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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Famous quotes containing the words gown and/or formal:
“Mr. Doctor, that loose gown becomes you so well I wonder your notions should be so narrow.”
—Elizabeth I (15331603)
“The conviction that the best way to prepare children for a harsh, rapidly changing world is to introduce formal instruction at an early age is wrong. There is simply no evidence to support it, and considerable evidence against it. Starting children early academically has not worked in the past and is not working now.”
—David Elkind (20th century)