Tuesday, September 3, 2013

1930's Hooverette


I had grand plans when the "robes and robings" Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge was first announced. But since this challenge fell on the first week of school and after a busy summer of sewing for Costume College, I ultimately decided to take it easy on myself and make the most stress-free garment that I could come up with. And I'm so glad that I did, because I ended up falling in love with a quirky little subset of 1930's house dresses as a result. May I present the fabulous Hooverette!

It all started when I was flipping though the book Everyday Fashions of the Thirties as Pictured in the Sears Catalogue a few weeks ago, and I was looking for traditional house robes as a possibility for this project. In one 1935 listing, I saw something that looked very much like my idea of a robe, but it was being sold as a dress, and the ad called it a "Hooverette". So what the heck is a Hooverette? Well, I discovered that it was a simple housedress with a robe-like sash and wrap front, and the wrap could tie on either side.  That way, if you got your dress dirty while working around the house, you could just switch the overlap and quick as a flash, your dress was presentable again.  Considering how often I get stains on my clothes, I thought that was pretty darn brilliant! 


I poked around a little online, and found tons of examples of these dresses under a wide variety of names. The term Hooverette or Hoover apron seems to have been a trendy name in the mid-30's (BTW, the book Making History - Quilts & Fabric From 1890-1970 by Barbara Brackman offers some fun theories on how the garment got its name), but they were more often called more simple names in ads from the 1920's through the 1940's such as apron frocks (or dresses), wrap frocks, coat frocks, or house frocks. Amusingly enough, I never found the word "robe" being used to describe them, even though they totally look like robes to me. But after reading lots of ads for these dresses in period newspapers and catalogues, it seems like GREAT importance was placed on women looking nice and completely pulled together from the moment they rolled out of bed every morning, so what could be better than wearing a glorified robe that everybody had agreed to classify as a dress?  Here are a few of my favorite ads. Can you imagine having this much pressure on you to look chic while scrubbing the floors and cooking breakfast?

No longer will you have that "zero hour" feeling when the alarm clock rings, and you "haven't a thing" to slip into. Just reach for this Marian Martin wrap-around fock, tie the adjustable belt, adjust your puffed sleeves, give a finishing pat to your crisp ruffled collar - and you are "all-set" for a lot of admiration from your family.
Gettysburg Times - Feb 9, 1937

Open it out flat for ironing and keep it fresh and clean, ready to slip into at any time.... Frame your face with a snowy white collar edges with a dainty, feminine frill. You will be the picture of efficiency and charm all the time you are working.
The Telegraph - Jul 3, 1939

Every woman who loves her home and wants to look pretty in it at all times will love the flattery of the dainty frill that outlines the armholes and yoke-effect... Your family will admire your smart appearance if you choose a fabric of cheery and becoming colors. 
The News and Courier - Mar 16, 1937

Several ads mention that these dresses were nice enough to wear to the market or when visitors come over the to house, so to me, these dresses are sort of like when modern women wear their baggy sweats or yoga pants to run errands (but so much more stylish!)  Various patterns and ads also mention that they could be worn by professional women such as nurses or beauticians, and one listing mentioned that this type of dress is great for maternity-wear.  Others point out that they are a smart style for plus-sized women, with one pattern offering sizes up to a 52" bust.


So after learning about these amazing all-purpose garments, I was excited to try making one of my own.  There are several pattern diagrams online that show the shape of wrap-dress pattern pieces (here's a very simple one from the 20's), and for most dresses, it appears that there is just a front, a back, a sleeve, and sometimes a collar and/or a pocket.  Easy peasy.  I took bits and pieces from 4 different 30's dress patterns in my collection and cobbled together a single dress that looked similar to the examples that I had found online.


My dress is made out of orange and cream cotton houndstooth fabric that I've had in my stash for years.  I had a very small amount of fabric, so every part of my dress has piecing in it somewhere, which I love because I think it feels even more authentic for a depression-era garment.  I added some large vintage rick-rack for embellishment around the collar and pocket, and the only closure on the garment is a single vintage button on the back of the belt.


