Unpacking the Nap Dress
June 28, 2021 9:09 AM   Subscribe

"They’re beautiful, these dresses. But they’re also an echo of an echo of a song so familiar we’ve ceased to hear its sadness." Anne Helen Petersen does a deep dive into Laura Ashley, Ashley Dawn, and post-pandemic mommy-and-me fashion.
posted by orange swan (119 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Laura Ashley dresses and their ubiquitous floral prints were the it-dress for my Grade 8 graduation (in 1991). I hated them. My mom wouldn't let me wear black, but at least I got to wear dark blue in semi-gothic fashion.
posted by jb at 9:17 AM on June 28 [11 favorites]


I DON'T HAVE TO LOOK GOOD WHILE NAPPING is all I think hearing of this non-trend "trend."

(Thia article is interesting and has a lot to unpack, thank you for posting!)
posted by tiny frying pan at 9:24 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


I've never cared particularly for the Laura Ashley aesthetic myself. My tastes aren't Victorian, romantic, or country -- particularly the latter. I grew up on a farm, and while I'm not immune to the charm of an airy summer dress and must admit that I think a lot of the dresses chosen to illustrate her article are attractive, I'm a hard sell on the simpler, pastoral/country life "you can wear this to frolic in meadows" fantasy that is used to market it. Pro-tip: if you should go frolicking in a pasture in such a dress, be sure to watch out for the groundhog holes. And the thistles. And the cowpies.
posted by orange swan at 9:34 AM on June 28 [34 favorites]


I'm not surprised these dresses took off. The appeal to me was like "Hey ladies for a certain amount of time you can wear something that won't constrict your rib cage! Look how unencumbered your rib cage can be now!" This is a regular fashion cycle since fashion began.
posted by bleep at 9:38 AM on June 28 [29 favorites]


Nell Diamond's look is very pretty and carefully done, but to me, it doesn't say "cottagecore." It says "Pentecostal." That's the look I remember from girls who had to dress just so in high school -- home-made floral-print dresses, long hair.* It's not unattractive, but it says to me: this is an outfit that is working as hard to repress as a steel band. I'm surprised I never heard that Laura Ashley came from a strict religious background; it makes perfect sense. It may not jibe with the brand's luxe reputation in the US, but fundamentalist Christianity and big money are never too far apart.

I like sundresses and sometimes I long for one like these nap dresses, but a mid-size body needs structure. These dresses are all about pretending you're a waif who can float through the fields with bolts of fabric just hanging off your body, looking fantastic. Me, I need darts and elastic and shapewear.

* In the Olden Days to which cottagecore brands and Christian modesty outfits alike are supposed to call back, only girls younger than, say, 12 or so would be wearing their hair long. Otherwise, it was all to be pinned up and/or pushed under a bonnet or hat, depending on the context. Laura Ashley's designs sometimes got this with the pouffy '80s hairstyles, which were riffing on '40s hairstyles to begin with.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:55 AM on June 28 [49 favorites]


Okay, I get it, people don't like the prairie dress aesthetic, yadda yadda, but nap dresses are the most comfortable clothing in the world.
posted by all about eevee at 10:05 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Speaking of Laura Ashley, here’s David Bowie. Yup, they’re connected….
posted by njohnson23 at 10:08 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


Similar dresses in the 60s and 70s were called "granny dresses." The Wikipedia article on them seems to credit Laura Ashley, but they appeared in the US before that. I remember them as a hippie thing. They were also a way to rebel when girls routinely got in trouble for too-short mini skirts - we could go against what the schools wanted us to wear and dare them to object because, after all, they couldn't say we were showing too much skin. The Wikipedia article says two girls in Oakland were sent home for wearing them. There were also granny glasses, which don't seem like Laura Ashley to me at all.

I remember my brother asking me why I wanted to look like an old farm woman, and I never came up with a good answer to that question.
posted by FencingGal at 10:12 AM on June 28 [17 favorites]


In the US, they’d sell the same skirt for three times as much. Stores were placed alongside similarly aspirational brands (Gucci, Mark Cross) and if they had to be in a mall, it was always the fancy one with the Saks Fifth Avenue.

This is why my middle-aged mind can't see Laura Ashley without thinking of the rich kids in middle and high school. I wanted one in the same way that I wanted Guess jeans. Laura Ashley absolutely wasn't my aesthetic, but it triggers an inferiority complex of not being able to afford it.

I've never heard of a Nap dress, but that dress looks fantastic for napping in. Why don't people actually nap in them?
posted by gladly at 10:25 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


Because when you're napping, no one can see your pretty dress.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:34 AM on June 28 [7 favorites]


I know it's to show the back of the piece, but I like how the NYT article illustration apparently shows a daughter stomping off all "forget you guys, gonna go be a punk rocker."

Which is pretty much how I felt about Laura Ashley in my teen/young adult years. Nothing made me want to wear all black more.
posted by praemunire at 10:43 AM on June 28 [11 favorites]


FWIW t-shirt dresses are my go-to nap dress. Can't get much more simple than that.
posted by glonous keming at 10:44 AM on June 28 [9 favorites]


they’re still nostalgic for a past that was repressive and miserable for most

Enough modernist, reject-the-past projects have also been repressive and miserable for most that I find this automatic dismissal unconvincing (and fairly pious-shibboleth-ish). Fantasizing about having power over others is gross; fantasizing about no one having power over me is not. Smallholders with land tenure are historically not the worst off people in the world, because, granted, history sucks, but it’s what most (eg) queer and PoC cottagecore looks like to me. (Mostly without the parts of farming that require productivity and work ethic like whoa, but not entirely.)

I haven’t been in the advertising swim for any of these dresses and they all look far too fitted for napping to me. I’m under the heat dome and I am returning to the muumuu/Mother Hubbard/wash dress/one-hour dress, and they’ve all got pockets and my shoulders don’t burn.
posted by clew at 10:49 AM on June 28 [13 favorites]


Nell Diamond's look is very pretty and carefully done, but to me, it doesn't say "cottagecore." It says "Pentecostal."

Abso-lute-ly. One of the other parents in my son's daycare has repeatedly shown up with her 3-year-old in all kinds of horrible matching dresses. They are indeed well-off, conservative, evangelical Christian types. As one of the other parents put it, "Fashion, but make it handmaiden."
posted by ZaphodB at 11:00 AM on June 28 [55 favorites]


Smallholders with land tenure are historically not the worst off people in the world, because, granted, history sucks, but it’s what most (eg) queer and PoC cottagecore looks like to me.

This is definitely the appeal to me. The first time I came across this twitter account it made me cry to think of how lovely the kind of life described here sounds.
posted by bleep at 11:01 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Fantasizing about having power over others is gross; fantasizing about no one having power over me is not.

This white-femininity fantasy, played straight, is always about having power over other people, just without having to acknowledge it directly. Maybe POC folks can do something else with it, but a white woman who invests a lot in it is automatically sus.
posted by praemunire at 11:04 AM on June 28 [9 favorites]


Smallholders with land tenure are historically not the worst off people in the world,

I mean, yeah, there were people beneath them, but...
posted by praemunire at 11:06 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


My main issue with these dresses is aesthetic, not ideological. I think it would be hard to design a dress that would be less flattering to my body. I'm sure they're comfy, but so is a bathrobe, and a bathrobe at least has the virtue of tying at the waist. I feel like this look is designed to reinforce the dominance of women with long limbs and small boobs.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:15 AM on June 28 [11 favorites]


It may be dating me to say that the nap dress ads I've seen don't say "Laura Ashley" to me - rather, they say "Gunne Sax". Which was so my jam in my tweens and into my teens - it felt like Jessica McClintock was Laura Ashley's more introverted, humble cousin, who wanted to look similarly lacey and ruffley and flowy but wasn't above getting stuff second-hand if that was all she could afford.

All the ads I've seen for nap dresses, in addition, are just targeted at the 20-something cottagecore singletons; this is the first I've heard there was a whole "mommy and me" ad campaign for them. I am also eternally grateful that Mom never attempted to try to match with me - we were individuals, and we didn't need to match.

In general, there is great appeal of clothing that is comfortable enough to wear around the house but also pretty enough that you can answer the door when the mailman comes or spontaneously invite your friend to stop in for a coffee and stay a while if they're dropping something off. In cooler months this can be yoga pants and a nice cozy top; in summer something cooler would be better.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:18 AM on June 28 [12 favorites]


(Oh, and the dress I use in such a fashion was a super-cheap thing I got from a tie-dye company and dyed it blue.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Fascinating article and a really good read. This was new to me though for odd reasons I occasionally go down the rabbit hole of “plain” clothing sites because I am fascinated with these plain religious communities. I’m also slightly put-off by having baking bread and mushroom foraging being lumped in with cottagecore and I do both those things and definitely don’t fit that description. I’m. 50’s something Gen x guy with a mid-century house and a love of modernism.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:25 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Similar dresses in the 60s and 70s were called "granny dresses." The Wikipedia article on them seems to credit Laura Ashley, but they appeared in the US before that.

Yeah, as I understand it, hippies originally wore Victorian-type stuff because they could get it second-hand for cheap and they thought it was hilarious.

From there, those motifs (with and without their bohemian context) were translated into pret-a-porter by folks like Ossie Clark and Jessica McClintock.

And yeah, n-thing that Laura Ashley has always felt oppressively churchey (as opposed to Gunne Sax, which made me feel like freaking Galadriel when I was a tween.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:28 AM on June 28 [23 favorites]


Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren were churchy siblings, iirc.

I don’t remember homemade dresses being innately knockoffs of LA, etc. They could be much stranger, and into the 1970s they were probably cheaper, certainly if the seamstress had a women’s-wages job. I’m sure my more fashionable classmates disagreed with me, and my first efforts were risible.
posted by clew at 11:36 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


a mid-century house and a love of modernism

These are also now retro aesthetics.
posted by clew at 11:38 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


As Laura Ashley’s husband told Life in 1984, “Laura’s clothes are the way a woman should look.”
... vomit.

Good call to the article for pointing out the increase in popularity of this look correlating with an increase in conservative politics.
posted by travertina at 11:46 AM on June 28 [15 favorites]


And turns out I bought a "nap dress" recently and cut those useless frilly straps off. A flowy tube that keeps my boobs in place is perfect for heat wave weather. I 100% do not care if I "look pregnant" since I've been accused of that since I was 19 and half my current size. Bodies gonna body.
posted by travertina at 11:47 AM on June 28 [12 favorites]


I used a Laura Ashley pattern for my sister’s dress for my wedding. She hated it. Short puff sleeves, flat bodice, high waist, lowish neckline, full length skirt, all in a tiny floral pattern. She looked adorable and it went really well with the Victorian style gown I got on sale for $90 at J. C. Penney. Memories! But then I’m the kind of person who likes Folkwear patterns and Fair Isle sweaters.
posted by Peach at 11:48 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


I might have shared this story once before, but this is a good chance to share it again:

I think I was about eleven or twelve, and was out school clothes shopping at a time when this kind of "prairie girl" look was in vogue. I was in one stall trying something on, and in two neighboring stalls two other women were doing the same thing, calling through the curtains to each other and discussing what they were trying on. Suddenly one of the women grumbled in frustration: "See, this is why I don't like the 'prairie girl' look - because I look more like the covered wagon!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on June 28 [22 favorites]


It just seems like a sundress to me.

For someone interested in the build but not the price, I purchased this nap-dress-adjacent dress from Target in May and this month wore it to an outdoor memorial service, a networking happy hour, a baptism party, and to the grocery store and it worked for all of those events. It is incredibly comfortable and pleasingly swishy. And I received numerous compliments on the dress.

Wouldn't nap in it though.
posted by kimberussell at 12:06 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Viv Albertine and Paul Simonon for Laura Ashley. Apparently Paul went to art school with Laura Ashley's daughter.
posted by pxe2000 at 12:07 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


When I was pregnant in 1986, I lived in nap dresses, except back then they were called sundresses, and you could get them for like 8 bucks at Kmart.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:10 PM on June 28 [6 favorites]


This is why my middle-aged mind can't see Laura Ashley without thinking of the rich kids in middle and high school.

Every now and then something comes up that again clarifies for me the lie that my family and the kids I knew in school were "middle class." Laura Ashley dresses probably peaked in my (public) high school around 1987 (give or take a year) and they are pretty much what I picture when I think of what the girls I knew looked and dressed like (not to mention the bangs). I mean, there were certainly (private) schools in town that may have had more disposable wealth on average than my school, but it certainly seemed the Laura Ashley dress wasn't so much an intentional status indicator as just how girls dressed when they wanted to be dressy and feminine. In college the girls who were still wearing them at all were wearing them with heavy boots, in a transitional grunge style. (Note for non-US readers: I'm referring to US public and private schools which may not be the same things as schools with those names in your own countries).
posted by fedward at 12:11 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Apple News is teasing me with a Wall Street Journal paywalled article about "the new teen status look costs hundreds", and it seems to be a Laura Ashley esque dress cut off at mid thigh. Tight around the waist.
posted by clew at 12:19 PM on June 28


I'm a childless millennial, and I understand the appeal, including of the "Nap Dress". I also admit that the attraction to loose and floaty. It is frustrating that it is all tied up with white supremacy, because those designs are also pragmatic in the face of climate change.

I can't change that the PNW is getting nailed by a heat dome. I don't like it, however it means that the a region that is not built for heat is sweltering through 43 C temperatures. Cotton cones that fit loosely are ideal.

That's the buried part of the Cottage/Mommy+Me Aesthetic, making do because the money has gotten pretty finite so rediscovering domestic skills are about the only luxury you can use. Combined with the upending of work/life balance if you have the privilege to do knowledge or phone based work, thanks to covid precautions, dressing in a comfy pretty sack (dark Academia in the winter, because layering and tights) works as a quality of life thing.

For example I can't afford to eat out regularly and eat well, even on a fairly good salary for my area. However the trend even collectively has been increasingly towards buying less pre prepared foods and more perishable groceries. These are cheaper but take more time to turn into food. Cooking can be framed psychologically as "I am too poor to afford a restaurant" OR I can frame it as "this is how my ancestors lived, I made a pie!"

I don't feel like I am yearning for a pre-racial equality time where men were men, I feel like I am acknowledging the value of traditionally feminine skills, all of which seem radically more useful in the now. It's also being honest about the labour expected of me as a vaguely women shaped person, while acknowledging that to be girly had carried a significant stigma for my entire life.

As to who one is dressing for:
Social media bridges the gap between the luxury for self and performance aesthetic. This is not just the flex of Instagram or Tiktok, but the more private space of self expression through picture and video for people I want to be seen by.

I put on makeup for my Zoom Tabletop and to send animated video clips to absent loved ones because the technocracy compliments camera ready stage makeup. I know it makes my communication through this medium clearer because, say, lipstick makes it easier to read off my lips through whatever wifi distortion my players live through.

Further...

I get very frustrated with the cat butt face made over "who would dress up at home!" as home has historically been the only space I can dress as the self. I can wear weird vintage stuff or dress as a fairy. Or dress wildly sexy. Or a poofy cottage dress. Wear this to work, where there is a dull subdued office look, a sort of casual that is socially policed with reminders I "don't need to dress up" if I wear slightly more formal things, to a management class of older people that still thinks "Jeans Day" reflects my wardrobe of choice to be a privilege, not a nuisance that would require buying uncomfortable pants.
posted by Phalene at 12:21 PM on June 28 [35 favorites]


I don’t remember homemade dresses being innately knockoffs of LA, etc. They could be much stranger

As someone who had a sewing mom at that age (who was doing her best but didn't have a lot of resources): phew, yes.
posted by praemunire at 12:22 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Viv Albertine and Paul Simonon for Laura Ashley.

