Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Housecoats

  1. a woman's long, loose, lightweight robe for informal wear around the house.

I've heard about them, but still, they were a bit of a mystery. A housecoat or a "duster," something that my Grandmother would have worn. What exactly were they for?

I never really knew until I started to obsessively re-watch all of the old Mad Men episodes on Netflix while doing my ironing. And now I get it. Not only that, but I whole-heartedly believe that if there is one thing that SHOULDN'T have been dropped from our collective consciousness over the past decades, it's the housecoat. Surely the housecoat.

See these? These are housecoats. Pretty, presentable, comfortable housecoats. You wear them around your house when you're at home relaxing or cleaning or cooking or whatever it is you do. They're a nicer alternative to pajamas or loungewear. You know, something you can answer the door in with pride. You can wear your housecoat instead of your regular outfits to keep them clean when you work around your home. Or, if you're in a hurry and leaving soon, you can throw a housecoat over your outfit to make sure it stays nice.

What is there not to love about housecoats!? Where did they all go?

Well, I don't know why they lost such popularity, but I do know that a few are still around . You can find some versions at The Vermont Country Store, and eBay has some new and vintage housecoats too. Amazon and Etsy carry some, and so do several catalogue and online clothing brands.

I really wanted one of my own. I wanted one and I knew that I could use one! How many times have I been at home just cleaning or making dinner or spending the day on my computer when the doorbell rang? I don't want to answer that door wearing old yoga pants! I want to answer it looking like a pink meringue dream! 

One day recently we took Josie to be groomed and they asked us to be back in about an hour. It didn't make sense to run home and come back in that time, so instead we decided to take a walk and window shop for a while. One of the stores that we came upon was a favorite of mine from high school - Mother Fletcher's Vintage in Ferndale. It's racks and racks and cases and shelves and trunks of curated vintage clothing, shoes and accessories. I was there, and I was on a housecoat mission.

Almost immediately I spotted an area that resembled a cloud-like swirl of pastels in floaty fabrics. It was the room at the back of the store which housed a large rack of vintage nightgowns and robes. All the pale pinks and peaches and buttery yellows and robin's egg blue a girl could ever wish for. 
I knew that housecoats were not pajamas and that they weren't robes really, but I figured this would be as good an area as any to start searching for one.

It did not take long for the most beautiful, most voluminous, most weightless garment  in the whole room to jump out and catch my eye. It was a robe marked "1940's." Not a bathrobe, but a pretty robe, one that a princess would wear over her pajamas. Two layers of sheer, baby pink fabric, the bottom layer chiffon and the top layer the most gorgeous, real flocked Dotted Swiss. There was a Peter Pan collar and turned up armbands trimmed with white lace, and the perfect satin bow at the neckline. I just HAD to try it on, maybe this was a 1940's version of a housecoat for all I knew. Mad Men starts in 1960, so what do I know about housecoats from the 40's and 50's?

Then I stopped. I saw the price tag. It was $50!!! Far too much for me to spend on a housecoat. I began to carefully put it back. But something came over me and I couldn't bear the thought of leaving without at least trying what it felt like to wear something so pretty. (They really don't make clothes like this these days). So I carefully slid it over one arm, my shoulders and then the next arm. I buttoned the robe up and to my surprise, it fit! Not only that, but it was the perfect length! Not something that happens often when you're five feet tall. 

I did a twirl and all the pink fabric floated out and around me. I felt so happy! "Jon!" I called, just wanting to show him before I put the robe back. He came in and laughed and I went to point out to him the real Dotted Swiss fabric with the velvety flocked dots when my index finger went RIGHT THROUGH THE TOP LAYER OF THE SLEEVE!!!! 

Oh no! I ripped a rather large hole right there in the sleeve. I couldn't believe it. How did that happen!??? 

Now, I could have quietly put it back on the rack and swished out, avoiding the need to buy a $50 robe with a hole in it, but that's not me at all. I can not tell a lie. I have TWO Jiminy Crickets on my shoulders....I always let me conscience be my guide. I had to tell the store clerk what I did and own up and if that meant you break it, you buy it, then so be it I guess....

