My mother recently told me that when she got married she was confused about what to wear. I’m not referring to her wedding dress—that was easy—she borrowed it from her friend Gertrude McIntyre Catucci. She didn’t know what she should wear in her new role as a married woman.
My mother was 19 when she married my father in the rectory of St. Francis de Sales Church in Northeast Washington, DC, on June 30, 1945. Their reception was in her parents’ backyard. The idea of being a married woman meant that her wardrobe would have to change dramatically. She thought that having that gold band on her left hand meant she would have to wear house dresses.
I know what house dresses are—they are simple, washable dresses, sometimes with aprons attached, that women wore to do their house chores. (I verified this description by reading a brief entry on Wikipedia. Where else would I go for a serious study like this?) Some women bought these dresses from the Sears or the Spiegel catalogs. Other women made their own dresses. Mama Riley (my cousin’s grandmother with whom I spent a summer in Silsbee, Texas—another story—hot and lots of mosquitos) must have made her own houses dresses. She made my cousin and me skirts out of feed sacks, she milked the cow, and she slaughtered chickens before my very eyes. Women who both wore and sewed their own house dresses were hard-core, not to be messed with, the queen bees of house dresses.
In the early years after the War, women stayed home to care for the children, polish the furniture, and make Jell-O concoctions for dessert. They were called housewives, an archaic term no longer considered politically correct. But in time these women became dissatisfied with their domestic roles and their daughters, the next generation, went bonkers—they started movements for equality for women, they burned their bras, they used contraceptives. I can guarantee you they weren’t wearing house dresses.
When I was growing up in that post-War era, I didn’t know anyone whose parents were divorced. None of the mothers worked outside the home, and in the early days they wore house dresses. Fast forward 50 or more years. No one wears house dresses any more. Even if a woman doesn’t work outside the home she wears jeans or—heaven forbid—yoga pants. And the divorce rate has soared.
I rest my case.
(Photo is my grandmother, Rose Blain, with her cow.)