Fun fact: I ripped the (puffed) sleeves and cut about a foot off of a Laura Ashely dress my mother bought me in the 8th grade and wore it to shows in college for a while with fishnets and docs, under an old velvet jacket with buttons and safety pins on the lapel.

I was so happy when Laura Ashley went away. I spent my childhood with people trying to force it on me to dress like Princess Diana when I was really more of a mid-1970s Diana Ross leaning toward Vivienne Westwood kind of girl.

I'm a super femme dresser, but my version involves way more sequins and rhinestones and tulle and very bright colors. Floral prints, especially those that aren't super bold or deliberaly campy make zero sense to me. And though I theoretically like cottages (especially stone ones with gables and attractive flower gardens), but I also don't understand the appeal of farms and baby animals and aprons and whatever perhaps because I'm too closely related to multiple generations of farmers who were/all miserable about it all the time. So cottagecore is not for me. And I was literally just complaining about how hard it is to find a nice dress right now that does not involve fucking puff sleeves and smocking and tiered ruffles. I am all for maximalism, but I don't want to walk around looking like I'm dressed in Holly Hobby drapes from 1982 for the love of all that is holy.

Also, Mommy and me dresses. Mommy and me dresses are the worst.
posted by thivaia at 12:25 PM on June 28 [16 favorites]


I always thought Laura Ashley was just a particularly conservative, twee brand identity that started out by targeting young Tories in the late '70s/early '80s. Essentially a way for the Sloane Square set to dress once they were no longer in school uniforms, and one that would distinguish them from the Oxfam/knit jumpers/army trousers/Doc Martens uniform favored by the young middle-class Left at the time.

It turns out the real story is way creepier.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:25 PM on June 28 [14 favorites]


There was no napping in the Laura Ashley bridesmaids dresses I was forced to wear (awkwardly) when I was a tween and teen. They never fit me right, always seemed to be juniors' sizing when I was never a junior (even when by age I was) and always had annoying low backs, which necessitated complicated undergarment situations. I HATED them.
posted by 41swans at 12:33 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


I am the target audience of these and I love AHP but has no one mentioned that it's just kind of fun to match? I remember intentionally matching my friends' outfits my whole life until adulthood. Now I have someone who actively wants to do everything I do, including dress how I dress. It's not about imposing a gendered uniform on my kid -- she wants to be like me, she wants to look like me and it's fun for her and the dresses are pretty?
posted by shesdeadimalive at 12:35 PM on June 28 [17 favorites]


When they were at the absolute nadir of fashionability in the late nineties, I found several larger-sized Laura Ashley dresses at the thrift store (and this was when the thrift store was cheap, too). One of them was the best - it was a drop-waisted sailor dress in black corduroy with black ribbons and trim. Just pure Edward Goreyana. I really wish I'd kept it - no longer doing womanhood, I got rid of almost all my dresses and skirts, but that dress was amazing. It's like, have you ever gone to a state fair and seen the entirely black ducks and geese in the animal barn? That dress was like a black duck - something that you associate so strongly with color that making it all black is startling and makes you see it completely anew.

The other thing about Laura Ashley dresses is that they are, IMO, so completely what little girls of my generation thought of as "pretty dresses" - maybe not the only kind of pretty dress, but big fluffy dresses in pretty prints with lots of feminine detail, not too grown up like an actual grown up might wear to do grown up things.

For that matter, fluffy dresses seem to have so much power in the culture right now, that I - generally your preppy/early-20th-century-hillwalking-intellectual-with-maybe-a-dash-of-'68 transmasc type person was actually seriously considering a secondhand floral jumper and wondering if I could possibly make it work in some way.
posted by Frowner at 12:42 PM on June 28 [24 favorites]


Mommy and me dresses - I don't think I ever would've stood for that as a kid. I find matching clothing mortifying in every setting and I find the gender enforcement of "just like mommy!" thing off-putting.

I graduated high school in the mid-80s and my junior highs times were dominated by the prairie look - frothy cream blouses with calico skirts wit ribbon trim. I'm sure I had a Target version. I was never into Laura Ashley but I did like Gunne Sax. My mom would take us to a Gunne Sax outlet, and they had some velvet Renaissance jackets that I loved.

I love to look at a nice sundresses but as someone with huge breast and huge bras, never felt comfortable with the lack of top coverage. By the time I've put on all the underpinnings I need to feel comfortable in a floaty dress, I'm better off and cooler just wearing shorts and a tank top.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 12:53 PM on June 28 [10 favorites]


I was a young teen in the early 80s, definitely a Gunny Sax kid, not LA, but I did like the stuff. I really hate/d puffy sleeves and shoulder pads though, as a taller girl I was self-conscious about it and did not need to be embiggened.

I HATE the stuff out right now, all ruffles and flounces and prints. I'm a 53 year old semi-recovered goth, I want plain black clothes that I can layer in the winter or breeze around in during the summer. I kinda like looking like a pilgrim, but not like an FLDS wife so much.
posted by supermedusa at 12:55 PM on June 28 [12 favorites]


Frowner, I don't know if I found the exact black sailor dress you had on pinterest just now, but I would love a dress like that SO MUCH. (mentioning Gorey alone I could picture it, and when I pulled up a photo I thought - if it wasn't that specific dress, it had to be pretty close.)
posted by 41swans at 12:56 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


My mom was a Laura Ashley enthusiast, for decorating bathrooms and bedrooms. I think I had that exact dusty rose sheet set shown in the article!

She drew the line at matchy matchy Mommy 'n' me dresses, as did I. I do recall wearing a Laura Ashley dress in a surprisingly flattering dark floral to a 10th grade winter dance.
posted by medeine at 1:13 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I suddenly feel very innovative for having started wearing a Nap Dress in ~2011, when I moved into a 375 sq ft studio apartment, with a bed five feet from the front door and a landlord that would stop by at random times to drop off my mail. Sometimes you just wanna be asleep at 4 pm but also be ready to answer the door.
posted by pemberkins at 1:14 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Huh. I recall nap dresses (or something similar, but generally in tie dye or batik prints and not quite as much lace, in bohemian/hippie stores?) being available but not super popular where I spent the '90s, but have no recollection at all of Laura Ashley or the other brands mentioned.
posted by eviemath at 1:22 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


My mom attempted one matched outfit with me in 1982. She asked if she could and I relented because it was for Mother's Day and I'd been particularly shitty in the months leading up. I was 7 and a tomboy and by May I'd already destroyed one church dress and the black patent leather shoes were scuffed beyond oblivion. So I relented and allowed her to make a powder blue number from the McCall's sewing section that was dedicated to Laura Ashley.

That Mother's Day Sunday was a moment that both my mother and I realized that we'd never get what we wanted from each other. Within ten minutes of arriving at church, I managed to stain my dress twice. She lost her temper and yelled at me in front of the whole choir. Then I had to kick a boy in the shins for saying I looked to pretty to be so mean. Dad ended up walking me back home while she stayed to get the carnation and dream of a better behaved daughter.
posted by teleri025 at 1:43 PM on June 28 [45 favorites]


Light-hearted take on some related clothes, hopefully a sidetrack rather than a derail.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a2xb5R6FuU

A woman makes some joke Christian romance novel covers.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 1:44 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


No Gunnesax?
posted by Ideefixe at 1:58 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Thank goodness it never occurred to my mother to do matchy-matchy dresses. She was busy when I was a kid.

... They were also a way to rebel when girls routinely got in trouble for too-short mini skirts - we could go against what the schools wanted us to wear and dare them to object because, after all, they couldn't say we were showing too much skin. The Wikipedia article says two girls in Oakland were sent home for wearing them.

