Homage to the humble house dress

house_dress_fixedI know you’re out there, laughing derisively at the topic of today’s post but I kind of, sort of, only halfway care. And maybe today’s entry is proof positive I’ve taken leave of my senses but you never know, I could be on to the next big thing. Namely, house dresses.

On Sunday, better half and I went to an estate sale around the corner from our house. I used to be addicted to these to the extent I needed professional help but these days, my occasional foray amounts to prurient nosiness. Riffling through my former neighbor’s things amounts to a social survey of where we were and how far we’ve progressed -or not as the case may be. I was oddly attracted to a house dress which I didn’t even buy at the time. I liked the cheerful print, the sorts of prints quilters buy but I never have a use for. It had a full facing that folded into a revers neckline in front. The pockets were trimmed to the same effect. I woke up from my nap later in the afternoon knowing I had to have it and dashed off to get it for a token fifty cents.

I wore it for the rest of the day, convinced it was a superior garment for being so practical. Comfy, loose and with iphone sized pockets, what else could a girl want? To be sure it had problems. The armhole was too low, it was horizontal to the fullest part of the bust meaning I could scarce raise my arms. I pinned it at the shoulders and it was better. Then I brought it to work and threw it on a dress form, how would it look with a bit of shaping? Nothing drastically form fitting, just a little darting to make it look less a maternity top. Shown at right is the improved version with the shoulder line raised. Now it’s almost sporty looking.

Now this is my big idea and secret so don’t tell anyone. With the dramatic increase in retro apron popularity with SAHMs, maybe house dresses are the next big thing? I can envision all kinds of vintage details (cute and cuter!) used in these dresses that I wouldn’t have the guts to wear normally. I don’t have the personality to wear these well but I could enjoy them in a house dress. It would also give me an excuse to do more than sigh when walking by all those gorgeous quilting fabrics at the store. I could actually buy some yardage! And sew it into something! This would be a radical departure from my usual policy. Namely, purchasing motivated by pity; I give homeless fabric a nice place to live where it can remain safely intact but I wouldn’t go so far to say that buying would necessarily imply sewing but it could be a start.

Curious about this mainstay of Americana housewife apparel, I did a search. Housedress.com was taken since 1998, forward thinking that one, but hip house dress was available (panderous appeal to hip SAHMs who love retro aprons). It turns out there’s a book about them, The House Dress: A Story of Eroticism and Fashion. The text description reads:

The idea of the house dress is closely related to the concept of housework and domesticity. At the same time, it is distinguished by not being a uniform, thanks in particular to the decorations of the fabric. Starting in the late 1940s, a whole series of movies contributed to its image through a gallery of remarkable female characters, the latest of which is Pedro Almodovar’s film Volver, with a female lead who is equipped with a wardrobe full of beautifully ornamented house dresses. After taking into account its distinctive and expressive features, author Elda Danese traces the circumstances that led to the success and the worldwide use of the house dress over a period spanning from the 1920s to the present.

I also looked for a few samples online and priced them. It seems I’m the only one who suspects these are the next hot fashion item. Has no one considered that with the economy as it is, these could be big? Big I tell you! Prices here range from $36-$48. Another site, nursing home apparel has them for $24 and the styles were about as appealing as the url. Continuing with my search, I discovered that house dresses have even been used in the commission of crime, perish the thought. Mom? Stealing beer smuggled out under her house dress between her thighs? It happened. The horror of it all. Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t publicise that. It wouldn’t help the image of my soon to be burgeoning retro house dress empire.

House dress has a younger kid sister. Her name is patio dress. Many look exactly like house dresses but judging from styles online, she’s usually a bit longer. Apparently, patio dress has been rumored to be the next fashion item. Even Neiman’s sells them. In addition, these are also called dusters and were -get this- patented in 1964. Amazing. I thought it was only recently that people attempted to file frivolous patents.

So maybe I’m being silly or showing my age that such things are starting to appeal to me -my mother’s clothes are looking better to me every year- but who knows? Seriously, considering the economy and a resurgence of interest in home making and dressing the part, these could become more popular. They might even leave the house to be worn on the street. I can’t imagine anyone could make a go of selling finished dresses at existing price points but maybe people would buy the patterns to make them. Done well, would you make and wear one? What do you think?

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  1. Odile says:

    The 90 degree heat we’re having day after day makes me crave something comfortable to wear, without being shorts and a tank top. There are places where shorts and tank tops simply won’t do. I googled housedress and came across your blog.

    A few caveats: Quilting cotton will require ironing after each wash, otherwise it is a hopeless wrinkled mess. Taking out an iron and ironing board in this heat? Central air conditioning or not, it isn’t going to happen! I’ll curl up with an ice pick or a mimosa instead!

    The muumuu shapes and the zip front styles scream “nursing home,” as do cutesy appliques. Gaack!

    My current alternatives to shorts/tank tops are tee shirt dresses. However, after checking on Etsy for housedresses, some of the vintage ones are reasonably attractive, attractive enough to run to the supermarket or post office, that is, or take the kids to the park.

  2. Paula Sachs says:

    On my mind lots of the time… since, when I come home from work I want to throw on an easily worn:comfortable, non-binding: stretchy … hip… as opposed to muu muu style of thing, that I could even run out and buy a quart of milk with… THEY DO NOT EXIST. I HAVE SEARCHED EVERYWHERE.

    I like the style as above and the fabric look but alas no stretch… hummm…

  3. I want to point out that Vogue 8813 is Marcy Tilton’s version of a French woman’s housecoat. I like it because it is attractive and interesting without being revealing or sexy.

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