A thirties housewife spent the majority of her time in 1930s house dresses. They were usually handmade with re-purposed or leftover scraps from other garments. Because only family would ever see her in her house dresses, the styles had more color, trim and “fun” elements to them. They were also practical for housework with pockets appearing on most house dresses.
Although 1930s house dresses were generally more simple than most thirties day and evening dresses, the day-to-day clothing of the average woman followed the same general fit and shape as most 1930s women’s clothing: Puff or fluttery caplet sleeves; wide collars with lace, ruffles, or embroidery; a snug, high waist; a skirt fitted through the hips, gently flaring from mid-hip to the mid-calf hemline. A wrap dress (often reversible) commonly referred to as a “Hooverette” became the most popular 1930s house dress shape. Read more history about this dress style on festiveattyre.com.
1930s House Dresses- Sleeves
Sleeves were designed to make shoulders appear larger in order to slim the waist and hips. Sleeve styles included puffs, ruffles, caplets, and flutters. Wide collars were also used to visually inflate the upper chest and shoulder area. Sleeves on 1930s house dresses were almost always short, ending on the mid-upper-arm or higher for flutter and cap sleeves, and the longest sleeves ended at the elbow. Smocks (apron shirts), which were worn over a woman’s house dress for particularly dirty work, often had long sleeves.
Dresses for housework boasted larger armholes to allow more freedom of arm movement. Some house dresses had simple, straight, wide-cut shirt-sleeves with a cuff. These simple cuff sleeve were practically non-existent in other less casual thirties fashions. It was a common service uniform trim as well, especially with contrasting white cuffs and collars. Unlike the squared shoulder of the mid 1940s, the sleeves of the ’30s often puffed up above the top of the shoulder.
1930s House Dress Necklines
Necklines of house dresses were very high by today’s standards: shallow V-necks, square necklines, high button up fold over collars, or small scoops. Collars were often trimmed with white ruffles, ric-rac or binding. The reversible wrap “hooverette” dress had a shallow V-neck, shawl collar, and usually trim with ruffles on the neckline and wrap. Some necklines mimicked the straps of a pinafore apron.
Re-using trim from an old dress was one way thrifty women saved on fashion during the depression. A plain, cheap, cotton dress could be purchased for less than $1 and spruced up with trim. Women were encouraged to always be in fashion, even if their budget was limited.
1930s House Dresses- Bodice:
Bodices were fitted in the waist and accented with a slide belt or a tieback belt, common on a wrap dress. Though less fitted through the torso than dresses not intended for working, most dresses had darts to fit the torso closely or were wrapped snugly around the middrift area.
The shirtwaist dress, that became so popular in the 1940s appears in house dress fashion with buttons down the front of the bodice, like a blouse. Later in the decade, a functional and novel zipper down the front of the bodice, either stopping midway between the collar and the waist or going all the way down the length of the garment, became a trend. Zippers were new in the 1930s and were cheaper than other fastening methods. They helped advance the ready-to-wear manufactured clothing industry. Catalogs and department store shopping increased dramatically. Zipper pulls were sometimes monogrammed with one’s initials for free when buying from many catalogs.
1930s Dress Skirts:
Skirts in the thirties were generally fitted to the mid thigh before flaring out, hemlines reaching the midcalf, but clothes for work were commonly cut a bit more loosely, though not a true a-line skirt. They often featured multiple gores for ease of movement. 1930s house dresses usually had serviceable pockets on the mid thigh, often trimmed with lace or ruffles, while most women’s dresses to be worn out of the house did not have pockets at all.
1930s house dresses were worn for work: cooking, caring for children, gardening, and cleaning, so the fabric had to be washable and durable, usually cotton percale or broadcloth. Most house wear was made of printed fabric, in a brilliant and varied almost dizzying array of patterns. Floral, polka-dots, plaids, stripes, geometric designs, novelty prints, and even paisley graced house dresses for women.
This concludes our look at 1930s house dress history. Next up, 1930s day dresses and afternoon styles.
1930s Sewing Patterns
You asked and I found them: 1930s house dress patterns and many other women’s depression era sewing patterns too: