Everyday Clothing

It seems as if “everyday clothing” is having a moment. Several weeks ago I posted a link to the New York Times article about the collection of everyday clothes at Smith College. Then last week there was a conference in the UK on the topic of everyday clothes. And the latest episode of the fashion podcast Bande  à Part  is also about everyday clothes.

One of the first questions that Rebecca and Beatrice of Bande  à Part  discuss is, just what is everyday clothing. It might be pretty obvious to some, but think of the population as a whole; one person’s everyday is another’s special occasion. For discussion here, I’d suggest that everyday clothing means the clothes the 99% of us wear everyday. It does not include couture garments and ballgowns. For the most part, it does not include the avant garde.

In  short, everyday clothes are the things that one does not expect to see in a fashion exhibition at the Met, or any museum that is dedicated to the idea that fashion is art. On the other hand, you would expect to see everyday dress in a history museum. And many museums, such as dedicated fashion museums, will often have both couture and more commonly worn garments in their collections.

Personally, I prefer the historical and cultural (as opposed to artistic) approach. Not to say that I don’t appreciate a stunning Dior gown, because I do. It’s enlightening for an everyday clothing collector like me to occasionally see the work of an artist like Dior. The truth is there are plenty of topics about everyday dress that need to be explored, but do we really need another book on Coco Chanel?

I still find the study of what women wore – and why they wore it – to be the most fascinating part of fashion history.  The choice of a couture ballgown is based on what one’s favorite designer has to offer combined with trying to stand out from the other couture-clad ball goers. But in 1922 the decision to wear a pair of knickerbockers to a fall picnic could be full of gender-bending anxiety.

I can vividly remember the first day I dared to wear jeans to school. It had been stressed to us in the sixties and seventies that young ladies wore dresses and skirts, and so it was hard to ignore the disapproving voices in my head. How much stronger must that message have been to girls in the early 1920s!

It doesn’t get much more “everyday” than the school girl’s middy. My matching set is linen and was worn by a college girl. But even families with few resources could buy cheap cotton middies or make them at home.

This knit sports dress was made by a moderately priced knitwear maker, Sacony.  The silk blouse was most likely made at home, and the California Sports Hat was sold through the Montgomery Ward catalog. Even though this ensemble is far from couture, it is still important as it shows a step in the increasingly casual way people were dressing in the 1920s.

Bathing suits were becoming a necessity, and they were available at many price points, from less than a dollar to more than twenty dollars. A woman needed a cover-up. but that could be borrowed from her own boudoir.

These two garments were probably beyond the budget of many 1920s women, but this would have been everyday wear for a woman who had a bit more to spend on her clothes.

And here is an example of a more aspirational garment. This is from French fashion house Babani, and would have been priced at a level that most American women could only dream of.

I think it is great that historians are giving everyday clothing a closer look. What people wore is important in understanding the times in which they lived. It’s interesting to think of clothes as artifacts, and not just what one wore each day.




Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Museums, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

14 responses to “Everyday Clothing

  1. I agree completely. It’s really much more interesting. As for collecting, it’s harder to find very old everyday clothing that has survived intact than it is to find ballgowns and other special occasion, now and then items in great condition. Everyday clothes get worn every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jacq Staubs

    I agree with you. It s an interesting subject. What “they’ wore / and what “we” wear every day (i think) is largely determined on social position/career/ activity.In the late 70’s we (creative fashion merchandisers were given the daunting task of creating “Week Ending” clothing (as an example)vs. office/corporate/evening social,etc.It worked. the experiment developed what we see today as “private labeling. Supply/demand rather than established vendor purchase.


  3. The display is wonderful! And your success in putting together complete outfits is a joy to see. More, more more! (I remembered the bowling motif, but the appliqued coat with it — I want to see more, especially since it is such a very Twenties’ color combination.) Thanks for sharing these. It made my day.


  4. enjoyed the whole post. I too like everyday clothing. yesterday I was in a resale boutique where the owner and I discussed our mutual liking for everyday classics “with a twist.” Eg a lightweight denim tunic for ladies of a certain age looking to hide lumpy bits — but with a clever detail or two so it’s modern and flattering rather than dull and matronly. I’m sure the clothes you collect and display so nicely have the same subtle differences.


  5. What is so wonderful about your collection is that you have taken the time to put together entire outfits, so we really get a sense of what it meant to get dressed in a chosen era. And also, you have a great eye. These are outfits with real style, reflecting what Lizzie Bramlett would have worn in a given era.


  6. I remember the first day we were allowed to wear jeans to school. I jumped into them gleefully and never looked back! 🙂


  7. I enjoyed your “fashion show,” Lizzie. And, yes, “everyday” clothing is so interesting! Couture gowns are costumes. I remember seeing a Civil War-era maternity dress in a museum display. Everyday indeed. [A history of maternity clothing would be interesting. Surely some fashion scholar has already written an article about it.]


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