Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Dresses!!!! And a Brief History of the Shirt Waist Dress

I hit the jackpot today during Salvation Army's Half Price Day.  All of their clothing is half on on Wednesdays (in the Dallas area, at least).  I almost did not go.  I had arrived  a little after 8am to find out they do not open until 10am.   I ran a few errands, filled the car up (OUCH...Gas Prices!!!!), etc and almost decided it was not worth waiting on.  At the last minute, I turned around to wait it out.

I am so glad that I did.  You know that I complain about not being able to find dresses in vintage styles because of my "granny arms" and size in general.  Someone must have cleaned out a closet and donated a load of never worn dresses.  Never worn but they have that .... smell....that older clothes get.  Well that is part of the price, I they are being laundered or aired out right now.

Before I proceeded to take care of the "dusty attic" smell, I played dress up with Gertie.

A little wrinkled but in such perfect condition.  I am posting this one on my etsy shop, Girlie Girl's Notions.

This one looks just so darn cute on me.  The belt does not fit Girtie, but really nips MY waist in.

I almost did not even try this one on...It is my most favorite of the group.

Each had the tags or the little plastic thingies that attaches the tags still attached. 

I am not too fond of the pockets on the chest of this one.  I am thinking of a re-design.

I have the perfect cardigan for this one.

This one needs some work.  I like the shape so it was well worth my time.

I know these are not 50's house-dresses / shirt-waists but they have the fit and design of what I look for.  I am thinking these might be from the 1970s / 1980s because there was some influence during that time of 1950s fashions.  I remember when I was in Junior High (mid 80s) I had a few shirt-waists that I liked because, even way back then, I preferred this fit and style.  I even kept a few until I was in college because the styles changed and I could no longer find them.  They must have been trashed when the evil second husband of my mother (lol...notice I did not say "step-dad") redid my room.

After World War II, women looked to lifestyle magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, to define, learn, and adapt to their new roles in the land of plenty.  Such magazines "influenced the fashion decisions of women, and provides information on how the 1950s shirt-waist was sold to them.  Tracing the path of the shirt-waist—from its established pre-war form, to its 1947 revision by Haute Couture designer Christian Dior, to its gradual appearance in this new form in Good Housekeeping—shows how it began its development as an icon.  Exploring how it was represented in other media in later years will show how it solidified as an icon" from The Clothesline Journal .

When we were researching the early 1900s in my costume history class at Texas A&M, we learned that the shirt-waist was based after a man's shirt.  Women wore these because they were practical and they did not need assistance in getting dressed.  This brought a lot of freedom for the ladies to spend their time on other matters, such as fighting for the vote and other civic minded activities.   So you can see that the 1950's designers were not the first to construct a shirt-waist inspired look.  

These dresses became the uniform of the 1950's housewife.  Since this is the fashion era I am interested in, as far as this blog post is concerned, I will focus on the 1950's influence.  June Cleaver, Donna Reed, Father Knows Best's wife (what was her name?), Marrion Cunningham, etc all wore these when one thinks of the 1950's housewife, this is usually what she is wearing, of course with heels and pearls.  

"Christain Dior’s influence on the 1950s style shirtwaist began with his “New Look” collection in the spring of 1947 and almost single-handedly defined the post-war silhouette.  Although other designers such as Claire McCardell were working with similar skirt shapes at the time, the fashion media credited Dior with the inception of the “New Look.”  While Dior did influence ready-to-wear styles, it is incorrect to say that his version merely “trickled down.”  Grant D. McCracken explains the specifics of the trickle down theory in his essay “The Trickle-Down Theory Rehabilitated.”
“The trickle-down theory, first stated by Simmel (1904), was an ingenious account of fashion change.  The theory holds that two conflicting principles act as a kind of engine or motive force for innovation.  Subordinate social groups, following the principle of imitation, seek to establish new status claims by adopting the clothing of super ordinate groups.  Super ordinate social groups, following the principle of differentiation, respond by adopting new fashion."[7] 
If anything, an opposite scenario caused the shirtwaists popularity.  This change disseminated in a circular and almost cyclical way.  Dior took the already well-established form of the shirtwaist and created a new, haute couture version.[8] While this is not necessarily an early incarnation of the now common trend of turning street fashion into couture, it does suggest Dior’s “. . . willingness to work with an established form but to complicate its construction and render it idiosyncratic.”  The new style then slowly began to influence all price points and classes to create the new form, while obliterating the old one" from The Clothesline Journal

So every housewife was able to follow the styles, no matter her social status.  From farmer's wives to socialites on 5th Avenue, women were dressing up or down in the popular shirt-waist style.
Happy Homemaking,


This post is being linked up at  

And Fabulous Thrift and Fashionable Friday at  A Thrifty LA Life (kris is so darn cute, you gotta go see what she found at fashionable)


  1. I love your vintage flair. The polka dots are so sweet and the shirt dress -- amazing. I say keep the pockets for just one wear, and see how it plays out. Maybe a cute hanky for one of the pockets???

  2. Just found your fabulous blog! Great finds, I know what you mean about being hard to get vintage clothes in a modern ladies size! Scarlett x