said they were: “breakfast coats” to wear before you actually got dressed, while you had coffee, did your nails, hair etc. It was very surreal.

  2. Why were the women smiling in photos of them doing housework? Propaganda.

    I do like dresses, though, and wouldn’t mind a few of these for around the house (minus the heels and pearls, thanks).

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