One fascinating source of information on older women’s dress are dissertations written by students in Home Economics programs. One 1968 thesis by Alicia Pieper for Kent State University seems custom made for this blog. Her focus was on older women from America’s heartland, the small towns and rural areas near Canton, Ohio. She asked women over sixty five what was in their wardrobes what they wanted to wear but couldn’t find.
Pants were not among these women’s fashion choices. Mainly they wore dresses, making fine distinctions in their type and quality. At the bottom of the wardrobe pyramid were house dresses, followed by wash dresses, which were defined as “cotton or cotton blend dresses that were somewhat better quality than house dresses.” At the top were the clothes they wore to church. Most owned at least three dress-up outfits and seven or more house dresses. Their favorite color was blue, their favorite pattern a small print. They preferred three quarter length sleeves to cover their arms, with buttons in the front instead of zippers in the back.
And what did these women want to find in stores? They asked for longer dresses, going against the miniskirt trend. They longed for easy care fabrics. But most of all, they cried out for dresses with a different proportion between bust and hip than those offered in standard sizes. For these women, fit was the most important factor guiding their clothing purchases.
Since the dissertation did not include pictures, I’ve added one from my own collection. Now tell me–is she wearing a house dress, a wash dress, or a church dress?