Patient Jon did a palm plant on his forehead when my finger, so excited to point out Dotted Swiss went right through the Dotted Swiss, and then again when I mumbled that it was $50. He was not exactly amused. We made our way to the register anyway, and thank goodness that the woman working that day was so incredibly nice when I explained to her what had happened. "Oh!" she said.... "Don't worry, it's old fabric, it happens ALL the time. Fabric weakens. Don't worry about it." I apologized profusely and offered to buy the robe. She said I really didn't have to if I didn't want to, but since there was now a big hole in the front of one sleeve, I felt like buying it was the right thing for me to do.

So she very graciously gave it to me half-off, and sent me on my way as the proud owner of my first, most gorgeous, very unflattering, pink poof of a "housecoat!"

And the best part was, that after picking Josie up from the groomers, and pulling up at home, a package lay on our front doorstep.

"Ah!" I yelled. "I just remembered. It's the HOUSECOAT that I ordered on eBay last week!" And that is how I became the VERY proud owner of TWO housecoats in one day.

And how Jon decided to drop me off and keep going.*


*Just kidding. He still loves me.

Until next time, seriously, try out a housecoat!
Lauren :)


LoriD said...

Lol. Love this post! Until I read this I had completely forgotten that term-my mom used to use that term. I love all the housecoats Betty wears on Mad Men; the two you have look really lovely on you

Loulou said...

Beautifully (and hilariously) said, as always! I hope you enjoy your pretty housecoats. You've just reminded me that I once bought a vintage sewing pattern to make a man's robe, which used to be called a smoking jacket. I guess that is the equivalent to the female housecoat. I should get onto making that. Maybe I'll choose some pink poofy fabric.

Lauren said...

Hey LoriD! \(^-^)/ !

Awww, thanks. I know! "Housecoat" is not a term you hear too often anymore. :)
I love Betty's housecoats too. She has the BEST wardrobe, huh!?
Thanks for writing Lori. I really appreciate it. Hope you have a great week!!!!

Lauren said...

Hooray, it's Loulou!!!! (>'-')>
Oooooh.....a SMOKING JACKET. Oh yes, yes. Can you just IMAGINE how awesome you'd be in your smoking jacket!? And a pink, fluffy one at that!?
You NEVER cease to amaze me with your creativity. :)
Thanks so much for writing. Hope your week is off to a great start.

Georgina said...

Not tried housecoats yet but am loving apron dresses! x

Lauren said...

Hi Ginny!!! Oh! Oh! Apron dresses , I love them too! They're great. :)

Christine said...

Hello Dotted Swiss Miss,

If I didn't know any better, I would swear that your new dotted swiss ensemble once was owned and worn by my own mother. Naturally there would have been several of them manufactured back in the day, but still, the vision of you wearing it brought back a flood of memories for me.

My mom had the very same dressing gown as the one you found in the vintage shop, but underneath it she would wear the matching negligee. Very 40s chic. Could it be that the same set wended its way across the border from Toronto to Ferndale? Perhaps you might inquire if the shop also has the negligee in stock. Jon might look upon it more favourably then!

Have fun in your old/new dressing gown Lauren and thanks for modelling it for your readers. The suspense in your telling of the tale was a nice build-up to the photo of you wearing it.

Christine from Oakydoakyville

Lauren said...

\('-')/ My sweet friend Christine in Oakydoakyville!!! So wonderful to receive your comment!
Oh wow. Wow, wow. Wouldn't it be AMAZING if this was your Mom's robe? Christine, I'd be happy to send it to you if you would like! I think that is so neat. I will ask next time I'm in the store, but truthfully Toronto/Detroit, not so far, I think it's completely possible!!!! Wouldn't that be great!?

Ah! I was wondering if the robe had a matching nightie. LOL. How pretty sounding. I shall look! :)

Sending you lots of hugs and a "thanks!" Let me know if you would like my robe!!!
Lauren :)

Sue Marsh said...

