What’s back? House dresses are back! You remember house dresses, right? I distinctly recall my mother and my grandmother wearing house dresses typically on weekdays and possibly on Saturday, but never on Sunday.

Fulltime homemakers dominated the 1940’s and 1950’s landscape with a lifestyle that centered around home and family. They sent their husbands off to work in the morning and spent the rest of the day managing the household, doing chores, running errands, tending to children, and still had dinner on the table at day’s end.

At that time, the type of clothing women wore, and when they wore it, was strictly governed by social protocols. As a child, I had school clothes, Sunday clothes and play clothes. As an adult, typically work clothes were also added to the closet. The customs regulating appropriate dress, like never to wear white after Labor Day, were firmly established and instilled in those midcentury family members.

House dresses have actually been around since the late 1800s. Also known as morning or day dresses, women wore them primarily when performing routine chores around the home and sometimes when going out on quick errands. They were of simple design without embellishment, made from easy-care fabrics that allowed ease of movement regardless of the task being performed. Print materials like gingham, plaids, and stripes were most popular, followed by polka dots and paisley. By the early 20th century, house dresses were a necessary part of every homemaker’s wardrobe. The dresses were easily acquired through mail-order catalogues or sewn at home by purchasing fabrics and patterns from an assortment of popular styles. Despite being called “informal” garments, the dresses were designed to be practical but also stylish and they were priced to be affordable.

The 1960’s saw a major boom in the country’s workforce and the beginning of a sharp shift in social trends as more and more housewives in search of careers outside of the home, joined the business community. The trend gained momentum throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s and continues today. Eventually, fulltime housewives became the minority and house dresses a thing of the past – until Covid 19!

The arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S. initially required a large part of the population to hunker down at home until the danger passed. Confined to quarters, people gradually became homebodies. Many worked from home, others found things to do around the house. As folks came to depend on video chats as a main source of communication, dressing habits began to fall by the wayside. Attending an early morning meeting from the home office via Zoom doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable at your desk wearing pajama bottoms and bedroom slippers. Why not dress comfortably in your own home – especially when spending so much time in it?

The return of such comfortable dresses was heralded by a new brand name, Nap Dress, registered as a trademark in 2021 in the U.S. by Hill House Home. The company’s website describes the brand as its signature dress and says it is “soft, comfortable, and pretty enough to wear all day and night.”

Some fans of the look insist that house dresses have become an internet sensation, much like in the days of mail order catalogues. Several platforms carry the style but not all the dresses meet the original house dress criteria from prior decades.

Vintage house dresses were meant to be worn while doing housework. No frugal woman would willingly risk wearing her best Sunday dress to scrub the bathtub. House dresses were constructed of materials that were washable. They were made to be worn and washed over and over – until they gave out. And they were affordable!

Some dresses exceed that reasonable price point. While the more expensive dresses are very cute and very stylish, the fabrics used may not be very stain-resistant or very conducive to multiple washings. And would this more expensive dress be appropriate to wear while mopping the kitchen floor or weeding the garden, perhaps risking its ruin? Luckily, there are several websites where you may purchase reasonably priced, authentic house dresses online. They may also be found in some of the larger,brick-and-mortar department stores as well. 

Before the coronavirus came to stay, house dresses were still worn in some rural areas of the country, notably among the farming communities where a family’s workplace is also their home. Their resurgence is yet another unforeseen, indirect consequence of post-coronavirus life as people looked for creature comforts while spending lengthy periods of time at home. But, in the world of fashion, rebirth is inevitable, so it really was only a matter of time. Wouldn’t it be great if those patent leather, ankle-high, white go-go boots came back next?

Sharon is a freelance photojournalist and a proud “Bay” Boomer from Anne Arundel County.  Contact Sharon via email at [email protected].

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Sharon is a writer/photographer and a proud “Bay” Boomer from Anne Arundel County and can be contacted at [email protected]