Every so often a fashion gets its appeal from young women's desire to opt out of fashion, to defy the male gaze and the demands for social signifiers and cost outlay. They cover up. They wear dull clothes, like prairie dresses or the oversized flannel and workboots of the grunge period, or ridiculous ones, like mismatched vintage finds or boho chic. This was the influence I was working under as a teen. It was freeing and fun. But now that I'm older, I understand that I shouldn't have had to reject what I was rejecting when I wore it. I was hiding a perfectly good body -- I was too self-conscious to wear sleeveless shirts! -- and was afraid to look better, at a time when I looked better than I ever would again.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:21 PM on June 28 [10 favorites]


Just had a sudden sense memory of the halter tops I was given to wear as a kid with the elastic ruched tops and how much those mofos itched. Gah.

Anyway, anything over a b cup is usually hard to stuff into dresses like that. Muumuus, now, those are the shit. I need to see more of those.
posted by emjaybee at 2:24 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


I'm surprised I never heard that Laura Ashley came from a strict religious background; it makes perfect sense. It may not jibe with the brand's luxe reputation in the US, but fundamentalist Christianity and big money are never too far apart.

This is a very American take on Laura Ashley, and not really very accurate.

If there's one thing you need to know in order to understand Laura Ashley, it's that she grew up in Dowlais, in the heart of industrial Wales, in the middle of the Great Depression, when the Dowlais Ironworks closed and put thousands of men out of work. Her whole life, her whole design philosophy, was a vehement rejection of industrialism and a nostalgic yearning for the pre-industrial past. (Much like Tolkien, in fact: the Welsh countryside of Laura Ashley's imagination is not a million miles from Tolkien's Shire, and taps into the same vein of English romanticism.)

(As for the Strict Baptist background .. they were called 'strict' not because they were rigid fundamentalists but because, unlike other Welsh Baptists, they practised strict communion. Absolutely nothing to do with 'fundamentalist Christianity and big money'. This was Welsh chapel culture, a world away from US Southern Baptists.)

For most of the 60s and 70s, the Laura Ashley vibe was hippie-chic. Retro-style print fabrics, smock dresses, the Welsh country cottage look. Simple country living for townies (the kind of lifestyle that The Good Life was satirising). And it was affordable hippie-chic: marketed to young couples setting up home.

Then it all changed in the 80s when Laura Ashley suddenly hit the big time. In Britain it became associated with the Sloane Ranger look (perfectly captured in a photograph by Martin Parr), and as the firm expanded to the United States, it moved sharply upmarket: from Welsh country cottage to English country house. That's the Laura Ashley we all remember. But the origins of the brand were very different.
posted by verstegan at 2:26 PM on June 28 [58 favorites]


Have we linked "The Nap Dress Must be Stopped"?
Do not insult me by calling something nap attire when it has no ability to engage my parasympathetic nervous system! We’re exclusively taking stress naps in 2021 — anything called a “nap dress” needs to be equipped for the job, ideally meaning it’s filled with lead.
Also, this soi-disant The nap dress has an elastic smocked top? Those are pretty solidly 1970s for common wear, aren’t they? Always a boob tube somewhere in my idiom.

(I don’t know, Countess Elena, I’m still pretty fond of "You don’t know and I don’t care" as an attitude of youth and unhappy about being expected to miss my youthful looks as I age. Team Baggy.)
posted by clew at 2:26 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I don’t understand the Martin Parr photo at all, verstegan, could you unpack?
posted by clew at 2:33 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Oh and as for the nap dress - I love naps. Naps are at the top of my list of favorite things!

But I can't stand nightgowns. I have never been able to wear a nightgown to bed without waking up with my ass hanging out and the fabric of the dress strangling my torso. My nap attire is pajama pants and a tank top, which is what I always wear around the house if I don't have to go anywhere.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 2:44 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


This piece makes me reflect on the mommy-and-me pragmatism of the Mennonites I see around me: while the prints are not identical, they are similar enough to one another to suggest relatedness, and cuts, collars, and lengths are the same for girls and their mothers. Local non-chain fabric shops still sell dress-making fabrics from the bolt and the Parr photograph is one I've seen a version of, with Mennonite moms lining up to purchase the new print that has just arrived, their little girls in French braids by their sides. I wonder sometimes if the remnants of that fabric become smaller dresses, little puffed sleeves and fancy collars added just because. It is sometimes eerie to see the resemblance: these are tiny women in training, and the matchy dresses are a part of carrying on tradition.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:52 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


We were primed for Laura Ashley by Little House on the Prairie.

I finally went to Google and typed “what is a nap dress” because the author of the article never quite got around to telling us.

And yes, the Baptist primary school I attended, with its strict modest dress code, was absolutely rife with long, homemade flowered dresses. (And yes, my sister and I had more than one matched set.) I wore the quilted maxi skirt my mother made me until it became a miniskirt in public high school.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:56 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


I wonder sometimes if the remnants of that fabric become smaller dresses

And then the remnants of the smaller dresses become doll clothes.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:58 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


Regarding night gowns: I was an eccentric little boy. I saw illustrations of Ebenezer Scrooge in a night shirt. And I remember a scene in "I Love Lucy" where Fred Mertz appeared wearing a long night shirt with a sleeping cap. It was a visual gag to show how behind the times Fred Mertz was. But I really, really wanted to sleep in an old-timey night shirt! My mom got one for me—I have no idea where. This would have been around 1980. I wore it all the time at night, mostly in winter, but sometimes even in warmer weather. There's nothing more comfortable than a long night shirt!

I haven't thought about this in a long, long time. Maybe I should try to find one again...
posted by SoberHighland at 3:01 PM on June 28 [9 favorites]


I really hate/d puffy sleeves and shoulder pads though, as a taller girl I was self-conscious about it and did not need to be embiggened.

I feel you! I used to keep a box of shoulder pads I’d cut out of blouses and jackets, and used them for stuffing my bra.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:11 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


SoberHighland, I had similar desires that were unexpectedly gratified at some point around age 12 or so, when a friend of the family bought me one as a gift. I have bought or had bought for me several since then, and I think they all came from L.L. Bean. I have had the same problem that See you tomorrow, saguaro mentions, but it seems to happen a bit less now in my forties than when I was a young toss-and-turn-er.

Thank you for this post, orange swan. I didn’t know about 9/10 of this, and it’s fascinating. I feel a lot of the same cottagecore pull as folks upthread, but I hadn’t thought about the Tolkien connection.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:18 PM on June 28


One of my closest friends is a Mennonite, and she has told me that her mother used to dress herself and her three daughters all alike, adding, "We have many notable photos." It's standard practice for Mennonite women to buy a bolt of fabric and just use it until it's gone -- on shirts for the male members of the family, as well as for dresses for the females -- as it's very economical. This is a practice that can produce some ludicrous results by mainstream standards, as sometimes the fabrics used aren't what would normally be considered suitable for shirts (i.e., stretchy, glittery fabrics from the bargain bin), but this isn't thought to matter in Mennoniteland. My friend also tells me that it's a thing among teenage Mennonites for a girl to make her boyfriend a shirt that matches her dress -- it's a sign that you're going steady/are serious, like a promise ring.

