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Whatever Happened to the Hostess Dress?

It’s interesting how my memories of the ‘70s (I was born in 1969) are suspiciously similar to the television shows I watched at the time. For example, I was recently reminiscing about hostess dresses. The hostess dress (or hostess jumpsuit or, even better, hostess pajamas) is an all but extinct garment designed in the 1920s and reaching its pinnacle in the ‘60s. 

Hostess dresses were worn by chic suburban housewives while entertaining at home. They were usually maxi dresses with a loose fit often courtesy of strategically-placed empire waist. Occasionally, women wore a snappy pair of coordinating slacks underneath. Whether these ensembles were designed for ease of movement in the kitchen or to leave room for the evening’s pot roast and Baked Alaska, I can only speculate. 

Wearing a hostess dress back in the day was a bit of a power move. It said, “I’m not just a mother of four; I’m a multi-talented chef, florist, interior decorator, conversationalist, and the secret brains behind my husband’s success. Moreover, watch me do all of the above while dressed in this full-length, polyester gown with extra flammable sleeves. And afterwards? I’ll lounge wherever I damn well please.” 

The thing is, I’ve realized many of my childhood memories of fabulous soireés are almost entirely figments of my imagination. In reality, my parents didn’t entertain much. My dad was a cop doing shift work and my mom wasn’t exactly known for her prowess in the kitchen. The thought of her throwing a formal dinner party is pretty hilarious, actually.

You know who I can envision in a hostess dress? Carol Brady. Laura Petrie. Samantha Stephens. Am I nostalgic for a childhood I didn’t actually experience? Has my brain filled in the gaps with details from the sitcoms I watched at the time? Quite possibly. I suppose it’s not that unusual to glamorize one’s younger years a bit.   

Regardless, I do throw dinner parties now–or more often, invite our friends over for beer and takeout– and I have been known to wear a caftan while carrying out my hosting duties. As a matter of fact, entertaining at home is easier and far more fun while wearing something flowy that leaves plenty of room for the beer-and-pizza food baby I’ll have grown by the evening’s end. Bring back the hostess gowns I say! Jan, Laura and Samantha can keep the polyester, though. 


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