Feeds:
Posts
Comments
A late 1940s shirtwaist housedress. Illustration from Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume & Style.

Housedresses are what women used to wear when they stayed at home. They didn’t flop around in their pajamas like we do today and sweats didn’t exist yet. People, both women and men, dressed at home, casually yes, but always presentable in fear of the unexpected guest.

Usually made of cotton, housedresses were a simple drop waist in the 1920s or a shirtwaist in the 1940s. The sheath silhouette in the 60s gave way to the billowy boho housedress of the 70s. Styles changed but the purpose didn’t – something nice to wear at home while doing housework or just lounging. (Men wore khaki slacks and a polo shirt, maybe jeans.) But by the 1980s women were working outside the home and the whole idea disappeared.

That is until Pandemic Year 2020. Stuck at home for months, by summertime last year women were looking for an alternative to leggings and tunics and designers were on it – the housedress.

Check back in with ODFL tomorrow when Housedress Week continues with a post about a vintage dress turned housedress.

Housedresses of the 1930s. Image from The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish.

Made of cotton, housedresses were both washable and less expensive than business wear or clothing intended for social occasions. A woman could easily afford more than one. In fact, the average American middle-class woman in 1959 owned five housedresses, one for each weekday.

Linda Przybyszewski, history professor and author of The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (Basic Books, 2014).

It’s Housedress Week on ODFL. Come back tomorrow and read more.

We all went up and found our garment bag and unzipped it and out popped twenty identical outfits: a double breasted houndstooth pattern jacket, a matching knee length pleated skirt, a rib knit turtleneck sweater, and a black beret. And we were expected to wear black and white saddle shoes and white knee-high socks. I was miserable. This getup was going to make me look like a cow.

Betsey Johnson, American fashion designer.

This quote is from Betsey Johnson: A Memoir (Viking, 2020).

Earlier this year while searching my local library’s online catalogue, I found this memoir in audiobook format. How perfect to listen to while working on various weekend sewing projects.

Ms. Johnson is the reader and generally speaking reading is not her forte, however, she has such earnestness and enthusiasm that I can’t imagine anyone else’s voice reading her story.

The quote I’ve used is about one of the many outfits that she and the other young ladies were to wear in1964 going out and about in New York City as the summer interns at Mademoiselle magazine. Like many other women before her (Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion) Ms. Johnson won a coveted place as a junior editor.

Born in 1942 in Connecticut, Ms. Johnson wanted initially to be an artist and she studied art in college, but it was her internship at Mademoiselle that led to the right connections that led to fashion design. Always ahead of her time in style and the way she lived her life, Ms. Johnson never let anything stop her from doing what she wanted, particularly not the conventions of her generation. A can-do approach combined with a lot of luck provided her an interesting if not always a rosy life.

There are so many fascinating tidbits in this memoir, including brushes with Andy Warhol and Eddie Sedgwick; hanging out with the guys from The Velvet Underground (she even married one of them); fabric research trips around the world. She was married three times, had a baby on her own, started and ran two fashion businesses, and survived breast cancer. Additionally, any fashion historian will enjoy hearing the many details of how the industry operated back in the day.

A fun yet informative read!

My mother once told me that her best friend from her younger days went through a phase of using paper shopping bags as handbags. Not just any old paper bag! No, one from I. Magnin or Saks Fifth Avenue. How intriguing. She could afford to shop at high end department stores, but she couldn’t afford a purse?

I love the irony and I wonder if that was her intention.

Mom thought that perhaps her BF couldn’t afford the expensive purse she wanted. But having good taste, she wasn’t going to settle for less, so, to be quirky or humorous she used the paper bags she got for buying a lipstick or stockings at the the best department stores in Downtown, San Francisco.

Fast forward to now and paper shopping bags are all the rage for reuse. I see it frequently – sturdy bags used for the gym, carting around kids stuff, used as totes to take to work or on a day out. I use some of my bag collection to carry packages to the post office and they’re perfect for packing a lunch.

These days in California and elsewhere (but not NY) customers have to pay for a bag and that’s a good thing for the environment and a good opportunity to reuse some of the shopping bags we already have. Maybe even carry a really nice one as your handbag. Why not?

The tactile feeling of a lush, hand-knit sweater or an embroidered top provides a bit of comfort in an increasingly unpredictable and progressively digital world, where even socializing takes place onscreen. Sitting down with a pair of knitting needles and fluffy merino yarn sparks a deeper connection than mindless scrolling ever could.

Kristen Bateman – Contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar.

Knitting, sewing, quilting, you name it we’re doing it. Even before Pandemic 2020, crafting was on the rise as interest in commercially manufactured goods declined. People are realizing that creating their own clothing and accessories is much more fun and easier on the environment.

On weekends I stay away from my laptop and spend time working on sewing projects, knitting, embroidery or whatever inspires me. It’s a treat to create with my hands and shift my mind from working words to working yarn or fabric. (And much more satisfying than scrolling social media looking at what other people are doing.)

Recycled plastic folded and formed into a wearable garment. Issey Miyake, 2010.

What I have been trying to do, and what I have probably done, is to make clothes that seem to have existed for a long, long time. In reality they never existed. I am not a designer who creates fashionable aesthetics. I make style out of life, not style out of style.

Issey Miyake – Japanese fashion designer.

May we all find inspiration for style from everyday life.

