When I think about my beloved abuela, two things come to mind: obsessive-compulsive cleaning and an array of batas de casa. A bata de casa, referred to as a bata for short, loosely translates in English to house dress; it’s a multipurpose garment that gives the wearer full range of motion while doing all of the popular abuela activities like cleaning three times a day, babysitting her kid’s children after she said she wouldn’t, cooking, and playing El Gran Combo’s greatest hits on an endless rotation. The bata isn’t just a garment—it’s a way of life.
Somehow, batas have found their way out of the cherrywood drawers of abuelas across the country, and into the virtual showrooms of high-end retailers selling “nap dresses” for $100 or more. These nap dresses are meant to give the wearer a bit of Victorian-era luxury as she sits around her home lamenting the state of the world. It is such a fashion phenomenon that the New Yorker wrote about it along with an interview of Hill House’s CEO, the woman behind the expensive new loungewear favorite, who wanted to give other women the option to dress like a “Victorian ghost.” Rachel Syme, who waxed poetic about the nap dress, wrote, “Victorian garments, even ones that have been reimagined, retain a faint whiff of the era’s colonialism: there is privilege inherent in dressing for gussied-up oblivion.” It’s fascinating to me that when white people start wearing something, it’s upscale and reminiscent of privilege, but when my grandmother wore the exact same garment at a fraction of the price, she was just an old lady wearing a house dress.
The nap dress has, to my utter dismay, spawned a new life as the “snack dress,” as explained by Refinery29. This new dress, which is the exact same as the old dress which is a copy of an even older dress, is slightly different from the Nap Dress in that it features a smocked bodice that gives the dress more structure. “Where the Nap Dress was inherently bedroom born as a sleepwear piece that took to the streets, The Snack Dress is comfy daywear that secretly doubles as sleepwear,” according to Refinery.
I’m sure someone in the fashion world has a great explainer on how smocking and no smocking makes the Nap and Snack Dresses two drastically different garments, but the reality is that they are both batas made prettier and more expensive so that young white women will buy them. While I’m not insinuating that my abuela in particular made batas the cool thing to wear at home, I am saying that the fashion industry should cut her a check for being the original bata model of this generation.