Question: I have a friend who is getting married and looking for a specific style for her wedding dress. She wants a split skirt with capris underneath like something Lucy wore. We weren’t even sure that look had a name to know what to search for! Can you point us in a direction?
That would be a 1950s hostess ensemble. Previously, hostess gowns / hostess dresses were worn from the 1920s onward for entertaining at-home informal parties. The gowns were very long with loose flowing material that looked like a cross between pajamas, a robe, and a dress. They were inspired by Asian fashion. In the 1950s, however, “modern women” took the dress and combined it with a pair of tan capri pants. Lucille Ball is credited with making this style very popular. She often hosted house parties in I Love Lucy and wore a large black lace robe over a pair of tan pants or jumpsuit.
Here is what a few fashion advice books said about wearing a50s/60s hostess gown:
“A Hostess who is entertainment in her own formal home may wear a hostess gown which may be fragile with floating chiffon or lace, or regal with sweeping velvet, or exotic with unusual dramatic color combinations. The skirt is usually trailing, the sleeves long and flowing, the neckline moderately low in front. The hostess gown allows one to indulge in whimsical designs and gives the career woman a chance to be utterly feminine. It is a type of one which can only be worn in your own home and should see to fuel with the mood of the house and the wearer. In apartments or homes of modern design, the hostess gown may feature a trouser effect with a jacket.” – Clothes for You, by Mildred Graves Ryan
“A floating hostess gown, to be tripped over in a tiny apartment, becomes exciting and glamorous when draped about someone who is regally descending a winding stairs. “- Clothes for You, by Mildred Graves Ryan
“For informal at-home gowns which express friendliness, decorativeness, and originality, one may wear vivid color contrasts, exotic prints, fragile lace, rich textures such as velvets, satins, taffetas, perhaps with cover-up decolletages in the less formal style suggested by modern homes with the servantless hostess in plain view in her kitchen, long flowing culottes or slacks or tighter trousers, partly covered by matching or contrasting soft robes or jackets.” –The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance, by Grace Margaret Morton
Into the 1960s, the hostess gown turned into a hostess pantsuit in vivid tropical or ethnic prints. By the late 1960s, the idea of specific hostess clothing went by the wayside. Pretty much everyone was hosting house parties and there was no need to dress in anything but your best cocktail dress or suit.
For a casual hostess dress, a matching button down skirt was worn over a playsuit / romper. It is a bit easier to find these styles today. Sometimes they are called maxi rompers. You could always pair a button-down skirt over capri pants or shorts and add a non-matching cute top for a fun summer look.
NEW! Unique Vintage is now carrying a few summer hostess gowns/playsuit dresses that can be worn over pants or shorts! Woo hoo!
More hostess dresses / playsuit skirts / sewing pattern options…
Do you have a vintage hostess gown/set?