My mom sews really well, and is a conservative Christian, but she howled over the mental image of my friend and her two sisters and mother all wearing matching dresses when I told her about it. She was always quite emphatically anti-matching clothes. My clothes never looked like hers, and she didn't even dress me and my younger sister alike. Sometimes she'd use the same Butterick, Simplicity, or McCall's pattern to make us dresses, as that saved money, but she always used different fabrics and different notions and used the different view options the pattern provided in order to make the dresses look as unique as possible. She could be quite scathing about the families we knew who did what she called "regimenting" their children, such as giving their children names starting with the same letter, or according to a theme. Her children were bloody well going to be individuals with their own names, their own clothes, their own opinions, and their own paths in life. And let it be said that in this she succeeded almost too well.
posted by orange swan at 3:22 PM on June 28 [28 favorites]


This article made me realize that I actually have a consistent style, that I have had since I was a child. My preferred clothes are either nightclothes for day clothes, or work clothes. The work clothing comes in two categories: either plain t-shirts and overalls or house dresses like you can buy them in country markets (at least here in Europe), they can be button up or just pull over the head and they have practical pockets.
What can have confused my friends and family is that the night clothes thing has changed over time. As a child, I just literally wore my pajamas all day if I could get away with it. My skin was difficult, and almost everything hurt, so I actually did get away with it a lot. When I was a teen, I dressed more like Madonna before she became famous, nightgowns and lingerie from thrift stores, but also the housecoats to go over them and tight fitting jeans I had made myself out of flannel. And spiky heels. Then came some years as a young professional dressing the act, we'll skip those for today*. But then when I divorced and went to graduate school, I was back in the sleepwear. Those were the roaring nineties, and while I again bought nylon negliges at thrift stores, now I wore them with skin-colored underwear and as little else as possible, depending on the weather. When the 90s ended, I returned to the flannel.

This is getting too long already, because the only reason I wanted to write about my style is that I once worked at Laura Ashley. It must have been in 1980-81, so at the height of my angry teen existence. The only reason the store manager kept me on was that she was my old babysitter who loved me. But she kept me in the basement, sorting and folding and wrapping things, or going out on a Long John with elegant boxes of dresses, wallpaper and paint. I learnt to navigate the city at high speed on an unwieldy bike before bike-messengers were a thing, and I became friends with the few other delivery boys (I was the only girl). Sometimes it rained. And my clothes would get soaked, because an old satin granny housecoat is not suitable as a raincoat, and neither is a 1950s cotton anorak. And then she could dress me up in the Laura stuff. Oh, the humiliation! And it wasn't just something I could keep to myself in the basement. One of my daily tasks was to go to the post office to send all the mail-order stuff. This was in a different age, and the post office workers were typically people who had dropped out of high school or college because of their weed habits. They wore punk-style makeup and piercings to work and went to the same gigs as I did. And when I came in the Laura outfit, there was no end to the fun. "Why, here comes Laura! Have you milked any cows today? Has everyone seen Laura today, she is soooo pretty!" Every single worker came to make fun of me, and several hapless customers were included in the fun. This had a lot to do with not very subtle undertones of class hatred, these were the years of austerity and punk and no future. They knew well that it was just a job, for me, but it was just too funny, and they probably thought I could take it.
I was finally fired when the manager decided to move the store to a fashionable beach town over the summer, and I had to work "front of house", because the house was 16 m2 and there wasn't a backroom where I could sulk and wrap stuff. Let's just say that didn't work.

Here, Laura Ashley signified just about everything I hated. I can't completely explain what I found so off-putting, because it was complex. On one hand it was obviously posh, but on the other it was also tacky, almost cheap in a way. People often say about some really ugly things from the 1980s that things were different then, and those things were stylish then. But they weren't really. They were the uniform for a very specific subset of people signifying class, and then people who aspired to be like them.
I like a lot of things, and I can see the beauty and inspiration in the Carl Larsson prints, and in Claude Monets home. (These are totally random examples of the fact that I am not against romantic reenactments of already wildly staged lifestyles). But Laura Ashley has always seemed lazy and overdone to me. That said, I won't hold it against you if you love it. My encounter was personal and at a tough time in my life...

*I will say that I love beautiful, well made clothes too. I have designer friends who have made custom designs for me, and they are amazing to wear. I am not really a fashion hater. I just like pajamas more.
posted by mumimor at 3:25 PM on June 28 [24 favorites]


I forgot, two things: Frowner, I had that dress, and it was the only thing from Laura Ashly I liked. Weirdly, I couldn't wear it to work, I think I styled it to be a bit kinky, which was completely off-brand. ¨

And See you tomorrow, saguaro, the point is that you only wear your sleepwear as daywear. It was a big joke at the dormitory I lived that one morning I shouted "wait, wait, I need to put on my pajamas".
posted by mumimor at 3:30 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


I do mommy and me outfits with my son because I do most of my shopping in crewcuts boys' department. He is still young enough to think that's thee coolest and I'm happy about it and cherishing it while it lasts. It is indeed fun to be matchy with your kids and I'm delighted to be of a size and shape to do that without reinforcing any Laura-Ashley-ass gender shit.
posted by potrzebie at 3:36 PM on June 28 [9 favorites]


I have a friend who makes matching flannel pajamas every year for Christmas for herself, her husband, and her three boys. That's charming. But it doesn't have the grim reproduction-of-labor-and-you-will-LIKE-it overtones.
posted by praemunire at 4:38 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


But I can't stand nightgowns. I have never been able to wear a nightgown to bed without waking up with my ass hanging out and the fabric of the dress strangling my torso.

I feel the same way. Laura Ashley never appealed to me but I do have an Eileen West nightgown. The Eileen West look is basically a nap dress that you don't wear outside of the house. I can't stand sleeping in it because it's just too much fabric to get tangled up in while I'm trying to sleep.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:39 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


SoberHighland The Vermont Country Store still offers men's night shirts. As well as women's dresses that can fit very well into this thread!
posted by annieb at 4:40 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


My daughter has begged me to buy a mommy and me set and was delighted when she found a dress that coordinated vaguely with one of mine. We coordinate in pink for our local pride festival and she is so thrilled. I have no interest in clothes and wore identical matched smock dresses to church with my siblings for way too long, but apparently some kids do like to coordinate. My favourite dress which I still have is a Laura Ashley wrap - really good quality fabric which I appreciate, damn thing is nearly twenty years old and still looks fine.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:08 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I’ve never tried one of those long conical nightcaps that go with nightshirts (and a candlestick) in Mother Goose illustrations. Was that one-size-fits-all? Do you just roll up the end until it matches the circumference of your head?
posted by clew at 5:36 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I love AHP's writing, but I think the most interesting thing about this piece is that she labelled the nap dress cottagecore.

Cottagecore went from describing a gen Z WLW trend on Tiktok and Tumblr to a traditionally feminine millenial dress surprisingly fast.
posted by zymil at 6:09 PM on June 28 [6 favorites]


My childhood wardrobe was full of Laura Ashley, as was my mother’s. I begged her for mommy-and-me dresses, and she relented and sewed me a pink puffed sleeve dress out of the ends of the fabric from her dress. She used the scraps to make a matching dress for my cabbage patch doll. That paragraph is peak early eighties. I loved that dress.

I have no desire to dress like that anymore, but I love the looser flowy dresses, just with less flowers. And no lace trimmed slip, or matching pinafore. I’ve said this before - you can wear gluey dresses with pockets even if you’re short and have a large chest. It doesn’t need to be flattering to be comfortable and work appropriate. (Says the woman who works in an oversized ankle length navy caftan, and nobody cares because my job isn’t to look fashionable).

Also: team full length nightgown. With pockets. I have no idea how people sleep with elastic around their waist.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:24 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


Same here. I sew my own flannel nightgowns because I can’t find ones in the store long and roomy enough, or with pockets. I buy whatever flannel’s left on super-super-uber clearance at JoAnn’s summer sales.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:38 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Absolutely hideous.

I went shopping the other day the first time since pandemic and what is with these poufy sleeve Mennonite farmhouse chic it’s like they want us to be handmaids.