In 2004 I attended the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. This big deal event for both published and pre-published children’s writers is held every summer in Los Angeles and attracts several hundred attendees.

Henry Winkler signing books while sporting his fabulous sport jacket. I know this is a lousy photo, but it’s the one I took that day and isn’t it great that he’s wearing a tie!

On the morning of the fourth and final day of the conference, I was standing in the middle of a long line to get a book signed when Henry Winkler walked in. Standing right in front of us, he took a look at the line, raised his arms slightly with palms out, a la The Fonz, and said, “Wow, this must be for someone important. I never get lines like this. Who is it?” He laughed and we laughed and everyone was a bit star struck by the charming Mr. Winkler. But I was also quite struck by something else – the jacket he was wearing. Not The Fonz leather jacket, actually that hangs in the Smithsonian, but a beautifully tailored sport jacket made of the finest quality fabric I’d ever seen.

I’d call the color oatmeal and it looked to be tailormade of a wool/silk blend. You know when you’re looking at quality garments. They hang right, they fit right, they speak quality. Between Mr. Winker’s humorous charm and his lovely jacket, that encounter is vivid in my mind to this day.

Did you know that Mr. Winkler writes books for kids?

He writes the Hank Zipzer series with co-author, Lin Oliver, who also is the co-founder and director of SCBWI. Hank is a little kid who has some trouble learning, but he’s funny and nice and resourceful and the books have been very successful. In fact, the BBC created a Hank Zipzer television show.

(Speaking of children’s literature, FYI May 3-9 is Children’s Book Week, when we celebrate all things related to children reading and books for kids!)

I appreciate a man who pays attention to his words and his wardrobe. Over the years I’ve seen Mr. Winkler interviewed and spotted his photo in magazines, and he has an array of beautiful sport jackets, which he likes to pair with button down shirts and sometimes a crewneck sweater.

Writing, books, and fashion – three of my favorites.

I have many of my late mother’s dresses from the 70s. Some are unraveling, but I feel close to her when I wear them around my house. There’s a red floral one that reminds me of summers in Oklahoma.

Sherri McMullen – boutique owner.

Originally from Oklahoma, Ms. McMullen owns the fashion boutique McMullen, located in downtown Oakland. Offering luxury clothing by designers from around the world, McMullen has been named among the top American boutiques by Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily.

I also own much of my mother’s clothing from the 50s to the 70s and I can relate to what Ms. McMullen is saying. These vintage pieces of fashion are woven with memories and images that connect us to our past. I think that’s of great value.

Sunday, May 9th is Mother’s Day. ODFL wishes all the moms out there a very happy day!

I have mentioned before on ODFL that in fall 2018 I ventured to Seoul, South Korea on a textiles tour. Our busy two week schedule included several workshops in traditional Korean crafts.

One such workshop was Korean embroidery, taught by a young and very talented embroiderer in her studio. I had never done any embroidery before but, on a sunny Saturday afternoon five of us sat around a small table and got to work. First we drew a flower design onto a swatch of red silk fabric. Then we stretched the fabric not on a round embroidery hoop, but instead a square wood frame. Stretch tight and keep in place with thumbtacks – that was sort of tricky.

We had two hours to finish and that wasn’t enough time for me; I am quite slow when learning something new and by the end of the workshop my eyes were sore and I was ready to call it a day. I stuffed the fabric into my bag, thinking that probably that was the end of embroidery for me. However, the next year I took an embroidery class at San Francisco School of Needlework & Design, which helped to ease my feelings of inadequacy when it comes to needlework.

Fast forward to Pandemic 2020 and one day while sorting through my fabric stash I came across the unfinished embroidery piece. I spontaneously decided to finish what I had started and in no time, I was done. I made a button out of it and added a pinback, which turned it into a brooch. I wear it on a coat I had made and the red nicely picks up the coat’s red accent stitching.

What a surprise to create something out of what I had (mistakenly) dismissed.

Beverly Cleary, circa 1935.

… I unpacked my meager wardrobe: two woolen dresses, one brown serge and the other navy blue, the fabric cut from bolts of cloth that had lain for years on shelves in my grandfather’s general merchandise store … A skirt from a remnant, another that I had made from a pair of my father’s old gray pants. I had cut them off at the pockets, ripped the seams, washed and turned the fabric, which was perfectly good on the wrong side, and made myself a four-gored skirt to wear with a pink sweater I had knitted. A couple of cotton dresses; a bathing suit; a badly made skirt and jacket left over from high school; my precious bias-cut cream-colored satin formal, which made me feel like I was slinking around like Jean Harlow in the movies …

Beverly Cleary (1916-1921), American children’s literature author.

This quote is from Ms. Cleary’s memoir, My Own Two Feet (Morrow Junior Books, 1995).

I truly enjoy sartorial detail like this in a memoir.

At the height of the Depression, 1934, Ms. Cleary moved from her small hometown in Oregon to Ontario, CA to attend Chaffey Junior College. In those days, most people didn’t have big wardrobes. Nor did they toss away clothing like it was a used Starbucks cup. Clothing was kept and mended, altered, and refashioned. My great grandmother, who was a whiz at the sewing machine, made all of her daughters’ clothing, and anticipating future alterations, she always allowed for generous seams and hems.

Ms. Cleary’s sewing talents and thrift would be much appreciated today as we struggle to fight climate change while trying to find a path to sustainable fashion. I think one place to start is with this old goodie: Make do and mend!