Recently I came across this gorgeous garment. It’s a floor length, in a crisp taffeta fabric, with dramatic collar and cuff detail. It’s got a wonderful late 1940s feel and a bold paid print:
It’s kind of a gown, yet kind of a robe. After a deep dive into the turbulent waters of Lake Google, I solved this sartorial mystery. It’s a hostess outfit, a special category that existed from the 1920s into the 1970s. These pieces are not sleepwear or streetwear; they are lounge attire, worn by the lady of the house for entertaining. It’s a category of clothing called “at home clothes” that has since gone extinct.
In the 20’s and ’30s, “at home” clothes were very elegant. Hostess garments were either silk lounging pants, beach pajamas or fancy wraps. In the 1940s, hostesses often wore a long belted robe like my plaid one. In the 1950s,”cigarette” pants with an open skirt or overdress were considered a very chic outfit when having guests. Lucille Ball wore one of these in an I Love Lucy episode and looked very stylish.
By the mid 1960’s, the Maxi Dress era was upon us and hostesses wore lots of polyester in bright prints or black.
The 1970s were, of course, the Caftan Decade. From Marrakesh to Miami, ladies and a few brave men lounged in these exotic garments.
After the 1970’s, hostess wear disappeared and long with it, a certain elegance.
The idea of pairing comfort and a bit of elegance is an appealing one, along with a life in which we take the time to turn drinks or dinner with friends into an event.
Although I tend toward nostalgia as a default response, I do know the “athleisure” trend does not actually signal the end of civilization as we know it.
It is possible to live fully in the modern world while still holding a space in our lives for a more gracious social experience, one encapsulated by the idea of “at home” clothes. I like the idea of clothing that isn’t what we exercise or sleep in to wear when we are in our homes.
Lately, even if my evening involves the couch and the second season of Mad Men, I’m trying to wear something other than last year’s yoga pants. I found a great mod caftan with a seventies socialite vibe that I’m wearing as an “at home” outfit and I’m on the lookout for more.