Unless fashion doesn’t interest you at all, you must have noticed that the shirtwaist dress—now often called a shirt dress—is back in style. I have an irrational dislike for this beloved classic of American design, which has always seemed dowdy to me. After some amateur self diagnosis, I think I have figured out why.
When I first began to notice fashion styles in the 1960s, sheath dresses were all the rage. Many older women embraced the new style. My own grandmother, pictured on the left, was one of the early adapters.
But if my photo collection is any indication, a majority of older women stuck with their comfortable shirtwaists, which had become almost a uniform for American women in the 1950s. Because it was mainly older women I saw in these out-of-style dresses, I coded shirtwaist as “old.”
Now I am old myself and have nothing but respect for those women of the sixties who resisted fickle fashion for a style that felt comfortable. I also know that fashion ideas are constantly recycled, changing meanings in the process.