LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Can a simple dress become a coping mechanism for the pandemic age? Billowing linen, cozy cotton, flowing silk - more women are rediscovering the power and the comfort of the house dress in a world where work, life and pretty much everything else happens at home. NPR's retail correspondent Alina Selyukh is declaring 2020 the year of the house dress renaissance.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: In the hamster wheel of homebound life, even searching for fashion inspiration by opening dresser drawers can start to fuel tedious. For me, it's been all yoga pants and sweat pants. For Lauren Niimi...
LAUREN NIIMI: Jeans and a sweatshirt; jean skirt and a sweatshirt.
SELYUKH: She's a school administrator, baker and artist in Chicago. One day, feeling tired of same old and pining for her missed trip to wine country, she ordered a long frock she might have worn there as a pandemic house dress.
NIIMI: I just, like, put it on, and I immediately felt like - I don't know - that I could transform into a different place, have a different feeling.
SELYUKH: Lots of women have been doing the same. Floaty tunics, chic kimonos and muumuus, ankle-length T-shirts with pockets - they've been flying off the shelves. A single versatile outfit to take you from a nap to the backyard to a work call to a birthday dinner, says Preeti Chaulk, a data manager from Cincinnati.
PREETI CHAULK: I've actually gotten rid of some fancier dresses to make room for more house dresses because, I would say, I'm wearing a house dress at least three times a week.
SELYUKH: Malgosia Archer is a Polish and British designer who made some lounge dresses for sale before the pandemic. She says she worried her linen fabrics wouldn't be in demand until the summer. But her page on Etsy started selling right away.
MALGOSIA ARCHER: The most popular dress was the house dress, which my daughters call a ghost.
SELYUKH: It really does look like a billowy sheet hanging over you.
ARCHER: It is. It embraces you, and it's really full of air.
SELYUKH: For decades, the house dress got a bad rap, a throwback to the times when women's way was confined to housework says fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen.
DAWNN KAREN: Like, this frumpy, you know, a powerless woman. The only place she has power is within the home and within the kitchen.
SELYUKH: That was the purpose of the original house dress - a dowdy, matronly Victorian gown. Even as the house dress got more shapely and stylish, it was still about looking chic while doing chores. Some in the '50s even came with matching oven mitts. In the '70s, they loosened up like the lounge caftans worn by the flamboyant Helen Roper for her shenanigans on the '70s sitcom "Three's Company."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THREE'S COMPANY")
AUDRA MARIE LINDLEY: (As Helen Roper) Look, isn't that pretty? How do you like it?
NORMAN FELL: (As Stanley Roper) What is it?
LINDLEY: (As Helen Roper) It's macrame.
SELYUKH: And, sure, we might still end up doing errands in a house dress today or weave macrame on the couch. But in 2020, wearing a house dress comes with no expectations.
LYNETTE GABRIEL: I kind of started with the whole house dress thing because a lot of my friends and I were having, like, a Zoom brunch, and we'd say wear something cute.
SELYUKH: Lynette Gabriel is an e-commerce merchandiser from Oakland whose girlfriends keep pandemic company with virtual brunches, snacking on smoked salmon potato hash and sipping on a glass of rose in a glam leopard print long-sleeve gown from the back of her closet. Gabriel found her new house fashion.
GABRIEL: We actually now call ourselves The Real Housewives of Quarantine in our house dresses.
SELYUKH: Fashion psychologist Karen argues clothes and mood are intertwined, making the house dress a perfect match for pandemic life - a small expression of control during the uncontrollable, a sense of free-flowing freedom and style in the time of restrictions and monotony, an easy, quick choice to relieve at least life's minor anxieties. Alina Selyukh, NPR News.
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