Forgotten Fashion: The Hostess Dress

If there has ever been a fashion trend that needs to be brought back – now! -, it’s the Hostess Dress. Popular from the 1930s through the 1970s, women wore Hostess Dresses (also called a Hostess Gown)  at their dinner parties to indicate that this party was a swanky affair but also relaxed because it was being held at home. 

The New York Times calls the Hostess Dress, “sort of a cross between an evening formal and a bathrobe,” and I can’t think of a better description. A hostess dress was often a billowy caftan, which would be impractical to wear outside the home, mixed with elegant details, like sequins or taffeta.  It was a way to flex on your guests, saying, in effect, “As the hostess of this event, I will be outshining you all while still retaining the comfort of an outfit I would wear to a simple dinner at home.

1. The I Love Lucy Hostess Dress

Lucille Ball wore a classic hostess dress on several episodes of I Love Lucy, a sheer lace full-length overdress covered in rhinestones with lounging slacks underneath.  It was a glamorous look with a little bit of cheekiness. Slacks! At a dinner party! What a scandal!

This iconic look is still popular now. Elizabeth Banks rocked it on the red carpet, and you can still buy something kinda/sorta similar from Nordstrom. Or grab a vintage pattern and make your own!

Butterick Pattern 6418 - Classic I Love Lucy Hostess Dress

A hostess dress was an essential part of every woman’s wardrobe in my childhood. And there were many different styles and options a woman could choose from. Let’s review some of the classic hostess gowns of past eras. Maybe you’ll be inspired to select a hostess dress for your next get-together.

2. Bright Silk Caftan (1967)


These bright silk hostess dresses shown in the December 1967 issue of Woman’s Day are a perfect example of the trend. Bright, show-stopping colors in a relaxed cut that would be utterly foolish to wear anywhere outside of your home in the December weather. These dresses scream, “I’ve got central heat, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

3. Bold Patterned Caftan (1967)

Bold Patterned Caftan Hostess Gown

The hostess gown was a chance to try out styles you might have been a little afraid to wear in public. This bold hostess gown is shown in one of the bright patterns so popular in the late 60s and early 70s. The sleek lines of the gown keep the look from seeming too loud or busy.

4. Lounging Caftans (1970)


Women embraced the caftan for wearing around the house during the late 60s and early 70s. These caftans were as easy as you could get with a flowing look that reminds me of our current day nap dresses.

5. Scarlett O’Hara Would be Proud of These Caftans Made From Sheets (1973)

Hostess Gown Caftans made from bed sheets

Are you looking at these caftan hostess gowns and thinking, “These look like someone made them from a set of bed sheets”? If so, you’re not far off. The 1973 issue of Family Circle has instructions on how to do just that. Bonus points to these instructions showing how to transform a bedskirt flounce into ruffles for the caftan. Scarlett O’Hara would be genuinely proud.

6. Glamorous Caftan Hostess Gown (1970s)

Pattern for elegant caftan hostess gown with waistband detail

This 1970s sewing pattern shows another caftan dress option for the hostess dress. This one is a little more tailored with waistband detail. Rhinestones or sequin trim add a touch of glamour too.

7. Delicate Springtime Caftan (1972)

Spring Pastel Flower Pattern Hostess Gown Caftan

Women tended to break out their hostess gowns for holiday entertaining, but they were a fun option year-round. I love this sheer floral caftan shown in the April 1972 issue of Woman’s Day. The matching turban and cute green sandals make this look into a complete outfit.

8. Saint Laurent Patchwork Hostess Dresses (1969)

Patchwork Hostess Gowns from the 1970s

These delicious silk patchwork dresses were featured in the March 1969 issue of Vogue. My mom and her friends wouldn’t have been able to purchase designer dresses like these, but these dresses influenced the styles that showed up in department stores in the 70s. The gypsy style patchwork dresses were trendy in the 1970s, and we all felt exotic and stylish wearing them.

9. Classic Hostess Gowns from Montgomery Ward (1970)

Classic hostess gowns from Montgomery Ward Catalog 1970

If you want to know how popular hostess dresses were in the late 60s and early 70s, check out the 1970 Montgomery Ward Christmas Catalog, with no less than seven pages of hostess dresses for your holiday entertaining needs. My favorite is this jumpsuit (C in the picture) which is, let’s face it, an actual bathrobe turned into a jumpsuit accented with a sash.

10. Hostess Gown with Quilted Skirt (1970s)

Hostess Dress with Red Quilted Skirt

This hostess dress echoes the comfort of a quilted bathrobe without being too obvious. The long quilted skirt was a comfortable way to add a touch of seasonal elegance to a basic blouse.

11. Comfort is King with This Hostess Wear (1972)

Hostess dresses from the 1972 Sears Wishbook

These selections from the 1972 Sears Wishbook show just how important it was for your hostess dress to be comfortable and stylish. The dusty pink dress is made of cozy fleece, and all the dresses have an easy elastic waist.  

