Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Vintage Style: How Come You’re All Dressed Up?

donna reed

Donna Reed

It happened again just the other day. I was in town running errands in a simple denim skirt, sweater, tights, and boots suitable for the Abominable Snowman (it’s February in Idaho, after all) when I ran into an acquaintance. After a few moments of chitchat, she asked me, “So how come you’re all dressed up?”

I glanced down. “Huh?”

I was anything but dressed up. Swap the denim skirt for denim jeans and my clothing wouldn’t have received any notice at all. I hadn’t even remembered to put on earrings. But because I was wearing a skirt, now matter how plain and workaday, I was assumed to be “dressed up”–a condition for which I apparently owe an explanation. In the general mind, “skirt” equals “dressed to the nines.” It was probably meant as a compliment, but it felt more like an accusation, like “Who are you trying to impress?”

The awkward incident got me to thinking about, of all people,  Donna Reed and Barbara Billingsley (the Beaver’s mom). We laugh now at reruns of these iconic 1950s TV housewives,doing the laundry and the vacuuming in their dresses and pearls and fresh-from-the-beauty-shop hairstyles. How uncomfortable! How impractical! How . . . well, silly!

Well, the joke is on me. Because it occurs to me that they may have been on to something.

As a work-at-home writer, I frequently fall into the trap of placing comfort over style, assuming that comfort is synonymous with stretched out, baggy, and faded. The trouble is, if I stick with this line of reasoning too long, I find that I personally start to feel stretched out, baggy and faded. It’s not a good feeling. Pajamas are supposed to signify rest and relaxation, not seizing the day and taking on the world. By dressing nicely (not ostentatiously, but nicely) for their daily tasks, those vintage housewives were showing respect for their families, their communities, and their work.

There’s a proclamation throughout the realm insisting that decent, neat clothes have to be uncomfortable. You’re either in bunny slippers or stiletto heels–no in-between. So this week I’ve been doing a little experiment. I’ve been “dressing up” on purpose, just to be a rebel.

Today’s choice is a simple black dress (yes, a dress! I can hear you gasping) sprigged with tiny flowers, with a plain black cardigan tossed over it for warmth, and black tights.  This dress is THE most comfortable thing ever–way more comfortable than jeans. I can do my housework. I can work at my computer.  I feel pretty. I feel ready for anything. And I bet dollars to doughnuts that if I head for town right now, I’m bound to see someone who will ask me what I’m all dressed up for.

Donna would be so proud.

2 Responses to Vintage Style: How Come You’re All Dressed Up?

  • Hearthrose says:

    For real! I have two denim skirts that I wear in lieu of jeans, and people seem to think I”m dressing up … and I’m super comfy.

    Awesome blog!

  • Sue says:

    Reminds me of when my mom first became a grandmother, in the Donna Reed era, and started wearing skirts around the house because she thought that was required of granmas. I hardly recognized her. For her, the new style lasted about one week before she went back to her usual polyester slacks. For me — I agree that it is a wonderful secret that dresses or skirts with boot or sandals are about as quick and comfy as you can get dressed. The bonus is that everyone wonders what you are up to, “dressing up”. Just reply with a twinkle in your eye “Oh, nothing.” and they will wonder all day to what event you were invited, that they weren’t!

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