Now I am team nightgown BUT I am quite literally sleeping in a maxi dress.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:51 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


I have a millennial coworker who recently did a mommy and me tea with her friends & their kids where everyone dressed in this aesthetic. Her 3yo daughter looked completely ecstatic in the pictures. Meanwhile, I, as a mall goth of a certain age, was screaming internally with horror at the thought that this look is coming back. Cottagecore? No thank you, I am not interested in any cottage that doesn't have a witch in it.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:15 PM on June 28 [15 favorites]


at a time when I looked better than I ever would again.

we can none of us speak other than for ourselves, and I grant this is true for some, and for everyone only their own opinion of their looks matters. but as a young woman, having to hear this constant refrain from older women was just like having to hear that high school was the best years of our lives. possibly worse. a lot of us who were hiding were hiding from an older female gaze that presented itself as universal, that expected and still expects beauty from youth and is perplexed not to find it; an appraisal differently humiliating from that of one's male peers, but not a lot better. me, I was worse looking at teen-to-20s than I ever was again, and compounding the indignity was always this same forecast: that the best you could hope for in adulthood was someday not to care, never admitting that most of us get better & better looking with each decade until some unpredictable & variable point of total collapse. although we most of us do do that. what a difference it would have made if I'd known that chances were I had something nicer coming, that it wasn't going to be a lifelong decline from zero.

but myths are myths and myths matter, especially the myth of youthful beauty, and the whole point & power & thrill of rejecting the directive to 'show off' one's young body while one has it is in denying the world the sight of this alleged perfection. not just freedom but aggression. sure we some of us decline to show our chests & legs & shoulders out of fear, same as most boys do without anyone expecting them to supply a reason for it. but plenty of girls who believe they are lovely do it too, out of a wonderful, hateful contrariness, and I love that for them. if it weren't generally accepted that the youngest possible form of sexually mature womanhood is the best, there'd be just as much subversive power in 50 yr old women wearing floor-length loose dresses buttoned up to the neck.* so as long as that myth persists, I go on admiring the teens & young women who crumple it up and throw it away.

*(and I'm not even sure there isn't! full-length dresses/robes can look especially mysterious/nunnish/authoritative on middle-aged & older women, and are oddly almost taboo for them, perhaps for that reason.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:29 PM on June 28 [31 favorites]


I had a Laura Ashley dress; the fabric was high-quality and the dress was quite comfortable, albeit lacking pockets. Nap Dress, whut? I have flannel nightgowns. That Laura Ashley nightgown? want. I dislike most activities that require special clothing, and wear flannel nightgowns all day some days.* Honestly, these people either have more discretionary income than they can reasonably use, or are trying to be Influencers, or both, and Nope.

Dress like my Mom? Hahahah, never.

* Dear Lanz of Austria, pockets in your flannel nightgowns, the ones that are cut generously and so cozy in winter, would make them perfect.
posted by theora55 at 7:31 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Potrzebie, I love your alternate mommy + me scenario. I read the entire AHP article and could only think, “Yes, I am a tired elder millennial mom who would love to solve all of my problems with a magic outfit, but I have a boy who prefers to dress like a crayon.” Crewcuts is the obvious solution.

That said, I did attempt to solve all of my problems with a new magical summer outfit, and I have come close. Highly recommend for days below 85 degrees - any warmer and the overalls produce unfortunate belly sweat. But my day-to-day happiness definitely increased when I donated all of my old office pants and replaced them with vegetable overalls.
posted by Maarika at 7:31 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I hate nightgowns with a purple passion. Lanz of Salzburg, I'm looking at you. Floor-length flannel monstrosities that would wrap around my legs and imprison me so that I would wake up in a panic. When I discovered that I could just sleep in my underwear, it was a revelation -- so transgressive! I wasn't allowed to wear black clothing of any kind until I turned 13, because my mother was convinced that nice little girls from "good families" didn't wear black unless they were attending a funeral. Laura Ashley makes me shudder with horror, and thanks to this article, I have a better understanding of why.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 7:52 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


interesting. i was wondering why i was getting so many "mother daughter" dress adverts lately - i guess it a thing. and though i well remember the Laura Ashley fad, i wouldn't be caught dead in it. curious though, in the article i have come across a word i do not know, and google comes up with no definition, but it seems to appear in actual legit texts, elsewhere: reipscription.does anyone know what it means? or is it a typo?
posted by lapolla at 7:57 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


From the context, it appears to be a typo of “prescription.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:29 PM on June 28


What a fab read on a hot day (another PNW sweaty human here. *waves jauntily as the temperature finally starts to drop.)

Wish I could find the photo, but my mother daughter dress memory is of late 60's stylish sheathes made by my mom. She looks trim and coiffed and I am small and devilish. She didn't go for flounce and was a fan of waste-not want-not. I think the fabric came from old curtains.

I'm the wrong demo, so this is the first I've heard of nap dresses. What a hoot! They are the fancy cousins to the sundresses Mom would make for my sisters and me from JC Penny's smocked fabric. Every year at spring break we'd leave dad behind and go see Gran'pa Larson; a several-hour drive with three rarely-angelic offspring. For a woman who deeply disliked driving and had a full-time job (although in her own family business) I'm not quite sure how she managed those trips.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane as I sit here in my shorts and linen. Maybe I should rethink my whole "I don't wear dresses" vibe.
posted by heidiola at 8:47 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


My ribcage itches just looking at the amount of stitching and elastic on these. Maybe they're a higher quality than I'm assuming they are, but in my experience these types of dresses are not comfortable for me and do nothing for my shape.

kimberussell, your target dress seems like it has a smooth, flattering bodice that does not itch.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:52 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Oh man. I wore many, many Laura Ashley dresses growing up in the 80s, including to family weddings, my confirmation, and, yes, other people's Bat Mitzvahs. My mother would have DROPPED DEAD before dressing us alike, though. And while I loved those Laura Ashley dresses as a little girl, by junior high I dreaded them because they were firmly associated with BEING TWELVE AND LOOKING AWKWARD AND HAVING BAD HAIR, and I've never liked them since.

(However. You can pull my Laura Ashley brambleberry sheets from my cold, dead hands. I took that bedding to college!)

I don't totally get what 80s Laura Ashley dresses have to do with "nap dresses," however, which I also would just call "sundresses," and which I also wore to survive summer pregnancies and post-partum periods, as people upthread mentioned. Laura Ashley dresses were SO much more structured, and unforgiving of slouching. Actual steel boning in some of them! You had to get them dry-cleaned BECAUSE THEY HAD STEEL. I'm struggling a bit to get from "built-in-corsets in dresses for 10-year-old girls modeled on faux Victoriana" to "unstructured sundresses that are literally the only thing that fits my nine-months-pregnant body, which will still fit me in a month when I'm post-partum puffy and have to whip a breast out 12 times a day to nurse, and also it is 90 degrees and I keep going into false labor because it's so fucking hot."

I mean, I am not much of a skirt person, but every time I was pregnant, I got to a point where all waistbands did was make me have to pee every 15 minutes and required me to hiking them up every ten steps, at which point I didn't care that my mom had to wear skirts to class in college until 1971 and pants were a hard-fought feminist battle, there are only so many clothes that are practical when you're shaped like a weeble and have a 7-pound person hosting hourly dance parties on top of your bladder. (Also, it was so effing hot, and you can definitely cool your pregnant self down by standing on top of an A/C floor vent much more efficiently in a skirt than in pants.)

I definitely get how Laura Ashley's 80s WASPy Victorian throwback-ism had big overtones of colonialism. I also get how Instagram in particular fetishizes certain very specific, regressive, white types of femininity. I don't get how a basic and practical sundress pattern connects to those two things, other than "instragram really likes smocking right now."

"Lanz of Salzburg, I'm looking at you."

**Full-body shudder of recognition and sympathy**
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:14 PM on June 28 [13 favorites]


Sometimes she'd use the same Butterick, Simplicity, or McCall's pattern to make us dresses, as that saved money, but she always used different fabrics and different notions and used the different view options the pattern provided in order to make the dresses look as unique as possible.

Mom would sometimes do something similar with ours; I remember one set where my sister’s dress had a white bodice with blue polka dots and a blue skirt with white polka dots, and mine was the reverse. But Mom was a twin herself, and she couldn’t completely escape the matching instinct.