I'm really thrilled by how my dress turned out, and it is so comfy and easy to wear.  I can definitely see myself throwing this on the next time I need to make a quick run to Walmart!  :)




Whew!  Pretending to be a good 30's housewife is hard work!

You can find many more historical examples of these wrap-style frocks on my Hooverettes and Housedresses Pinterest board, and I have a few more pictures of my dress on Flickr.






25 comments:

Stephanie Lynn said...

Super cute! I love the rick rack especially. :)

Loren Dearborn said...

It's so adorable, you got some really cute period-eque photos too.

Caroline said...

Too cute! I love it!

MaiLoan said...

love it! It looks really great on you :)

Sarah Potts said...

I love this dress! So inspiring :)

ista said...

a great dress - for some reason I can't see your pinterest board

Eva said...

I love it!

Sarah Jane said...

Oh my gosh I LOVE IT! I just made a 1930's-ish dress and while I love it, I was hoping to loose a few more lbs so it would fit better (it came out a bit tight) and then POUF - I found out I am pregnant. So I was kinda depressed til I saw this post this morning, and read in your post that this style can be made suitable for maternity. I'm so trying this out for myself sometime this fall! I love what you made. The color, fabric and little details make it so perfect. And you are beautiful! Love your photos. Visiting your blog is like having dessert!

Aimee said...

awesome. I loved that you pieced it!

Isis said...

Very cute! And it looks very comfortable too!

Jen Thompson said...

Thank-you everybody! And congrats to Sarah Jane! I'm so excited that this post gave you some fun new inspiration for maternity dresses. That just made my day! :)

fixitfaerie said...

You look so cute in that darling dress. I like the button on the back, perhaps it is there to keep your belt from moving? All of your work is so fabulous. Thanks for sharing. Blessings Paula

Rachel Proffitt said...

How lovely!
I discovered Hoover Dresses when I was looking for the WWII style wrap pinnies you see in photos :) They are like a sleeveless version of the dress!
Yours is quite lovely though :)

Merrian said...

In Australia and New Zealand at this time there was also a fashion for aprons that looked like dresses That could be worn over a petticoat or thread bare dress. They look like a fully made dress front but don't have a back just loops and strings. I have been reading Rosemary McLeod's 'Thrift to Fantasy; home textile crafts of the 1930s-1950s'. There are two dress-apron examples on pgs 248-249

Lily said...

Super cute- I love your collar and the ric-rac trim! :-) Your blog is always an inspiration. :-)

Emileigh Mimi said...

So adorable!! I'll have to try one sometime soon. Just to adorable and practical to resist.

Hillary Rizen said...

The wrap dress idea persisted for a long time, according to this website about "Swirl" dresses: http://fashionsfinest.fuzzylizzie.com/Swirl.html

I love how yours turned out! The rick-rack is the perfect touch.

The Dreamstress said...

Adorable! I want one! I totally should have made something like this for the Robes challenge instead of the Francaise that I'm still toiling away on...

Oooh...and now that I think about it, I have the PERFECT fabric for this! Oh, so much temptation to make one right away!

padawansguide said...

I love how these photos turned out! You look adorable!

Siri said...

I love this look! The dress is so perfectly relaxed and chic at the same time :)

Sharid57 said...

You did a marvelous job just "cobbling together" a cute wrap style apron/dress! I love it, and it looks wonderful on you! I'm a little "late out of the gate" to be adding comments here, but it looks so nice on you, I just had to. The rick-rack trim just adds the perfect amount of icing on the cake, and the color looks great on you. As for your wearing it to Walmart for your next trip, I sure hope you have ~ you would certainly be the most stylishly dressed lady in the building if you do!
And that's not an idle comment, for sure. I never leave my house unless I am washed, groomed, hair done simply but stylishly, my "face" on, and in clean clothes that don't have gaping holes, or look like a Halloween costume, or like I dressed in a dark closet. If I end up in that place, which I intentionally avoid if I can, I always feel decidedly overdressed! I don't know what it is about that place, but it surely seems to attract the "fashion challenged" segment of society. Not that I have an issue with people who are financially strapped, but I do have issues with those who not only push the boundaries of good taste, but just tear right through them seemingly intentionally! Being poor and being clean and decently dressed are not mutually exclusive, but that seems to be a lesson many have yet to learn.
Anyway, off that Soap Box, and back to your blog! I just found it through Debbie Session's VintageDancer.com website/blog, and its marvelous! Hope you are doing well, and can continue with these posts, as I am certainly going to start playing "catch up" as soon as I can!
Best Regards from the culturally challenged wasteland of the Midwest!

