Official Uniform: Members of the Food Administration, 1917

Article explaining the need for food conservation in World War I, LHJ, Sept. 1917.

Article explaining the need for food conservation in World War I, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Linda Przybyszewski’s The Lost Art of Dress (after reading several very favorable reviews, including this one from The Vintage Traveler). I had barely started reading the book when I found a paragraph on page 4 about the importance of home economists to the war effort in World War I:

“With the help of the home economists, the US Food Administration recruited some 750,000 women to help teach the rest of America’s women about food conservation . . . .  The recruits got a pin, a badge, and a pattern for an apron. The white apron was named after Herbert Hoover, who was then head of the Food Adminstration. The Hoover apron’s claim to design fame was that it completely wrapped around your dress and protected it from spills, opening in the front with a large overlap. . . .”

“I’ve seen one of those,” I thought. And here it is, from Ladies’ Home Journal, September, 1917.

The Official Badge and Uniform of Members of the Food Administration of the United States, WW I. From an official article in Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

The Official Badge and Uniform of Members of the Food Administration of the United States, WW I. From an official article in Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

“. . . .Since it could overlap in either direction, you could wear it twice as long as a regular apron before it was too filthy to wear. It was practical, and sort of disgusting, but it became a popular design.  Renamed “Hooverettes” or “bungalow aprons,” done up in perky prints with ruffles at the neck and sleeves, they were sold in stores as dresses over the next two decades.” — Linda Przybyszewski, The Lost Art of Dress, p. 4.

Przybyszewski cites an article by Joan Sullivan from Dress 26, “In Pursuit of Legitimacy:  Home Economists and the Hoover Apron in World War I,” which I have not read. It’s available from The Costume Society of America.

I’ll print the picture of the uniform again,  in two sections, so the text and details will be more legible:

lhj 1917 sept p 27 Food uniform top 500 w

lhj 1917 sept p 27 Food uniform btm 500 dpi wIn spite of Dr. Przybyszewski’s description, the official apron was not white, but “of blue chambray.”  The fact that the pieces all “open out flat” for ironing must have been a great point in its favor, like the removeable cuffs.  Notice that “any woman who signs the Hoover pledge is entitled to wear” this uniform. The Hoover Pledge appeared in the August Ladies’ Home Journal and other women’s magazines. lhj 1917 aug woman and war hoover pledgeHere are the rules these women were agreeing to follow: lhj 1917 aug woman and war 500 hoover asks box

Boxes explaining the food conservation rules appeared in many articles in the Ladies' Home Journal. Aug. 1917 .

Wartime illustrations explaining the food conservation rules appeared throughout the Ladies’ Home Journal. Aug. 1917 .

American women had been reading about the sacrifices made by European women during the twenty months that passed before the United States entered the war. The women’s magazines showed pictures of women in uniform in England, of women filling previously male occupations, and American women were eager to do their part. Judging from the fashion illustrations and patterns available, they were also depressingly eager to wear uniforms, or clothing that looked like uniforms, as if one couldn’t volunteer to host a war relief fund-raiser until dressed like a pseudo soldier.

Butterick patterns for women and teens, Delineator, August 1917.

Butterick patterns for women and teens, Delineator, August 1917.

Aprons and House Dresses

A

A “Hoover apron,” 1917.

It’s a little surprising to modern eyes to see this all-covering, sleeved garment described as an apron, but the distinction between aprons and house dresses remained blurry into the 1920s.  The “Hoover apron” was very similar to these 1917 house dresses from Butterick — dresses which preceded the Food Administration uniform:

Butterick House Dress pattern, June 1917.  Delineator.

Butterick House Dress pattern, June 1917. Delineator.

Butterick patterns, January 1917.  From left, a negligee, a house dress, a wrap house dress, and a negligee. From Delineator magazine..

Butterick patterns, January 1917. From left, a negligee, a house dress, a wrap house dress, and a negligee. From Delineator magazine.

However, in the 1920s, aprons that we would call dresses, and which pulled on over the head, appeared equally with sleeveless aprons that primarily covered the front of the body.

Two Butterick aprons, 1924. #5156, left, is dress-like; #5096, right, is recognizably an apron.

Two Butterick aprons, 1924. #5156, left, is dress-like; #5096, right, is recognizably an apron.

[For those who do not remember the house dress, it was a dress — often with pockets — that was easy to launder and was worn while doing housework. Even in the 1940s, no woman with pretensions to the middle class would wear a house dress outside her own yard. In 1917, they were also called “porch dresses.”]

Butterick patterns from February 1924. The flowered garment is called an apron. The wrap dress on the right is a house dress.

Butterick patterns from February 1924. Center:  Apron #5026. Right: House dress #5043.

The floral garment in the center is described as an apron. The wrap dress on the right is a “house dress.” Perhaps some women would have called them Hooverettes?

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6 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uniforms and Work Clothes, World War I

6 responses to “Official Uniform: Members of the Food Administration, 1917

  1. Thanks especially for that clear explanation of “apron” and “house dress.” It can be very confusing! Wouldn’t it have been much more practical if those big cuffs weren’t white?

  2. The popular Swirl wrap house dress was originally described as an apron, and that was in 1940.

    My mother the nurse always claimed that the white accessories were a diabolical plot by the hospital admins. to keep the nurses busy! Actually, I think it had something to do with the appearance of hygiene.

  3. Pingback: More About Wrap Dresses | witness2fashion

  4. Pingback: American Red Cross Service Uniforms, 1917 | witness2fashion

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  6. Pingback: McCall Fashions for January 1918 | PatternVault

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