(She was a real night owl, and sometimes we’d wake up in the morning with a whole new set of clothes. It was like “The Shoemaker and the Elves.”)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:15 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


Any action with a whiff of using a child as a prop, defining them in relation to self, e.g., as a MiniMe, or taking away autonomy about body presentation choices raises my hackles and gives me flashbacks. So thanks to the folks who wrote about finding matching outfits fun and/or whose children think it’s great. Mind blown.

* See also: putting signs in their hands, like I’m glad I was born!” at the abortion clinic or “Toddlers for Trump” um, anywhere, when they are too young to have informed opinions.
posted by carmicha at 10:24 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


"So thanks to the folks who wrote about finding matching outfits fun and/or whose children think it’s great. Mind blown"

My 4-year-old daughter has no interest in dressing alike with me, but VERY BADLY wants to dress like her dad. Or rather, wants her dad to dress like her.

Which is why my husband has a unicorn T-shirt to match each and every one of her unicorn dresses.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:58 PM on June 28 [26 favorites]


The more I think about it the more I wonder if maybe the author of the piece is confused about what a nap dress actually is. She may be looking at the second-generation version as opposed to the original.

The original nap dress I've seen - the thing that I saw flogged on Buzzfeed and on CNN articles a couple months ago - was a looser, flowy sundress kind of thing - 3 tiers, midi length, sort of Empire-waist, ruffled sleeves. Simple. The current page shows scaled-down dresses for kids, but that seems like a more recent thing, since earlier messaging around the nap dress seems to have focused on adults - like in this CNN piece from March about the dress and suggesting a bunch of other options. The big thing the CNN piece seems to be focusing on is loose-and-flowy.

Laura Ashley seems to be the opposite of this, though, and it did not originate the loose-and-flowy bit. It delved into a country-house vibe, but I think the vibe they were like is a lot more like "country mansion gentlewoman" rather than "spinster living alone in a little cottage", which is what the nap dress vibe seems more to be.

Also, I think the Laura Ashley thing seems more intentionally "mommy and me" matching - the nap dress has dresses for kids, but I get the sense that the kids' sizes seem like more of a later addition, since the grown-up dresses were selling like hotcakes and the creators realized "hey, you know, we could probably open up into a second market." It wasn't an intentional thing. They may jump on it with some of the ads, though - or, some of the influencers may have jumped on it with "hey, look, you can match!" Which...says more about that particular influencer, I think.

....Dammit, I may still get one of those cheaper dresses from that article after I move in a month. My around-the-house loungewear needs some summer variety.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:51 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]


I remember seeing the matching mother/daughter dresses in the Sears catalog and wanting to wear them, but my mom was not into clothes for herself and never had more than one or two dresses that she wore every single day. My grandmother made matching dresses for my sister and me - and sometimes used the same fabric for doll dresses. Suggesting that has anything to do with implying we don't have different personalities seems to me to give too much power to clothes. As has been suggested already, I think it was just practical - buy a bunch of cloth and use it for different things (though I can understand twins not wanting to dress alike since they probably do have to deal with being perceived as not being separate).

But this is all bringing me back to my job as a waitress in an ice cream parlor when I was 16 in the early 70s. The place had a gay 90s theme, and we had to wear calf-length, floral-print dresses and caps that don't resemble any gay 90s fashion I can find. I got fired after a month for contradicting the manager in front of the other employees (he said he had put the schedule up the week before, and I said I looked for it and it wasn't there). I was sure no one would ever hire me again.
posted by FencingGal at 6:56 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


My grandmother made matching dresses for my sister and me - and sometimes used the same fabric for doll dresses. Suggesting that has anything to do with implying we don't have different personalities seems to me to give too much power to clothes.

Good point - I think that maybe the messaging sent by matching clothes may depend on intent. Making matching dresses because you just bought a lot of fabric is practical, yeah, and can be fun - if your kids want to wear a dress just like yours or like each other sometimes. There's also something I've noticed in Hasidic families in Brooklyn, where all the kids wear the same style and color and pattern clothing - I've realized that probably what's happening is that you buy one new shirt or dress for the oldest/biggest kid, and then when they outgrow it, it's handed down to the next kid, and then the next when that kid outgrows it, and so on. A friend of mine also pointed out that it may make it easier to keep your eyes on all your kids at a busy playground when they're all dressed the same.

But I also think that's different from the sort of performative matching that this article is talking about. That can still be fun on occasion - the "we're all dressed in the same fugly Christmas pajamas for the Christmas card" thing - but I also think that there is sometimes a kind of intentional "my child is meant to be a reflection of me and I want them to look like it" reason with some parents. And that's what the article is picking up on. However, I do agree that it may be a lot less frequent, and that there are a lot of other reasons for same-same clothing. ....Like, maybe you and your sister sometimes wore the matching dresses, but if one of you wanted to wear that dress and the other was all "nah, I'm feeling more like jeans today" that would have been fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on June 29


From the article:
You could argue that it’s the evolution of the Lululemon yoga pant: the uniform of the bourgeois mom who does it all, or at least attempts to do it all, only now the visual reminders of the vigilance required for body maintenance (exercise clothes all the time) are subsumed by a ballooning skirt.

I would not wear any of these dresses because they're all sleeveless and I haven't evolved to the point where I don't give a fuck about hiding my flabby arms. And there's definitely a waif-like aesthetic going on in most of the pictures I'm seeing, though I did manage to find some plus-size models in nap dresses when I did a Google image search. So I think body maintenance is still required.
posted by FencingGal at 7:33 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]



But I also think that's different from the sort of performative matching that this article is talking about.


I mean, among other things the performative matching in the article is not so much a practical but an expensive and status-y proposition. Those Anthropologie SIKA dresses (full disclosure: I don't hate them) are 298 buckaroos for essentially a cotton maxi dress. Like, that's a status sundress with a status sundress for the kid attached.

Speaking of, this reminds me of a time twenty odd years ago, the last time I went to Easter Sunday service with my dad at the Episcopal Church of my youth. We ended up in the pew immediately behidn one of my hometown's then-celebrity residents, Andie McDowell, who came in late in matching Mommy and me Lily Pulitzer dresses with both of her very young daughters. I never saw her kids in person again, but it was kind of weird back in 2019 when I went to see "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and one of those little girls was grown up and playing a member of the Manson family. And I was like, "Oh right, Mommy and Me dresses."
posted by thivaia at 7:41 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Like, maybe you and your sister sometimes wore the matching dresses, but if one of you wanted to wear that dress and the other was all "nah, I'm feeling more like jeans today" that would have been fine.

You know, I don't recall even thinking about our dresses matching much at the time, and no one would have been upset with me if I hadn't wanted to wear the same thing she was wearing. So I don't think it was any kind of "performative matching," which I agree could be gross - though that depends on dynamics that the casual observer of a family really doesn't have access to.

What I really hated was when my mother's friends would greet the children in our family with "Hi Brother's Name. Hi girls." Granted, there was only one boy and three girls in our family, so it may have seemed logical to group us together like that, but it really rankled. And it had nothing to do with our clothes. Fortunately, my parents were fine with us mercilessly mocking my mom's friends for this behind their backs. But it still bugs me to the point that I get irritated when someone I know refers to her kids as Name and The Twins.
posted by FencingGal at 7:42 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Welp, this thread has pushed me to take the plunge and order another cheap "house dress" off ebay, and to also order a more cottagecore sleepwear option - although in my case it was more like nap PJ's instead of a nap dress. I wouldn't wear that out of the house, and I wouldn't actually wear it to sleep (I sleep naked), but - come on, look at how cute!!! That's totally a great summer "I'm hanging around the house doing nothing today but it's too hot for yoga pants" option. (The cheap pull-on shorts I've sometimes used for that are a liiiiiiittle too short for me to go commando in around my male roommate.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


I read "reipscription" as a typo for "reinscription".
posted by brainwane at 8:19 AM on June 29


so. many. typos. it's good content, but I keep getting stuck trying to figure out what she really meant to say.
posted by BekahVee at 10:37 AM on June 29


I am at the bottom of my short pile of sundresses, and the one I'm wearing has a half-smocked bodice, and it is *nothing* as comfortable in the heat as a loose-from-the-shoulders muumuu. How did Hill House get away with it?

