Rediscovering the Housedress in a T-shirt

Not quite a year ago, I was at a deli in Arizona having a light dinner with my parents and a couple of their friends, Danny and Jana. Whenever I say their names together, I almost always stumble on the letters and call them “Janny and Dana.”

Go ahead. Say “Danny and Jana” out loud three times and fast. You’ll see what I mean.

Jana has the kind of big blue eyes and soft lilting voice that draw a person in. She reminds me of a more restrained version of my grandmother. What I mean is that, although my grandmother is incredibly engaging, she doesn’t have a filter and she’s hard of hearing. So, after she’s hugged you to death and made sure you’ve had more than enough to eat, she asks how much weight you’ve gained recently or if your husband has any more hair he could lose. And everyone within a block can hear it.

Jana is hard of hearing, too, but she’s not quite as, um, direct as my grandmother. She is, however, just as curious about why her children and her friend’s children do things she doesn’t understand. So at one point during our dinner she turned her blue-eyed gaze at me and started asking questions about my then recent move to downtown Seattle.

I admit that this move was a shock to most people we know. Apart from five years living in downtown Minneapolis early in our marriage, we had always lived in the suburbs. And once you do something for 15 years, people assume that’s the way it’s always going to be.

Now we live in a pretty brick and glass building downtown and I love it.

“Don’t you worry about your safety living in the city?” Jana asked.

“I’m more scared of being all alone in my house if someone decided to break in,” I told her. I sleep so much better in a secure building with people paid to keep an eye on the front door.

“How do you get your mail?” she wondered. “How do you get your groceries?”

The answer to both of these questions is similar. I get my mail and groceries delivered to the building. The mail gets sorted into a mailbox and the groceries get delivered right to my door after the delivery person passes muster with the people at the front desk.

“So when do you ever leave?”

The truth is, unless Hubby and I have somewhere to be, or unless I have an appointment with someone else, I don’t leave my building. That’s not to say I never leave, but I do my work at home and a lot of those little things I used to spend hours doing “out there” come to me. Which is just the way I like it.

I’m an introvert by nature and, although I love being around friends and family and I adore being out in nature, I need the stillness of home to recharge my internal batteries.

This way of living created a unique challenge, then, when I set out to wear a dress every day for the month of May. At home, I wear jeans or lounge pants. Dresses were always for “dressing up” and “going out.” When I set into my plan for May, I had to rethink my definition of “dress.” I wondered how I would go without pants for a month. How would I do the laundry and clean the bathrooms in a dress? I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing all of that in something nice enough to go out in.

The Original Housedress

As always, I looked to the past for answers to my questions and I immediately came upon the solution – a housedress. Back in the days when my grandmothers were young, they had dresses they wore just around the house. These were pared down versions of the ones they wore out. The dresses my grandmothers wore tended to be more comfortable and less shapely than the ones they wore for shopping or going to church.

Old photos of women wearing housedresses.
Grandma Ruth on the left and Grandma Mickey on the right. In the top left photo Ruth is with my dad as a teenager and my aunt. I like how there are two photos of my grandmothers taking a load off. Someone must have realized how rare it was for them to sit so they decided to capture it on film.

My Modern-Day Housedress

The idea of purchasing a couple of vintage housedresses on Etsy appealed to me in a big way. But since this was meant to be an experiment, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something I might never wear after May. So, I bought three t-shirt dresses at Thredup and on eBay, all for less than $10 a piece! And, bonus – I already had one t-shirt dress hanging in my closet. That’s nearly a whole week’s worth of modern-day housedresses!

Working at home in a modern-day housedress

I was unable to discover the history of the t-shirt dress and its purpose of coming onto the scene of fashion, if it can actually be argued to be part of the fashion scene. The t-shirt dress is modest in both style and value. It walks the line between nightshirt and oversized t-shirt. It was perfect.

Just another day at the office:
On the couch surrounded by papers and sipping coffee.

