I read The Women's Room by Marilyn French a year or two back and loved it, a wonderful book. But it did puzzle me that all the female characters wore housecoats. I'd never encountered such a thing. The more mid century American books written from a woman's perspective I read, the more housecoats I found. Googling 'housecoat' told me it was just an American word for what we call a dressing gown. But from the books it was clear that women viewed these as normal day wear- something you'd be happy to greet friends in if they visited you. (Just like I do in a dressing gown, to be honest!)
This got me thinking.
Why would you wear a coat in the house? You might if it was cold. Which it might well have been without central heating, especially if you were alone in the house (children at school, husband at work) and not well off enough (or maybe not expected) to heat the house 'just for you'. Remember that one of the points in the 'good wife guide' was to light a fire for when your husband came home.
Clothes used to be much more expensive. They were something to be looked after carefully, mended and patched. A housecoat over the top of your good clothing might well save your clothes from being plucked or snagged. Washing clothing was much harder by hand, and if that housecoat absorbed the spills and smuts of housework, your good clothes might need to be washed less often- and as a bonus, clothing that is washed less often lasts longer.
So, we've found a garment that cuts down on your heating bills, lets you do the laundry less often and helps your clothing last longer. Only in an increasingly energy-profligate society would such a useful item fall by the wayside. Join me in bringing back the housecoat!
I recommend those stylish patterns from the 40's: the modern ones aren't quite so alluring.
Pictures: vintage patterns from Etsy, new housecoat from the telegraph shop!
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