In women's fashion, gown was used in English for any one-piece garment, but more often through the 18th century for an overgarment worn with a petticoat – called in French a robe. Compare this to the short gowns or bedgowns of the later 18th century.
Before the Victorian period, the word "dress" usually referred to a general overall mode of attire for either men or women, such as in the phrases "Evening Dress", "Morning Dress", "Travelling Dress", "Full Dress" and so on, rather than to any specific garment, and the most often English word for a woman's skirted garment was "gown". By the early 20th century, both "gown" and "frock" were essentially synonymous with "dress", although gown was more often used for a formal, heavy or full-length garment and frock or dress for a light-weight, shorter or informal one. Only in the last few decades has "gown" lost its general meaning of a woman's garment in the United States in favor of "dress". Today the usage is chiefly British except in historical senses or in formal cases such as evening gown and wedding gown. Formal gowns generally have a fitted bodice and a full-length full skirt.
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