Working at home in a modern-day housedress, t-shirt dress.
Ahem. Pay no attention to the fingerprints all over my laptop! ACK!

It surprised me how much effort it took to force myself to walk the three or four steps away from the cabinet where I keep my jeans to the wardrobe where I keep my hang-ables. On cooler days in early May it was especially difficult to do this. Early on, I got a lot of wear out of the leggings you see in these photos.

Cotton leggings by HUE come in a variety of colors.
Purchased here on Amazon.

Working at home in a modern-day housedress, t-shirt dress.

Sneakers are by Geox and on sale here at Nordstrom.

Letting go of denim was like letting go of a beloved security blanket. In addition to keeping me warm, the leggings warmed me to the idea of doing without jeans.

Working at home in a modern-day housedress, t-shirt dress.

Super cool magnifying loupe necklace by “O” of Fine Metalwork Studio on Etsy.

Weaned of Jeans?

As one of my professors at Seattle U used to say, whenever you try something new, do it little by little and with compassion. So, little by little I was able to let go of my denim addiction. Before long, opening the wardrobe where I keep my dresses became more natural than opening the cabinet where I keep my jeans. Eventually I even managed without the leggings.

Voila!

Doing housework in a modern-day housedress.

This particular t-shirt dress came to the middle of my shins when I got it. It looked like a sleep shirt. So, after working up my courage, I cut the bottom off and used my humble sewing machine to hem it up.

Doing housework in a modern-day housedress.

To be honest, I didn’t do a great job hemming it. I’d have to ask my friend Sue at A Colourful Canvas, but I think the bobbin on my machine was set too loose. The stitching was all loopy.

Oh well. It was the first try and it was good enough for around the house. When I learn more about sewing I may go back and redo it. (I start classes in August! Woo hoo!)

Doing housework in a modern-day housedress.

It was easier to wear these dresses without leggings at home. I have yet to actually wear any of these dresses outside the condo without leggings. Even hemmed up, most of them just look too much like nightshirts. So, on the couple of occasions when I already needed to run a quick errand, I wore leggings and a jacket with it, as seen below.

running errands in a modern-day housedress.

Jacket is Kut from the Kloth available here.
Leggings are old from Eileen Fisher. Similar here.
Shoes are by Geox. On sale here.
All t-shirt dresses purchased on Thredup or eBay.
Find similar here.

Little by little and with compassion I came to discover the comfort and true value of the housedress–with and without leggings. These t-shirt dresses were a good first step into the idea of wearing dresses for comfort at home. As predicted, though, I don’t wear these t-shirt dresses as much as I did at the beginning of May. Along the way, I discovered another style I like even better–and sometimes I even wear it out of the condo.

More about all that next week!


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  • It is interesting how our perceptions of clothing has changed throughout time. It is true that most people think of dresses for fancy evenings out now. Your outfits here look very comfortable and cute.

    I’ve always wanted to have photos taken of me fully dressed in an evening gown while cleaning out the toilet. Ha ha! So far I haven’t managed to do it. The logistics of where I’d manage to put my camera are too daunting. In the tub? I need a bigger bathroom and a better assistant than my lazy pug.

    Kudos for getting these photos of yourself cleaning.

    bisous
    Suzanne

    • Suzanne, I’m reading your comment here after just reading your blog post about your sequined bomber jacket–the perfect outfit for holding your dog’s bone while she chews on it. (We used to do this for our pups, too!) Your “cleaning toilets in a ballgown” idea made me snort into my coffee! I think that would be hilarious! Would you wear the whole jewels and gloves as well? Or would the gloves be those fancy rubber cleaning gloves I’ve seen?

      It was nice to have a clean house after taking all these photos! Ha ha!

      Hugs,
      Sherry

  • If this was method acting you are really, really good! I love the cleaning action shots. Hahaha! Well done. And you’re wearing the loupe. That’s so great – I have to show O. I often wear a huge man’s Etro dress shirt as my home dress, usually with leggings, and it’s super comfortable.

