The modern patio dress, sometimes referred to as the maxi dress, is the result of an evolution in women’s fashion after World War II. Returning servicemen resumed the factory jobs which had been held by women and the women largely reverted to the role of stay at home mother and housewife. Fashion changed as a trouser-clad “Rosie the Riveter” became the “June Cleaver” of “Leave it to Beaver” fame.

The 1940s

During the war, women took on the work and the wardrobe of men in order to keep the munitions factories running. A new freedom and sense of independence was instilled in this workforce of women. Clothing was comfortable and practical- suited to the job at hand. After the war, women sought the same utilitarian comfort in their housework garb.
The house dress or duster worn by this group was made of cool cotton fabric, was loose fitting and had handy pockets for cleaning tools. This often brightly patterned garment was the forerunner of the patio dress.

The 1950s and 1960s

In the 1950s, former war factories were refitted to provide for the growing demand for electrical appliances for the 1950s housewife. With the new, modern conveniences came more leisure time for the American housewife and a change in apparel for evenings on the patio. The patio dress was suitable for summer dinner parties, vacations at the beach or a round of afternoon bridge. Bright and cheery cotton prints were displayed in lighthearted spring and summer party wear. Fitted bodices gave way to flared, calf-length skirts for a carefree, festive look. Big bangle bracelets, clip on earrings and a string of beads completed the look.

The 1970s

The patio dress of the 1970s reflected a slimmer silhouette without the restriction of a fitted bodice. This dress was more of a long shift than a calf-length flare, reflecting the liberated women of the time. In these dresses, the use of a bra could be optional providing a greater sense of freedom than ever before in fashion history.

Contemporary Patio Dress

Patio dresses are ankle-length and variable in shape to suit the body type of the woman wearing it. Different styles and cuts may show off the back, arms or tiny waist. Bold prints and vibrant colors make these frocks fun. A necklace, earrings and flats or kitten heels are all that is needed for daytime wear. For a night on the town, high heels and trendy accessories complete the look. The patio dress moves effortlessly from casual daytime to sophisticated night time apparel.

Patio or Maxi

The patio dress or maxi dress, as it is now often called, need not be a printed cotton any more. The dress can be a plain color with beads, embroidery or other elegant embellishment. Bold florals or striking animal prints are also used in the contemporary form of these frocks. Synthetic fabrics which resist wrinkling make the patio dress a cruise wear and/or travel staple for the smart woman traveler of today.