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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Anthropology

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Museum of Anthropology

American Material Culture

The Power of Fashion: 100 Years of Dress

fashion magazine old
The popular housedress in the 1930's, Hooverette's were priced at 59 cents, compared to the $1.50 that was charged for comparable house dresses. Due to the lack of money available during this time, these factors made these dresses a popular style choice.

What determines the types of clothes that you wear on a daily basis? Do you wear one outfit for the whole day or do you change for every different activity throughout your day? The way you may dress today is likely based on the freedom of personal style, daily activities, the types of people you may encounter, and social expectations. Historically, social norms dictated women to wear 2, 3, or even 4 different outfits a day depending on what they may be doing.

In the 1930's, the Hooverette was a type of housedress that was developed for women during the Great Depression. The Hooverette dress was believed to have been named after Herbert Hoover, who was thought to have been responsible for the Great Depression.

Historically, having different outfits for the home, grocery store, and night life were common. The years prior to this time were defined by fancy dress being worn out on the town and more dressed down clothes being worn in the home. However, in the 1930's, this multiuse garment, priced at 50% less than other garments was essential. Hooverettes allowed women to cook, clean, entertain, and go out on the town without having to change to clothes.

The need to find economical dress choice to save money is though to have contributed to the development of this dress. Comparison of house wear from the 1890's and 1990's. Over an entire century, dresses remain common, but their functions change dramatically:

historic dress

Woman is dressed for a day of cleaning in the 1890's.

dress new

Women are going to a fancy party in the 1990's.

Despite having less money, the social pressure of being properly dressed for the type of activity one was participating in didn't dissipate. Over the years, the fanciness of the house dress diminished, but the idea of being more dressed up when leaving the house has been retained.

Even after the innovation of these all-in-one style clothes, this important trend remains true. Today, most of us will wear more dressed down clothes when at home, and more dressy clothes when going to school or work. Today our dress may be more casual overall, but is a key to understanding the social and economic pressures of our current society. Similarly, Hooverettes were are a useful piece of material culture that tells us a lot about what it was like to be an American woman during the depression, like the impact of social and economic pressures.