A stepchild of fashion, the humble house dress has been worn in one form or another for centuries. When women's fashionable gowns were silk, this was even more so. Wearing 'wash dresses' of cotton calico allowed mothers and maids to get their chores done, while wearing something cool, comfortable, and easy to launder.
This little catalog illustration is from 1928 and shows a simple to sew house dress pattern at a time when home sewing was on the upswing in a growing suburban culture.
During the second World War, innovations in apparel were developed to assist the working woman, and conserve textile use. Function was a high priority. In 1942, Claire McCardell patented a front wrap house dress that had an adjustable button waistband, patch pocket and a serviceable silhouette, called the "Pop Over" dress.
Following World War II, a flood of changes affected fashion. The availability of fabrics, both natural and synthetic soared. Add to this the availability of the zipper that had been restricted during the war years. The use of zippers in women's apparel become popular during the 1930's, but the war put a stop to that. Afterwards, the zipper became a 'must have' element in all apparel.
During the late 1940's and through the 1950's, zipper use was at an all time high, as women happily abandoned their buttons for the convenience of a zipper. The cotton house dress above with a "Nip'N'Tuck" label, sports a sweetheart neckline and pockets edged in looped trim. A long center front zipper is set between full length rows of tiny pintucks.
House dresses changed from being loosely fit to something more fashionable during the 1950's and 60's. The sporty rust red version shown here is by "Swirl", a well known house dress label.
This house dress wraps across the back and snaps at the waist band. It has huge patch pockets embellished with large appliques of fruit, veggies and kitchen kitch.
This second "Swirl" bright floral house dress also wraps across the back. It has gathered 'puffy' round patch pockets.
This back view of both "Swirl" dresses show similar features in the back wrapping concept that has a top button to keep the wrap from gaping open.
The cute polka dot dress below is by another popular label "Models Coat". Originally a cover up for fit and runway models, it has similar 'easy to wear' features as other house dresses.
As young women moved from dresses into pants for day wear during the late 1960's and 1970's, the house dress lost its position in the housewife's wardrobe. Jeans, blouses and 'T' shirts took its place to become the preferred apparel for chores and leisure activities at home.