When I think about my childhood, Grandma was a big part of it. And in my mind’s eye she’s wearing a house dress. Are you familiar with that term?
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My mom generally wore jeans, casual slacks or shorts around the house but Grandma was always in a house dress. Lightweight, cotton, easily washed – house dresses were the ultimate in practicality. We lived in the desert of Southern California where it is often hot so these cool dresses were no doubt the most comfortable option for at-home wear. Grandma spent her days doing housework, cooking, watering (a daily chore in the dry desert), and taking care of the many grandchildren in and out of her house all day. She often had an apron on over her dress, as well.
Much as I adored my grandmother and admired her greatly, I’ll be the first to admit that she wasn’t stylish. Her appearance was neat and tidy but there were no frills. Her hair was often held in place by a hairnet, she wore no makeup and the only jewelry she wore around the house was the plain wedding band which Grandpa had paid $3 for.
Grandma didn’t drive and Grandpa even did the grocery shopping. Other than church on Sundays and Wednesday evenings, Grandma rarely went anywhere. She had some “good clothes” but most of the time she was in a house dress.
There were two basic types of house dresses:
- A loose-fitting, rather boxy style which zipped or snapped up the front – This is what she would wear first thing in the morning to water the trees, roses and other outdoor plants.
- A more fitted style which she would change into and wear for the rest of the day. She often had an apron on over this, especially when in the kitchen.
Grandma’s house dresses weren’t cute – she would have probably called them “serviceable” – but they were clean and pressed. She used Downy fabric softener and often hung her wash on a clothesline so they smelled wonderful. But fashionable? Not in the least.
That’s likely why I’ve never really considered the idea of house dresses for myself. Until recently, that is.
What made me change my mind about house dresses:
I actually do prefer wearing skirts or dresses and find them cooler and more comfortable than pants. My usual warm-weather “uniform” is a mid-calf or longer skirt with a tank top and Birkenstock sandals. I have several cute skirts and this is what I normally wear in the summer. I have dressier versions for church and dinners out; more casual ones for everyday wear.
However, there are many days when I don’t leave the house and I’d gotten into the yoga-pants-and-camisole-with-no-bra thing. Which is only slightly better than pajama pants or sweats, neither of which I own.
Then a couple of weeks ago I decided I needed a swimsuit coverup before our trip to California. Unfortunately it arrived the day after we left on the trip. But my daughter and I went swimming together last week so I had a chance to wear it. This is the one I had bought:
I chose it because it was inexpensive and I love the colors. What I didn’t realize when I ordered it was that I’d found my version of a house dress.
After returning home from our swim, the dress was still a little damp from my swimsuit so I hung it on a hook in our bathroom to dry overnight. The next morning, when I saw it hanging there, I threw it on instead of yoga pants or one of the two maxi dresses I have which are cut in such a way that I can wear them without a bra (at home, only!).
It was really hot that day but the dress was SO cool and comfortable. And I have to admit that the pretty colors were a nice change from my usual mostly-black wardrobe.
That’s when I decided I needed more of these dresses in my life. At less than $25 each I didn’t even feel guilty for ordering four more. David is always trying to get me to buy more clothes anyway.
I can throw on one of these dresses in the morning, pull my hair up in a ponytail or casual bun, put on a little makeup and cute earrings, and then go about my usual day at home. I can work on my blog or other desk work, clean house, walk Shiloh, do light gardening, cook and all the other things I do during a normal day at home, all the while being cool and comfortable. I won’t be wearing these to town but if someone shows up at the house unexpectedly I won’t have to be embarrassed about my appearance.
While I’m never one to leave the house in ratty clothes or with no makeup, I’ve become a bit lax about things at home when I know I won’t see anyone but David. But that’s something I’d like to change. David knows I’m busy and doesn’t expect me to be all dressed up like I’m going out on the town but I’m sure he’d appreciate coming home to a wife who has made at least a bit of an effort to look attractive. Even if I’m still in one of my new house dresses when he comes home, that will be better than yoga pants. I think we, as a society, have become a bit too casual so I’m going to up my game a bit.
Update: It’s now a few years past the time I wrote this post and thought I’d show you the style of dress I’m now wearing much of the time. I have it in several colors and get compliments all the time. And notice…it has pockets!
History of the House Dress:
I did some research while writing this post and found several really interesting links.
The House Dress: A Humble History – In addition to the post itself which includes pictures of vintage house dress patterns, I recommend reading the comments, too. There’s some fascinating information, insights and memories shared.
1930s House Dresses – A detailed look at the house dresses of the ’30s. Some of these are actually pretty cute!
Homage to the humble house dress – Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks we should bring back the house dress.
Housedresses defined women after a fashion – A brief overview of the house dress and factors contributing to its demise
And then there’s this book which is now in my Amazon wishlist:
What do you think of the idea of house dresses? Are they something you would consider wearing? If not, what is your preferred at-home clothing?
Update: The Daily Connoisseur has taken up this topic, too. Let’s see what Jennifer has to say on the topic:
And what about winter? I’ve got you covered. Literally.