    All of your housedresses look great. The pink one reminds me of the gown you tried on at Talize, but shorter. And it’s true about women not having much time to sit! These are great shots of your grandmothers.

    I’m excited about your sewing classes and I look forward to your next outfits of choice.

    • Thanks, Melanie! My house was much cleaner after these photos, though my bedroom was a bit of a nightmare as I ran in to change into the next dress, throwing the previous one onto the bed, along with the hanger from the one I was putting on. Once all the photos were taken and the house was clean, I had more cleaning to do! *This* is why my grandmothers never sat down for long! 🙂

      Hugs,
      Sherry

  • My grandmother always wore housedresses. In fact, we couldn’t get her in pants until after she was 90—talk about stubborn!
    But I love this experiment, because it’s true, the more you do something, the easier it becomes!!
    And wearing dresses is usually quite easy. Shoes and accessories and you are done! Of course you might also need a jacket—which helps with the nightdress look, LOL!!
    Good for you for taking sewing lessons!! I have found that being able to alter my own clothing is so freeing!! (and a little addictive)
    XOXO

    • I don’t think my Grandma Ruth ever wore pants–not one single time. If I feel most comfortable in jeans, she was the opposite–she felt most comfortable in dresses. I can’t imagine her ever being in pants.

      You’re right about the ease of putting dresses on but I have discovered there is more to consider once they’re on than just shoes and accessories. I will share more about that in my next post–the little details I never thought about before and whether I think they’re worth the effort! 🙂

      Hugs,
      Sherry

  • LOL…guess what I’m wearing right this minute? Yep…a t-shirt dress. I’ve sewn a couple of them with a trusty t-shirt pattern {obvs lengthening them to dress length}.

    When my jeans…um…started feeling a leeetle bit too tight I found myself wearing leggings and tee’s more. It’s great because they are soooo comfy….but…a little risky too I fear. Jeans are that unique fit where I find them extremely comfortable but also quick to let you know if you’ve had too much cake.

    Sewing knits can be a little tricky. It was more likely your sewing machine needle that was causing the troubles. You need a ball point needle for knits. Thanks for the mention. xo

    • Sue, you have such a great way with words! Jeans “let you know if you’ve had too much cake.” Ha ha! It’s SO TRUE!

      How funny that you were wearing a t-shirt dress when you read this post about t-shirt dresses. Are there versions of them on your blog? Should I go check out what you’ve shared there so I can get more ideas on ways to wear my dresses?

      Thank you for the info about knits. I have heard about different needles for different purposes but had no idea that knits could be such a problem child. I hope they cover changing out needles when I take my class because I wouldn’t know the first thing about it and the instructions that came with my machine are a bit sketchy (and slightly diabolical since they give just enough info to be confusing).

      Hugs,
      Sherry

  • I LOVE this post!! What a really cool retro thought Sherry!! My grandmother on my dad’s side wore housekeepers all the time! They were always a small ditzy print and u,sually worn with ajumper type apron on top. My other grandmotherworkedas a secretary full time soI this was not her look.
    The t-shirt dress is a perfect modern manifestation of a house dress!! Probably more comfy than jeans with leggings in cooler months and without when it’s warm out!
    I think you’re a blogging genius to use historical fashion trends to guide your ideas Sherry. It makes for a really nice personal touch as well!
    I can’t end this without telling you how adorable you look in all of your t-shirt dresses. I also am pretty taken with your cheery yellow kitchen! I wish ic met you when you lived in Minneapolis Sherry. I just love you and your blog!!

    • Hi Jude!

      I know exactly the kind of jumper apron you’re talking about. My grandmother had something like that too! And I love how you call the dresses “housekeepers.” It makes total sense to give them that name. That’s exactly their purpose! Is that what you called them in Minnesota?

      Thank you for your kind words about my posts, my outfits, and my kitchen! You’ll likely get to see the kitchen up close in October! Your support and enthusiasm just motivate me to keep going! 😀 It means so much.

      Hugs,
      Sherry