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What Became of Housedresses?

March 13, 1987|CYNTHIA PHILLIPS | Phillips is a free - lance writer who lives in Newport Beach

Whatever happened to women in housedresses? You know, the dresses with the tiny pink, yellow and blue flowers. Oh, of course, a few will say their mothers do wear them. But where? Anyway, I'm talking about housewives who wore them every weekday.

I remember so well my mother placing small pearl clip earrings on as a last ritual after dressing early in the mornings. She would be dressed in her slightly starched cotton dress complete with silk stockings and low heeled pumps. This was all done before going downstairs. Before coffee and regardless of the season, although she sometimes put on a white cardigan sweater during cool weather.

Now it is sweat suits. Sweats as soon as the alarm goes off and the bare feet hit the floor. Sweats to chauffeur the kids to school and sweats to hit the shopping malls. Powder blue sweats for early tennis games, yellow sweats for luncheons and white velour sweats with studded rhinestones for crystal goblet cocktail parties in the evening.

My mother would put on a soft rosy lipstick, too. To go with her flowered cotton dress. Probably a little Pond's powder underneath from a round box with white puffs all around, which sat on her dressing table. Her hair would be softly curled because she always had it shampooed and set every Friday. She would wave goodby to my father as he walked down the violet Jacaranda-lined sidewalk to catch the streetcar to Los Angeles.

She would smile and wave again a little later when I set off to walk over the hill to the sixth grade. She would stand there in her housedress by the driveway waving until I went over the hill.

Sweats are the option for almost every Orange County occasion now. You can mix them up. Like polka-dot tops with striped pants, reds with purples. You can be as creative as you wish. Cuts down on ironing, too. There are not so many of the classic grays anymore. One woman even told me sweats are great because you don't need to diet if you stick to them. Just buy them in large sizes. They hide everything.

Sash Crisply Tied

Once in awhile I got to stay home from school. That is if I was really sick or faked it well. I would look out my upstairs window when I heard the old familiar ringing of the Helm's truck. I would see my mother in her flowered dress, the sash crisply tied with a bow in the back, walk out to the street to buy some bread and a surprise coconut doughnut for me. We were considered extravagant back then the buying our bread from the Helm's man because it cost more than in the market, 15 cents instead of 10 cents at the corner store.

I would leave my radio soap opera and go downstairs to eat my doughnut while my mother did the laundry. The old washer would go swishing back and forth for all eyes to see and then the clothes would be placed through the ringer into a large laundry basket. We would go outdoors together. There she would hang her dresses side by side in the sunny air, and I would look at the clouds and start storing memories.

I'm not saying I don't live in sweats now, too. I don't know if I could even handle putting on a housedress when I first get up. Or lipstick. Or even consider nylons before my morning coffee.

Anyway, I love the cozy feel of sweats. I can be active in them. Isn't that what Orange County and living near the beach is all about? I can ride my bike and have lunch at the pier and be comfortable in the evening air regardless of the season. I can be outdoors to my heart's content. I can skip the laundry for almost a week if I have a good supply of sweats. Of course, my husband would probably like to see me in a dress more often. But then one has to do what is best for oneself. Right?

Sometimes on Saturday mornings in the fall or winter my mother would wear a pants suit instead of cotton dresses. A navy blue rayon pant suit. If we were going to Crestline or Mt. Baldy to see the deer or build a snowman in the first flurries of winter, she would take a camel hair coat. She never wore jeans. They weren't heard of for city ladies back in the '40s.

My mother always looked so pretty in the mornings.

I wonder whatever happened to all her flowered cotton dresses.

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