Last-Day-of-School Dresses

When I was going to school in the 1930s and 40s, the last day of school was in mid-June.  I always associate the day in Cincinnati with very hot weather, tiger lilies blooming, and my mother making me a “last-day-of-school dress”.   In the first grade (above), the dress was yellow silk with accordion pleated skirt and brown bows.  It was a beautiful dress and all the little girls in my class gathered around me to touch and admire the silky smoothness – before World War II when silk was a common commodity in dress-up clothes.

In 1942, Mother made a more grown-up dress of a beautiful light blue fabric.  She often made a dress of the same fabric for my little sister and we’re shown here with my cousin, Dixie, just after her First Communion.


In the sixth grade, my sister and I had dresses of a lovely blue voile.  We had just moved from downtown Cincinnati to the East End area where there were small well-kept houses with Victory Gardens.

I graduated from the 8th grade in 1945 and Mother made a beautiful white outfit with a flared skirt and eyelet top.  It was the fashion in our school that year to wear white socks with white sandals.


In 1946, I was finishing up my freshman year at Withrow High School, a prestigious school at that time where my classmates were way higher economically than I was.  As you can see, I was very unhappy with my dress that year.  This was very unusual for me – I normally wore anything Mother lay out for me with no complaints, but this dress was of a matronly rayon-type fabric and all the girls in my upscale school were wearing sleeveless pastel shirtwaist dresses to class.  I knew I was going to look completely out of style in my grandma-goes-to-church dress.  In spite of my scowl, I wore the dress to pick up my report card and found that the stylish girls were all in shorts and casual clothes, ready to take off for swimming pools and tennis courts, and paid no attention to me at all.


Mother always talked about her favorite last-day-of-school dress which she described as being so beautiful.  After she passed away, I found this picture of her and understood better why she made me such a matronly, out-of-style dress.  It looked a lot like her favorite.

I felt bad that I had disappointed Mother by not liking the dress, but apparently I made an impression  because she never made another one like that for me.  For my senior class day at Withrow, she made my sister and me these beautiful light blue dotted Swiss dresses which we both loved.

I don’t believe the tradition of last-day-of-school dresses was active in my era (except for my mother) and it certainly wasn’t alive for my daughters or now for my granddaughters and great-granddaughter.  Pity.

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Lillian Applegate Westfelt was a mother of 4, grandmother of 6, and great-grandmother of 3. She was an 86-year-old widow living in a nice little bungalow with her oldest daughter and a beagle-dachsund named Addie. She passed away in November, 2018.

10 thoughts on “Last-Day-of-School Dresses”

  1. I graduated from North High in Wichita, KS in 1997, and it was tradition for all senior girls to wear a white dress on the last day of school. So at least a few places still observe this custom! Lovely pictures, thank you for sharing them.

  2. Found your blog because I googled “dotted swiss + 1945 dresses.” Enjoyed the pictures! I’m writing a middle-grade novel that takes place in Charlotte in 1950 and trying to figure out what girls would have worn to parties between 1945-1950. I bet your “last day of school” dresses would qualify! Do you have more pictures and/or memories of dresses?

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. I have a couple more pictures that I’ll try to find and scan for you of my sister and me in our dresses. However, we weren’t necessarily wearing the latest style since my mother made all our clothes and had ideas of her own. I was in high school from 1946 to 1950 so I know the era, at least in the Cincinnati area. Lillian

    1. Thank you for commenting on my post and for introducing me to your beautiful blog. Congratulations on getting a job as fashion designer – how exciting. Lillian

  3. I love all the dresses, including the one you didn’t like. What a lovely tradition, and you’re right, it’s a pity it isn’t still done. I think every year, my students came on the last day in the go-to-the-pool clothes!

  4. This was so neat, and I love that you had pictures to go with it! I really liked them all, even the one you didn’t like, but I totally understand the feeling you had. My mother made me wear clothes I hated all the time, and looking back, they were adorable. I just felt they were terribly unfashionable.

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