Tag Archives: house dress

More About Wrap Dresses

Simplicity wrap dress pattern #5449, 1964. Photo: RememberedSummers.

Simplicity wrap dress pattern #5449, 1964. Photo: RememberedSummers.

As often happens, a comment on one post — about the Official Uniform of the Food Administration in 1917 — led me to some new information.  The Vintage Traveler mentioned the “Swirl” dress of the 1940s, which was also a wrap dress, perhaps a direct descendant of the “Hooverette” wrapped apron dress. According to Fuzzie Lizzie, the Swirl dress dates back to 1944. Visit her fascinating and well-illustrated article by clicking here.

That reminded me of other wrap dress patterns — more like house dresses than the “uptown”  Diane von Furstenberg knitted jersey dresses that were ubiquitous in the seventies and are still with us today. There’s no doubt that the wrap dress, which preceded the Herbert Hoover wrapped apron dress, is a style with longevity!

Ladies' Home Journal Apron Pattern #1135, November 1917.

Ladies’ Home Journal Apron Pattern #1135, November 1917.

This wrap-around apron from 1917 closes with buttons, rather than ties. So does the 1952 version below.

Butterick B4790 Retro 1952 Pattern

Butterick B4790 Retro '52 pattern. Photo courtesy of RememberedSummers.

Butterick B4790 Retro ’52 pattern. Photo courtesy of RememberedSummers.

This wrap dress, like the “swirl” dresses that preceded it, looks ready to wear out of the house. It has a button fastening, rather than a tie. It’s a long way from the Ethel Mertz look. [Vivian Vance, who played Ethel, was contractually required to look more dowdy than Lucille Ball.]  A copy of a 1952 Butterick pattern, the envelope shows the dress open and laid out flat.

Butterick B4790 unfastened and laid out flat.

Butterick B4790 unfastened and laid out flat.

It looks like the wearer of this wrap dress would be well covered, avoiding a very embarrassing — and ass baring — experience I had with a 1960s back wrap skirt, which blew open while I was walking down a busy commercial street. I didn’t realize what was happening until cars started honking at me. Lesson learned:  never wear a wrap dress that doesn’t wrap all the way to the side on the underlap!

Simplicity Pattern #5449, dated 1964

Photo: RememberedSummers.

Photo: RememberedSummers.

To me, the bias binding on dresses like this one put them more in the “apron” family than in the housedress family. I have strong memories of bias bound dresses at the local dime store. They were usually made of very cheap fabric, heavily sized, and they turned limp and cheap-looking after their first washing. However, Simplicity # 5449 could be made of a good quality cotton fabric, and the envelope says that the “dress front laps to back fastening with tie ends,” so it would cover the wearer completely, fore and aft, even in a high wind.

Construction details of Simplicity #5449. RememberedSummers.

Construction details of Simplicity #5449. RememberedSummers.

Simplicity Pattern #8278, dated 1969

Simplicity pattern 8278 dated 1969. Photo courtesy of RememberedSummers.

Simplicity pattern 8278 dated 1969. Photo courtesy of RememberedSummers.

This wrap dress from 1969 couldn’t possibly be mistaken for an apron or a housedress. It can also be made as a tunic and worn over flared trousers. But that’s the only way I would have worn it, because the back of the pattern shows that the front pieces are symmetrical.

Simplicity #8278 pattern back. Photo by RememberedSummers on EBay.

Simplicity #8278 pattern back. Photo by RememberedSummers on EBay.

When you sit down, this kind of wrap dress pulls open and exposes your knees and usually some underwear.  Of course, a good dressmaker could alter the pattern and extend the skirt underlap to the side seam, and tie or button it in place, but I didn’t have that kind of patience or expertise in 1969.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Uncategorized, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage patterns, Women in Trousers

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

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

Who Would Ever Guess?

Companion-Butterick Triad pattern #6948, 1936

Companion-Butterick Triad pattern #6948, 1936

These Are Maternity Dresses from 1936

Woman's Home Companion, August 1936

Illustration by Ernst. Woman’s Home Companion, August 1936

I look at those slim 1930s hips, those flat 1930s bellies, and, even after reading the full text, it’s hard to imagine how these dresses expanded to cover the ninth month of pregnancy.

However, it’s important to remember that women did try to conceal their pregnancies as long as possible in this time period.

How to Look Smart Before the Baby Comes

1936 aug p 62 maternity pattern 6948 dress jacketThe text says “You can be just as smartly dressed as ever and perhaps a little prettier than usual in a maternity wardrobe that is well-chosen and carefully planned.  All you need as a guide is Triad Pattern No. 6948.  The style is a straight concealing wrap-around with three flattering necklines and a separate jacket.  One version is your afternoon dress of dark pure silk with a soft shirred blouse and pastel collars.  The second dress of sheer wool has a more tailored look with a squared-off button bib.   The third gives you a simple and attractive house dress of sanforized shrunk cotton.  Add to these essentials comfortable kid oxfords, soft all-Lastex brassieres, one of the special new adjustable elastic girdles and underwear that is wrap-around or two sizes larger that usual. Be sure that your coat has a wide lap-over and your hat a becoming brim.  You’ll be surprised to find how well you look.”

1936 aug p 62 closup back 6948 back tiesThe back views of pattern #6948 show that all three versions tied with a sash behind, and there is a deep pleat or fold of material which presumably could be released to expand the dress as needed. (I wish there was a pattern layout illustration! Exactly how it worked is not very clear, since the fold seems to run up into the bodice only on the dress at left.)

A Lane Bryant Maternity Dress, 1934

This 1934 catalog from the Lane Bryant company, which had pioneered maternity clothing in 1904, shows that Companion-Butterick patterns were not alone in designing clothes which expanded only from the back and tried to look as much as possible like normal fashions for as long as possible. “Designed to conceal condition. . . .”1934 march p 80 lane bryant maternity catalogFashion-incubator.com discusses the early Lane Bryant Maternity catalogs and how they handled sizing — ingeniously!

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Filed under 1930s, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Maternity clothes