I spend a lot of time working at home, and there are mornings when I wonder if it's worth dressing for a full day or better to slouch around in tattered sweats. I opt for the latter on most occasions, but I'm always thinking: What if the UPS driver shows up? What if a friend happens to be in the neighborhood? And there is something to be said for putting yourself together, even if it's just for...yourself. This led me to the housecoat, a term first used in 1913 to describe an informal garment for women to wear about the house. This option, somewhere in between dressed and undressed, has gone missing from modern life—until recently. Meet the utility dress.
A slouchy answer to the housecoat, the utility dress is a style that's having a moment in western fashion, but its origin is in traditional Japanese house clothes and workwear. Like the rural Japanese workers in photographer Taishi Hirokawa's book Sonomama Sonomama, it's possible to wear an Issey Miyake– or Yohji Yamamoto–like garment and still get work done. The dress is often made from linen and cotton (for breathability), and is shapeless in the best way (for total comfort); here are six examples we're ready to slip on.
Above: From online fashion retailer La Garçonne's own line, La Garçonne Moderne, the Workwear Smock (available in white, black, ink, and clay) has dropped shoulders and an oversized fit and is made from 100 percent Japanese cotton; it's on sale for $346.50, marked down from $495.
Above: French brand Vestiaire de Jeanne's Uniform Pleated Long Sleeve dress has pockets at the sides and falls just under the knee—a loose fit to throw on in the morning. The dress, made from 100 percent linen, is €155 ($145.05) for the adult size. For more, see our post Effortless Dressing à la Française.
Above: Northern California designer Jess Brown's Workshirt Dress is based on "my father's old oxford shirts," she says. It's available in navy double cotton or black rumpled gingham; $290. (For a tour of Brown's house, see West Marin's Accidental Doll Maker.)
Above: Part of the appeal of NYC designer Makie's light gray Women's Back Button Dress in 80 percent cotton/20 percent silk is the fact that it's easy to put on in the morning; $240.
Above: Dosa's Draughtsman Tunic is a loose fit made of dark blue organic cotton; $404.01 from Farfetch.
Above: Made of medium-weight linen and canvas cloth, the Casey Casey Dress in indigo, made in France, is $820 at Tiina the Store.
For those who can sew and read Japanese (a narrow demographic, I know), Japanese dress sewing books are an excellent source for creating similar garments. I recommend Anytime Dresses and Travaux et Mode. What to wear under your utility dress? See The Debrief: 8 New Classics for Your Underwear Drawer.
This post is an update. It originally ran on March 26, 2014, as part of our Spring Forward issue.