Why did the housedress come out of the fashion graveyard ?

Work more and dress up less?  That’s bad news.  It’s already been months that we are working (preferentially) from home.  We spend our days in leggings/jeans/yoga pants and T-shirts or sweats, and in sneakers, flats or fur lined crocs.  We’ve become expert in the art of adding a frilled blouse and a vague touch of make-up before the 3:30 pm Zoom meeting.  A little bit like that old joke about the newscaster who reads the news in slippers. 

It’s clearly less alienating than “power dressing”.  And it has other advantages as well:  no dry cleaning, zero ironing, and total comfort.  Goodbye to everything that’s tight or pulls or hinders, bras topping the list!  Still, it’s a new sort of uniform.  Gone is the pleasure that comes from showing off a new outfit.  And therein lies a true fashion dilemma:  how, without giving up this new comfort, can we find even a bit of …pleasure in getting dressed in the morning?  Batsheva Hay has the answer! Remember, (or revisit here):  she’s the New York designer who re-launched the Prairie Dress, the long dress with flowers, ruffles and bibs inspired by Laura Ingalls and Laura Ashley, but also by the Brooklyn orthodox Jewish community.  And who, and no one would have bet a shekel on it, was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic!  Now that she’s copied everywhere, it’s another item of clothing, just as codified and every bit as improbable that the stylist, surfing on the pandemic, has decided to revisit:  the housedress! 

On her E-shop this fall, you can find stunning trapeze blouses that reach the knees, buttoned down the front in retro materials (chintz, checks or corduroy).  If they weren’t so sophisticated (belts, yokes in contrasting colors) we’d be tempted to think they came straight out of an episode of a 1950’s desperate housewives.  This time, is she going to disguise us as the perfect homemaker?  Not at all, Women’s Wear Daily recently assured us.  It’s not a return to the past, it’s a “contextual reinvention”! Practical and cozy, i.e. lockdown friendly, these neo-blouses go from interior to exterior.  Instead of the mitts and cleaning rags that yesterday’s housewives stored in their enormous pockets, today we stuff them with the 2020 survival kits  (masks, gel, tote bag…) to slip out and buy a few things after our long days in from of our screens, after having changed from our slippers into chunky boots or dad sneakers of course…

These are a bit too radical?  No problem, the neo #housedress (a rapidly expanding hashtag) has lots of possibilities.  Of which, the much more glamorous caftan.  This long tunic large and airy, originally Persian (but reminds of the djellaba of the Maghreb as well) had its moment of glory in the 60’s.  The jet-set adored the ones from Pucci.  Liz Taylor was a fan.  All of Yves Saint-Laurent’s muses (and himself on occasion) wore them.  Not surprising that the caftan, easy but sexy (with its plunging neckline and slits on the side) has become the preferred outfit of the fashionistas.

New York yuppies adore the brand “Two” where sober tunics (in indigo or colorful stripes…) when the time comes again, can be paraded for a vernissage or a fund-raiser in Chelsea.  They also buy ethnic chic caftans at Martine’s Dream, cult boutique in Brooklyn (and a fetish of Le Futiloscope!)  who also sells long kimonos revisited perfect for the times.  In France, “Ma petite Plage” young beachwear brand, has brought out irresistible long tunics in velvet terrycloth, it makes you want to put one on and never take it off.  Especially the model “Talitha”, so named in honor of Talitha Getty, one of  YSL’s favorite muses .

This season there are lots of other options in the “housedress” aisle.  Edgy New York concept stores like Oroboro, are packed with all kinds of Hawaiian Muumuus, very “in” during the 70’s (when audacious males wore them as well).  Advice to those of you who are fearless, there are lots of vintage ones on Etsy!

The Hawaiian Muumuu is itself very close to the African boubou.  You’re going to pass on that one, you’ve had enough of wax?  Just take a look:  Odile Jacobs (one of the new designers discovered by Oroboro) is totally reinventing it.  This Belgian-Congolese stylist , based in Bruges, selects traditional materials in a spirit very “Marimeko meets Bamako”.  As she wants to fuse African tradition with the European silhouette, she designs sculptural and spectacular dresses that will immediately cheer up any depressed locked down fashionista. 

But when the cold wind starts to blow, and the hard lockdown returns maybe, we won’t always be up for slipping on an ethnic housedress with our boots and wool tights.  The alternative?  Bet on those simple cocoon dresses in flannel or felt which are just beginning to bloom everywhere on the fashion planet. In the United States, those from the Californian brand Black Crane, in pleasant colors, with frills that are anything but soppy, are just perfect.  And suddenly we also see tons of them, much cheaper, at H&M, Asos, Uniqlo and Monki.  Like hoodie dresses, long sweats with hoods, that the young generation will adore too.

Putting on their house dresses, will the millenials or Gen Z members have the impression that they’ve been suddenly transformed into a 1960’s housewife, ready to have some friends over after a hard day of housecleaning?  Not at all, in the world post #metoo, the housedress is woke!  It’s the dress of the powerful woman who doesn’t give a damn about the “male gaze” and thumbs her nose at the patriarchal society.  And in the end, if we’re finally convinced, we can decide to only dress like that, and if someone says something to us, well it’s just too bad !

Banner picture : Batsheva