House dresses did have some of the same identifying features as a waitress or maid’s uniform with large pockets and the closure down the front. What distinguished them was the variety of pretty printed fabrics and trims. Some of the earlier styles wrapped around the body and tied similar to an apron. The 1950’s version of this was referred to as the Swirl dress.
|Vint Condition Swirl BC Treasure Trove Swirl|
Leave it to the movie industry though to glamorize the humble house dress. Think of Sophia Loren in a number of films including “Two Women” with Jean-Paul Belmondo for which she won an Academy Award. Granted, she could wear anything and look voluptuous but you know how movie stars set trends.
|Sophia Loren in "Two Women"|
Women’s roles and lifestyles were changing as well and becoming more demanding. The line between what one wore in the home and the more formal attire outside it was blurring as was the need to change clothes just to go to the supermarket.
There’s no lack of dress designers today to choose from and an increasing number are focusing on the simplicity and ease of the original house dress. One, Maelle Vintage Dresses, is a company with a shop in Toronto and an online store on Etsy. Sweden-born designer My Johansson-Ganjoo bases her dress designs on “an idea of renewing the past, reviving timeless looks and creating a contemporary expression with a strong vintage sensibility.”
Or you can buy off-the-rack at Archerie in New York City and online. Designer Jillian Grano is “inspired by a time when jeans were not an option and being a woman meant wearing dresses.” It’s the one article of clothing that identifies us as women and accentuates one of our best features – our legs.
Jillian believes women became uncomfortable wearing dresses and didn’t liked the way they looked. She accredits this partially to the clothing and retail industries' need to find some economies of scale with their ready to wear fashions. They resorted to cheaper fabrics and discontinued tailoring. (Archerie provides free alterations and also does custom work.) Jillian creates her own designs and specially selects her fabrics but she professes to be selling her philosophy and not fashion.
Even the old standby catalog company J. Peterman Company is into vintage styles.
|J. Peterman Company dresses|
Archerie and Maelle’s designs are simple yet unique but they’re not your mother’s house dress. If you are looking for authenticity, Blog for Better Sewing and Burda Style are two blogs that have both researched the house dress and vintage sewing patterns and some are even still available.
|Posh Girl Vintage dresses|
I have to say there’s something very appealing about this simple and efficient approach to one-step dressing. Pluck one item from your closet and you’re ready to go, especially if that item is chic and retro all by itself. No separates to pull together into an outfit. Think of all the time we could save.
Some of you may already have a dress or two - vintage or not - that you wear as your uniform. Share a photo of it on our Second Lives Club Facebook page and tell us a little something about it if you will. And if you know of a store - online or offline - that sells perfect little house dresses, please share in the comments below. Let's bring back the house/work/school/wedding/street dress. We may need a new name. Too bad Miracle Dress is already taken!