Sharid57 said...

You did a marvelous job just "cobbling together" a cute wrap style apron/dress! I love it, and it looks wonderful on you! I'm a little "late out of the gate" to be adding comments here, but it looks so nice on you, I just had to. The rick-rack trim just adds the perfect amount of icing on the cake, and the color looks great on you. As for your wearing it to Walmart for your next trip, I sure hope you have ~ you would certainly be the most stylishly dressed lady in the building if you do!
And that's not an idle comment, for sure. I never leave my house unless I am washed, groomed, hair done simply but stylishly, my "face" on, and in clean clothes that don't have gaping holes, or look like a Halloween costume, or like I dressed in a dark closet. If I end up in that place, which I intentionally avoid if I can, I always feel decidedly overdressed! I don't know what it is about that place, but it surely seems to attract the "fashion challenged" segment of society. Not that I have an issue with people who are financially strapped, but I do have issues with those who not only push the boundaries of good taste, but just tear right through them seemingly intentionally! Being poor and being clean and decently dressed are not mutually exclusive, but that seems to be a lesson many have yet to learn.
Anyway, off that Soap Box, and back to your blog! I just found it through Debbie Session's VintageDancer.com website/blog, and its marvelous! Hope you are doing well, and can continue with these posts, as I am certainly going to start playing "catch up" as soon as I can!
Best Regards from the culturally challenged wasteland of the Midwest!

Sharid57 said...

You did a marvelous job just "cobbling together" a cute wrap style apron/dress! I love it, and it looks wonderful on you! I'm a little "late out of the gate" to be adding comments here, but it looks so nice on you, I just had to. The rick-rack trim just adds the perfect amount of icing on the cake, and the color looks great on you. As for your wearing it to Walmart for your next trip, I sure hope you have ~ you would certainly be the most stylishly dressed lady in the building if you do!
And that's not an idle comment, for sure. I never leave my house unless I am washed, groomed, hair done simply but stylishly, my "face" on, and in clean clothes that don't have gaping holes, or look like a Halloween costume, or like I dressed in a dark closet. If I end up in that place, which I intentionally avoid if I can, I always feel decidedly overdressed! I don't know what it is about that place, but it surely seems to attract the "fashion challenged" segment of society. Not that I have an issue with people who are financially strapped, but I do have issues with those who not only push the boundaries of good taste, but just tear right through them seemingly intentionally! Being poor and being clean and decently dressed are not mutually exclusive, but that seems to be a lesson many have yet to learn.
Anyway, off that Soap Box, and back to your blog! I just found it through Debbie Session's VintageDancer.com website/blog, and its marvelous! Hope you are doing well, and can continue with these posts, as I am certainly going to start playing "catch up" as soon as I can!
Best Regards from the culturally challenged wasteland of the Midwest!

stella said...

Love it! Pure genius. Some of them were reversible, too. Why did they ever stop making them? I need a sewing machine!

As for looking pulled together, yes. Back before we were "liberated" into doing wage labor (and still being stuck with the housework, more often than not) there was the idea that since hubby provided, you made his time at home as pleasant and stress free as possible. My grandma was big on that: get the housework done and dinner on the table and then freshen up and fix your makeup before he gets home. Never answer the door (for anyone) with a broom, mop, or dust rag in your hand. Don't bring up any unpleasantness at the table. Etc.

I think it must have been a very nice way to live.

stella said...

And I agree with Sharid57. People generally managed to look nice during the Depression, being broke doesn't mean you have to look like a train wreck. A lot of people spend a good deal of money on ugly things like puffy sneakers, anyway. You really can't blame poverty for the stuff a lot of people are wearing.

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