It was 1983 when my mom bought me my first housecoat. I had just had my first baby, Mom said "Every new mother needs a housecoat." My husband came home from work and I had on my beautiful sky blue creation.....his face said it all. His mouth opened and he began to laugh. He said "you look like my Granny!" Hmmmm......what nerve.

Lauren said...

Sue! Oh no!
I'm smiling because I love your story, and what your Mom said, and how perhaps your husband could not IMAGINE all of the baby stains to come. Taking care of children and a house and cooking can do a number on clothing. Your Mom was RIGHT! :)

What nerve. Lol.
Hope you still wore it.

Thanks so so much for sharing.

Christine said...

Hi Lauren,

If by some wild fluke the vintage dressing gown you recently purchased does hail from Toronto, then I couldn't imagine a more fitting person to inherit it other than you. It looks lovely and fresh on you. For me it connects the story beautifully by picking up the thread of what might have happened to it and how it has now resumed its adventure. That same gown and its matching negligee were part of my mother's wedding trousseau. It was given to her as a bridal shower gift from a wealthy socialite for whom she worked as a governess when she first immigrated to Canada. You know that expression "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue"? Well, my mother's set satisfied the "something new" part of that adage. Did you know that short housecoats worn over negligees were also referred to as wrappers during that era? I'm talking about the 50s. Lucille Ball always looked so elegant whenever she wore one on the I Love Lucy show.

My mother passed her set on to a younger girlfriend who was getting married about 15 years after she did. Sometimes as a pre-teen I would sneak into her bedroom closet, when she was at work, put the two pieces on, spritz on some of her Evening in Paris by Bourjois and pretend I was a grand married lady of leisure parading about her room in her marabou mule slippers. What a dreamer I was! Such was the bedroom fashion of the day.

Who knows where your robe will end up Lauren, or what future closets and boudoirs it will find itself in. This is reminding me of the movie entitled the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, only this version is the Sisterhood of the Traveling Dressing Gown.

Please let's leave the wrapper in your hands and I will be happy making believe and thinking of it as having a new life. Enjoy the gown and whenever you wear it let the possibility of where it might have come from put a smile on your face. Even if it isn't the same dressing gown, it's still romantic to imagine it might be, isn't it?


Lauren said...

Dear Christine,

I can not show you enough, how big and grand my smile is through pecking on these keyboard keys alone. Know though, that I ABSOLUTELY LOVED every word of your comment and the stories...the stories....I just sat here imagining! What a wonderful story about your mother the governess and the socialite family and her special trousseau. And then you, swirling around when she wasn't home in it, with your Evening in Paris. :) Oh so lovely!!!!!

I shall wear my "wrapper" in great honor of you and your Mom! And for what sounds like an adventurous life and one of giving to others. Like the way your Mom gave her wrapper to a friend and how you sent me your gifts. I am inspired by you and your Mom to live in the same way!

Thank you from my heart for sharing those stories. This IS like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants! :)

With Lots of Love,
Lauren <3

Sarah said...

Hi Lauren, your post made me laugh because I'm from the UK and when I was younger 'housecoat' was one of the words that I taught myself to stop using so that the kids at school didn't tease... My mum is from the South-East of England but raised her family in the North-West. To her, a housecoat was, still is, and always will be, what others in the UK call a dressing gown... you put it on to be cosy, over your PJ's. I got so much stick for saying housecoat when I was little, I still never say it! She also has a nice (quite posh) accent, with the long 'a' in grass, bath etc... that also had to go! So her three children all sound a lot more Cheshire - a little bit of Manchester but not so broad!
I love your posts, please keep them coming - they brighten my day! xxx

Lauren said...

Oh Sarah, your Mum's accent sounds sooooooo beautiful and lovely. I can just picture it. :)
And "dressing gown" seems much much much more gorgeous and fancy than a "housecoat." Perhaps I should attempt to make "dressing gown" a more popular term over here! Your story made me laugh. I'm sorry about the other children teasing, but I am impressed that you trained yourself to stop using the term! ;)

Thank you for a great and fun little story and for reading along.