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Comfort Meets Victorian Ghost with the Nap Dress


Image taken from The Fashion Ball

The Coronavirus Pandemic has kept us homebound for over six months, slowly able to reintegrate into some form of normalcy, but still spending a majority of our time within our homes. This stay-at-home time period has forced us to adjust to a temporary house-bound life and with that comes finding comfort. And the next best, and trendiest, way to find comfort at home for women is the house dress.

Tracing back originally to the Victorian gown that freed women of corsets, the house dress, or nap dress, initially got a bad rep. Similarly to that of the currently popular cottagecore aesthetic, house dresses are a throwback to a time where women were bound to housework and a patriarchal society. Back in this period, although popular, the dress could be described as a “baggy matronly smock.” Even as the years went on and the outfit became more chic and trendy, in the 1940s and ‘50s the focus was still on chicness during chores: the mindset that you can look fashionable while still performing your homely duties.

The ‘70s saw the house dress become more casual, made famous by the flamboyant caftans of Helen Roper on Three’s Company. Although designed for the more casual appeal, the perpetuated stigma behind the clothing item created a perceived description of an article that’s “dowdy, dated and perhaps involves ‘laying on your couch eating bonbons.’”

But what is the allure of the house dress, or nap dress as it is commonly called? A nap dress is about indulgence for one’s body, and a sort of childlike return to waking up in a haze before dinner. While one might hide under layers of fabric, the clothing item creates a sort of presentable pajama.

The new name of the house dress, which takes away from the old stigma is the aforementioned Nap Dress, named by Nell Diamond of the brand Hill House. This titular dress refers to any nightgown-adjacent frock that is seemingly worn to bed but in actuality could be worn out in public. The dresses that Diamond has designed looks more reminiscent of a Victorian Ghost rather than a milkmaid.

Her interest in the period dresswear dates back to college where she wrote her English thesis on “Pre-Raphaelite women using very traditional notions of femininity to quietly subvert their husbands.” More specifically, she took focus on a line in Milton’s Paradise Lost involving Eve’s wild hair. From here, she became intrigued in the connection between white cotton gowns and hysteria, the garment that women in Victorian novels titled as “mad” but in fact are victims of trauma or abuse.

Hill House’s nap dresses start around $125, however these dresses are popular at other stores like ASOS and Target if that’s over your budget.

The Nap Dress creates a sort of childlike innocence that “combines these associations into a single garment; it is children’s clothing sized up for adults, or creepy, adult ghost clothes festooned with sweet and approachable details.. In a sense, the dress takes back the negatives of the Victorian Era and brings femininity and autonomy into the forefront.

Even before the pandemic started, fashion has been headed in a comfier direction. The athleisure category has become a mainstream clothing trend for years, while big, walkable sneakers and dad-on-vacation-inspired sandals have also taken over. As people have been stranded at home, the idea of comfortable fashion has started to speed up, especially since we really only move from our bedroom to our workspace throughout the day. Behavioral psychologist Carolyn Mair suggests that nap dresses will be among 2020’s most memorable trends as “We tend to feel more ‘dressed up’ when wearing a dress than other garments, and so choosing a comfortable style of dress during the pandemic makes perfect sense.”

Even though we are still stuck as home for most of our time, that does not mean we should sacrifice comfort for fashion. The Nap Dress has brought us back to our Victorian-esque wear, while also empowering women to cleanse the clothing of its original homemaker purpose. This dress can be seen as self-expression, but at the same time, the Nap Dress creates a clean, comfy, simple escape from the status of the world.