Anyone with muumuu store recommendations other than the Vermont Country Store?

I made a one-hour-dress and it is also comfy and utterly out of fashion in a currently-novel way. Took me more than an hour but less than a day, and drafting it straight onto the material from my measurements was pretty neat.
posted by clew at 11:26 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]


Anyone with muumuu store recommendations other than the Vermont Country Store?

One of my Facebook contacts posted a link to a store called Laughing Cherries, and that has reminded me that I was going to hit them up too....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


I wish those Laughing Cherries caftans had pockets! So gorgeous. And they hem them to your height.
posted by FencingGal at 12:03 PM on June 29


My grandmother made matching dresses for my sister and me - and sometimes used the same fabric for doll dresses.

This just reminded me that my best friend's mom made me a blue gingham sundress trimmed in white eyelet, and she made a matching one for my Barbie. I loved that dress so much, and it was totally the same silhouette as a nap dress. Also, it was Barbie's go-to maternity dress when I wanted to pretend that she was preggers.
posted by gladly at 12:04 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


I wish those Laughing Cherries caftans had pockets! So gorgeous. And they hem them to your height.

My mistake. They have an option to add pockets.
posted by FencingGal at 12:57 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


I don't remember my mom wearing a matching outfit with my sister's but all the dresses, nightgowns, and PJs she made for them came with matching doll clothes.

See also: putting signs in their hands, like [...] “Toddlers for Trump” um, anywhere, when they are too young to have informed opinions.

But this one is great because you can use the same sign at both El Cheeto protests and rallies .
posted by Mitheral at 2:16 PM on June 29


My kids like to wear matching jammies and I want in so bad
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:34 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


I dunno, maybe it’s the whole raised-by-a-twin thing, but it never would have occurred to me to not want to dress like my sister. Even as old ladies of different body types living in separate households, sometimes we show up wearing ridiculously similar outfits.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:30 PM on June 29


really enjoying this post and all the comments and kind of hoping it stays open forever
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:38 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


No one has mentioned Zuri dresses yet?



These are fantastically comfortable and yes, have pockets! New fabric designs roll out regularly. They're ethically made, too!
posted by tumbling at 10:06 PM on June 29


Blast, I don't have the hang of adding a link yet. It's

https://www.shopzuri.com
posted by tumbling at 10:07 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]




Very nice combination of shirt dress tailoring and loose dress shape, the Zuri dresses. And linen blends!
posted by clew at 4:39 PM on June 30


The clothes, no. Yuck. But 19yo me acquired a copy the Laura Ashley Home Decorating Book and it was True Love Forever. And I mean forever because when I found that link just now I felt my heart swell. She shows you how to make not only curtains and slipcovers and cushions and skirted tables but also wondrous things like fabric-tented ceilings. For years and years I studied that book and dreamed of buying a run-down Victorian house and decorating it top to bottom with every project in that book. Of course I didn't buy a Victorian house and I didn't make anything in the book, but that was never really the point. The hours I spent poring over it! I wonder if I have that thing out in the garage.
posted by HotToddy at 4:04 PM on July 1 [5 favorites]


I feel a little insulted that I haven’t been targeted by this advertising… I hadn’t even heard of a nap dress. I have a seven year old daughter and I honestly don’t know if she’d be thrilled or horrified if I bought us matching dresses.

But does anyone remember those sort of Little House on the Prairie style dresses with sort of a backwards apron thing? What was that about? When I was 13 I had one from JC Penney that I loved so much.
posted by Kriesa at 7:19 PM on July 1


"Backwards apron thing"? Not sure what you mean by this but I'm fascinated.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:20 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


My kids like to wear matching jammies and I want in so bad

Check out Little Blue House for all your family jammies needs.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 11:35 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I made a second go at a One Hour Dress from the page 11 algorithm in this reprinted booklet. I changed my mind about which dress to make, had only three-quarters as much lovely lightweight yardage as I should have and made wild improvisations, and would put the skirt pleats in going the other way if I did it again -- but I like the garment enough to wear it out in public today. 4 1/2 hours of working time from picking the design to done, if I got all my worktime down on the notes.

I'm having anachronistic puzzlement wearing it, though. As is common between the wars, the skirt is supported and shaped by being fitted to, or belted to, the upper hip. There's 2" of vertical ease in the bodice to blouse very slightly over the fitting or belt. This is really useful wearing ease and also carefully camouflages the waist. I find the latter FASCINATING from a the-past-was-different way, and keep fussing with the belt to decide exactly how 1920s to be. "My Waist and Boobs are All One Vague Thing, Look At My Hips!" feels a little weird now, and my gosh! What must it have felt like right after a hundred years of fashion expecting a corset above the hips and massive amounts of fabric immediately below. Comfy tho.

Have not yet napped in it, will report.
posted by clew at 1:26 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


"Backwards apron thing"? Not sure what you mean by this but I'm fascinated.

Sounds lime maybe an overskirt that’s open in the front. Or maybe a peplum.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:13 PM on July 2


The aforementioned nap pj's I decided to treat myself with arrived on Saturday and I am very pleased. I wore them for 66% of the 3-day weekend.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on July 6


I'll be damned. This is the first I've ever heard of the nap dress but apparently I bought one a couple weeks ago, in the guise of a cheap, cool nightie from Walmart.

(I have always hated the way I look in sleeveless clothing so I would never wear anything like this out of the house, but my mother sent me a pair of PJs with a sleeveless top a couple years ago and I realized how undeniably comfortable sleeveless was in hot weather, so I went for it when I needed a new comfy nightie.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:17 PM on July 6


I'm....not entirely sure that a nightgown fits the "official" definition of a "nap dress". The idea isn't that a nap dress is "a dress just for taking naps in" - the idea is that a nap dress is "a casual dress you can wear in public but is still so comfortable that you could take a nap in it if you wanted".

But on the other hand, a nightdress does qualify as a "nap dress" on a technicality.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:50 AM on July 7


Anyone with muumuu store recommendations other than the Vermont Country Store?

If you live in the US and you don't mind secondhand muumuus, check out Rusty Zipper in Scotts Mills, Oregon. You can search by style, by decade ('60s through '90s), by size or by fabric. Prices are in the $35 to $55 range; so, reasonable for well chosen and clean secondhand threads.

I ordered a secondhand home-sewn barkcloth muumuu from Rusty Zipper last summer, from the other side of the country, and received a well-wrapped package in a surprisingly short amount of time. (They've been doing online mail order since the mid-1990s, so they know the ins and outs.)

There's this sweet little pullover white poly-cotton A-line dress, with a crochet-look panel and big embroidered purple flowers down the front. Cap sleeves. Fits a 34-38-inch bust; free hip.

And a darling home-sewn poly-cotton short-sleeve muumuu in pink with lavender embroidery. Square neckline, floor length. Side slits. Fits a 36-inch bust: free hip.

Another home-sewn offering, an all-cotton short-sleeved V-necked shift dress in a gorgeous batik (dusty blue, dark gold, taupe and deep brown). Fits a 34" bust and a 39" hip.

And this deadstock (new but never sold) all-cotton jersey tie-dye maxi dress that buttons all the way down the front and fits bust sizes up to 46 inches and hips up to 48 inches. (This one is mint and clay green, but there are other colors as well.)

Well, I could go on all day, but I'll stop before I sound like a paid ambassador for Rusty Zipper. (I'm not -- I just really like them!) There are a lot of choices, and they are always adding more. And they sell men's clothes as well.
posted by virago at 6:59 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


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