As I browsed through my collection of vintage clothing in search of pinafore dresses, I came upon one that I’ve had for a few years, complete with candy stripes and the 1950’s written all over it. I tried it on for the first time, and to my excitement it fit. Just as I had started to level out from my freak out over this gorgeous pinafore fitting, I put my hands in the pockets, and it was back to freaking out; What is normally a used 20-year-old tissue (gross, I know) or an old Trident gum wrapper turned out to be handwritten notes, by a nurse! The last time a lady donned this dress was 60 years ago, when scrubs were not yet ubiquitous. And this is just one example of the utilitarian history of pinafore dresses.
What’s a Pinafore?
What began as a more decorative version of the practical apron in late 1890’s, women began pinning these apron-like garments to the front of their garments to appear as though it was part of the outfit; hence the term pin-afore. It was a stylish way of wearing a garment that could easily be removed if you got it dirty, and was most often worn by schoolgirls, nurses, maids, factory workers and at home on the farm. The style was thrust into the mainstream when it was popularized by the character Dorothy The Wizard of Oz who wore a pinafore over a puff-shoulder blouse, and in the 1950’s, Alice in Wonderland debuted with miss Alice donning her signature white pinafore over a blue dress.
The New Pinafore
Gradually the pinafore style evolved into a dress in itself, and while for the past few decades it has been primarily a fixture of young girls’ wardrobes and seen often on porcelain dolls, the style has resurfaced for women— in a big way. In the 2010’s, pinafore dresses have a much broader definition than in the 1940’s; Sometimes the dress mimics an apron heavily with pockets at the front and tied in the back. Other times the dress simply has suspenders with buckles or buttons at the shoulders. However, it seems that a dress can get away with being called a pinafore these days if it’s thrown over a garment with sleeves.
How To Style a Pinafore Dress
With a pinafore now having varying styles, I’ve decided to show you just how many options you have, especially in chilly weather, with these 5 thrifted pinafores:
→ Bright and Fun This pinafore looks so much like an apron that I wanted to add browns to give it a boho edge and platforms to keep it fun. That way it looks like Stepford wife and more on trend.
→ Oversized Grunge I wanted to really play up the sloppy style of the ribbed suspender pinafore, so I threw on an even baggier top to exaggerate the proportions even more so. To balance it all out, I added black tights and platforms.
→ Victorian-Inspired Romantic I’ve come across a lot of wide suspender-style pinafores like this while thrifting that are maxi dresses; this was no exception. I transformed the hemline into a mermaid hem, and it took it from Elaine in Seinfeld to a 2012 girl. With this type of pinafore, it looks great either with a puff sleeve blouse (as pictured) or a bralette in the summer. Adding brogue heels completes the romantic feel.
→ Simple Velvet Alexa Chung loves her pinafores, and she usually keeps what’s underneath basic: either donning a button down or simple tee beneath the dress. With this velvet number, the simple long sleeved tee really lets the dress shine.
→ Mod Babydoll This pinafore has a stewardess feel, so keeping it simple with flats makes it mod and trendy and less costume-y. Avoid heels and tights or you’ll look ready to show people how to use the oxygen masks on their flight.
→ The Classic Pinafore Those hospital notes that I mentioned above were found in this adorable pinafore. Once worn by nurses (had to hem this one quite a bit!), this style can be transformed easily with heels and a tight turtleneck.
Where To Get a Pinafore
ASOS Check Pinafore Dress, $52.77
ASOS Salon Daisy Pinafore, $72.12
J.W. Anderson for Topshop Pinafore, $139.99
Topshop Denim Pinafore, $72
Urban Outfitters Overall Dress, $49
Vintage Chanel Neon Pink Silk Pinafore, $315
With all of the holiday parties coming up, pinafore dresses are modest enough to appease your grandmother, yet fun and trendy enough to impress your cousins. And with so many ways to style them, you could have a pinafore for each gathering. Plus, with all of that food our family members are going to push on us, a dress like this is just the thing to hide that holiday bulge!
By Whitney S. Williams
Photos by Angela Miller