Lyntonesque: Sexing the House Dress

Mid-century film temptresses came clothed in a new uniform of seduction. Unlike earlier femme fatales—their curves draped in swaths of silken enchantment—this new age of sirens lured victims while clothed in the most innocuous of garments: the house dress.
Lana Turner, Bridget Bardot and Sophia Loren each made their turn in this deceptively simple dress. “Sex appeal is 50% what you’ve got, “said Loren, “and 50% what people think you’ve got.” Each of these actresses were known for showing plenty of what they “got,” but there was surprise in the combination of the working-class house dress and those bodies made for champagne and caviar.
For mainstream audiences, the perfect housewife was a dominant icon—but the perfect housewife didn’t have cleavage popping, she didn’t plan her husband’s murder or sleep around. But did she want to? Were these vixens in house dresses a projection of everywoman’s private desires? (Certainly we can agree that they were projections of every man’s desires—if even just for a night.)
In The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), devious Lana Turner meets wayward John Garner and promises him everything if only he’ll do her bidding. Prim and proper in crisp white, Turner is the seething underbelly of the house dress; a false front masking evil in a traditional cover.


Bridgette Bardot sports a variety of kittenish costumes in And God Created Women (1956). But the first time we see her clothed (she appears first in full flesh) she’s barely buttoned up in, yes, a house dress. Hers, though, is an expression of unbridled sexuality. It appears it will come off with even more ease than it went on.


In the first of three shorts in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), Loren sells cigarettes on the street and has babies in order to avoid incarceration. Yes, you read that correctly. Her husband, played by Marcello Mastrianni, considers himself lucky to help, at first. Soon, he is too exhausted to consider himself at all. Loren’s house dresses embody the lusty, earthy sexuality her character conveys.

On a personal note, because of computer problems I find myself completing this post in public. Wearing a housedress. Ironic yes, but a little humbling too. Guess I’m proof we can’t all be knock outs in a house dress. Back to my laundry, and see you next time.

Further reading:
Danese, Elda. The House Dress: A Story of Eroticism and Fashion. Marsilio Editori, Venice, 2008.
Haskell, M. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987.

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