Ohio Blue–What Older Women Wore in 1968

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?

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6 Responses to Ohio Blue–What Older Women Wore in 1968

  1. Julie Zuckman says:

    Wash dress because she’s outside?

  2. Laura says:

    Wash dress! No one would let themselves be photographed in a house dress, and shes got jewelry on.but it looks like shes posed gardening, so its not a dress up dress. If we could see her shoes, of course, i think we could tell for sure. Church shoes might have low heels, but they would be dressier than an every day shoe. I say new wash dress!

  3. ceci says:

    Her roses are amazing, I bet the point of the picture was to show them off. This looks like something my mom would have worn out to shop or on a family visit etc in that era.

    So not a house dress (she had those but was more likely to wear shorts or pants in the house even then) and the never referred to anything as a wash dress.

    Fun post!

    ceci

  4. Bunny says:

    Definitely not a house dress or church dress so I say wash dress as well. I remember my mom hanging out laundry in dresses and have to say she never wore house dresses unless she was nursing a baby and had a nightgown underneath. I look at this woman’s clothing and think of what I wore in 68, in the Northeast at college—extreme minis, big wild prints, oversized winter coats I embroidered, just everything opposite this dear woman. So very interesting.

  5. Nann says:

    I’d say a wash dress. What an interesting research topic!

  6. Black Tulip says:

    Fascinating, as ever – but depressing to discover that older women have felt ill-served by ready-to-wear clothing for almost my entire life! Thank goodness I can make my own clothes.

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