12. Groovy Hostess Gowns with Mod Style (1972)

Groovy Hostess Dress from the Sears Catalog

Of course, you want to be stylish as well as comfortable. These dresses from the 1972 Sears Fall/Winter Catalog are in the latest style: bold colors and mod patterns for the hostess who wants to remind everyone that she used to be a hippie.

13. Bodysuit + Long Skirt = Hostess Gown (1970s)

Classic hostess dress of simple black top and taffeta skirt

These are the hostess dress styles I remember from my childhood. I think my mom and every one of her friends had some variation of dress #1. The long sleeves offer a bit of warmth, while the festive skirt highlights the waist and shows a bit of leg. This combo is unique because it’s a bodysuit with an elastic waist skirt, so you could use the pieces together or separately.

14. Hostess Gown with Taffeta Skirt (1970s)

Hostess Dress with Taffeta Skirt

Here’s another variation of the classic hostess dress look. Every seventies housewife had some version of a long taffeta skirt paired with a simple long-sleeve shirt or blouse in their wardrobe for holiday entertaining.

15. Hostess Gown with Party Elegance (1960)

Plaid Hostess Dress from the 1960s

Here’s another look at the classic hostess gown combo: plain black top and full taffeta skirt. But it’s the dress on the left that’s an absolute stunner. Made of comfy fleece, this hostess gown really showcases the style of a 1960s-era woman’s suit. I love the color combo of blue, gold, and green. Check out the gold pumps. They’re so elegant but also low-heeled for comfort.

16. Leopard and Fleece Hostess Dress (1958)

Hostess Dress from 1958 leopard wool top with yellow fleece skirt

The men may be in black tie, but this woman is basically wearing her bathrobe in this fun combo shown in the December 1958 issue of Lady’s Home Journal. A wool leopard print blouse is paired with a bright yellow fleece skirt and kitten-heeled mules.

17. Reversible Hostess Skirt (1972)

Reversible Hostess Skirt from 1972 Redbook Magazine

The January 1972 issue of Redbook Magazine has instructions on how to sew this cute reversible hostess skirt which can be worn with the solid side or the print side out. I’m in love with that see-through lace blouse.

19. Hostess Gowns with Chic Simplicity (1969)

Hostess dress with plaid skirt and wide belt

Leave it to the French to take a basic look and amp up the glamour. These hostess dresses from French Elle 1969 show a taffeta skirt with a simple long-sleeve tee, but the wide belt and scarf add elegant sophistication to the outfit.

19. Hostess Gowns with Sophisticated Comfort (1970s)

Hostess gown with red shirt and flowered skirt

These simple dresses were a slightly more sophisticated option for the hostess dress. 

20. Exquisite Velvet Floral Hostess Dress (1970s)

Here’s another style I remember seeing on the women in my life when I was young. Is it any wonder I think these dresses are so glamorous? This velvet dress makes anyone who wears it look like a fairy princess. 

21. Frederick Howard Hostess Dress (1970s)

Frederick Howard 1970s Floral hostess dress with shirt waist

Shirt dresses were trendy in the 1970s, as were floral prints like this one. I imagine a glamorous 70s matron wearing this dress for her Lady’s Tea.

22. Hostess Dress with Classic Luxury (1970s)


A 70s Dinner Party could be quite a formal affair. In those cases, your hostess would pull on something like this classic and luxurious dress. This dress has an elastic waist hidden by the sash, so it’s still comfortable, but the silk blouse and velvet skirt are dressy enough for a formal dinner party.

23. A Bold Geometric Look for Your Next Party (1970s)

Hostess dress with bold geometric patterned skirt

Have all the beautiful looks inspired you? If yes, you can grab a vintage hostess dress for your next dinner party. This 1970s vintage hostess dress is in excellent condition with a simple turtleneck top and a bold patterned skirt. Pair it with a flowy sash and stylish house shoes to authentically recreate the look.

24. Sparkly Brocade Hostess Gown (1970s)

Hostess Dress with gold lame top

Here’s another look you can grab for your next dinner party. This vintage dress takes the basic hostess dress (simple turtleneck, long, flowing skirt) and gives it some serious sparkle with a gold lame turtleneck and brocade skirt (with pockets!)

25. Opulent Gold Lame Hostess Dress (1960s)

Gold Lame Hostess Dress

For a really formal dinner party, your 60s housewife would pull out something like this stunning gold lame hostess dress. Notice how the sash accentuates the waistline, but the dress still has an element of comfort with the unstructured waistband and the way the fabric flows over the curves.  

And the best thing about this dress? You can buy it for yourself.

26. Sequined Caftan Hostess Dress (1960s)

Sequined Caftan Hostess Dress

Even a casual caftan hostess dress could be turned into a formal look with suitable fabric. This flattering caftan dress becomes a refined option for formal dinner parties with a lace overdress. The lace is made of lurex, which makes the dress sparkle; perfect for shimmering in candlelight.