“Just Mother-Hubbard It”

Now, there’s a phrase heard rarely if at all nowadays. It means cover the topic completely but don’t focus on the details too much.

A Mother Hubbard dress is one without a defined waist. It hangs from the shoulders and is given shape by the belt or apron over the dress. This means it is roomy, cool, requires less tailoring and labor than a fitted dress (and fewer fasteners), and allows for expansion and contraction. I once read a fashion historian jokingly refer to the style as “a mainland Victorian mumu.”

A vintage depiction Creative Commons Fair Use from:


In rural and western America (but I repeat myself . . .) dresses like this served as every-day wear. They tended to be made of sturdy material and could be washed without fear of damaging the fabric or trim. This was what women wore around the house and farm, with an apron or duster over it as appropriate.

To “Mother Hubbard” something meant to cover it completely but not in detail. Just like the dress did. Yes, the name of the dress came from the nursery rhyme, probably because older women and working-class women tended to favor the style first. I suspect you will rarely, if ever, hear “to Mother Hubbard” used as a verb any more. Just like you’ll never, ever hear the recommendation I got about doing a flight review: “Make it like a skirt. Long enough to cover all the important things, but short enough to keep it interesting.”

Very true, and good for any sort of classroom presentation, but, ah, er, um, probably not the best phrase to use in today’s legal atmosphere. SIGH.

18 thoughts on ““Just Mother-Hubbard It”

  1. *mentally files away the phrase about a skirt to use at some judicious time*
    (possibly when someone has just started to take a sip of coffee.)

  2. Interesting. I have not heard Mother Hubbard as a verb before and I’m fairly well versed in older saying… Apparently I don’t know as many as I thought I did!
    Your comment about skirts reminds me of this saying that I heard recently; “Your dress should be tight enough for people to know you’re a woman and loose enough for them to know you’re a lady”

      • Sense works, but even folks in their 40s don’t always get it.

        I just realized I don’t even know if ditto machines and mimeographs (the purple printing things?) are the same machine, even though they were used interchangeably.

        My eldest kind of knows what a mimeograph is, because grandma’s files still have some pretty purple ink papers. đŸ˜‰

        • Like ditto marks (” “) on a page, meaning “same as above.”. Ditto and mimeograph became interchangeable, for making “same as” copies. That meant cutting a stencil with the typewriter. Two more rabbit holes.

        • Oh man. I hadn’t thought of dirty purples since…dunno. I instantly remembered the smell, and just as instantly had a vision of my elementary school. I especially remember when I would walk into the building for the first time that year and my sense of smell would be blasted with the purple ink smell from the teachers running off loads of work sheets.

          • It took me years to realize that the smell folks always talk about was the one my brain categorizes as “school supplies”– mom was a teacher before she got married, and did substitute teaching after, and she can’t breath around folks without trying to show them Neat Stuff and learn what they know, so there was always a ton of worksheets in her “originals” file.

          • I remember being shooed away from the elementary school workroom because the mimeograph machine was in use and there were damp, purple pages all over the place. A teacher found what I’d been sent for, handed it to me (with purple finger tips) and sent me back from whence I had come, lest I get purpled.

        • True mimeograph used an electrically cut stencil driven by a scanner that could copy a line drawing as well as typewritten or printed matter.

          The spirit duplicator (ditto) used a waxy ink impressed on the back of the master copy. Usually blue, available in red and green. The sheet for the copy was moistened slightly with an alcohol mixture and pressed against the master.

          • Mom was secretary for a Presbyterian church nearby. The weekly bulletin was mimeoed, and she cut it with her electric typewriter with ribbon disabled. I’ve seen mimeos that had the holes filled in; might be due to an enthusiastic typer on a manual machine. (Or miscalibrated electric.)

    • The word ‘skirt’ is used for something that covers an edge (a table skirt, ‘skirting board’ in the UK for baseboard), so skirting is going around the edge.

  3. You do that Dot, and you will get wet… LOL My grandmothers on both sides wore those types of dresses, and they grew up in the late 1800s. Both of them remembered having ONE dress for the week, and one for Sunday go to meeting.

    • I was looking for something else (of course) and found a gal who makes them today, to order, you pick the material and the pocket option.

Comments are closed.