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Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres depicts the Comtesse d'Haussonville, wearing a dress.

A dress (also frock, gown) is a garment consisting of a skirt with an attached bodice or with a matching bodice giving the effect of a one-piece garment.

In Western culture, dresses are usually considered women's and little girls' clothing. The hemline of dresses can be as high as the upper thigh or as low as the ground, depending on the whims of fashion and the modesty or personal taste of the wearer.



19th century

Dresses increased dramatically to the hoopskirt and crinoline-supported styles of the 1860s; then fullness was draped and drawn to the back. Dresses had a "day" bodice with a high neckline and long sleeves, and an "evening" bodice with a low neckline (decollete) and very short sleeves.

Throughout this period, the length of fashionable dresses varied only slightly, between ankle-length and floor-sweeping.

See also History of Western fashion: 1795-1820, 1820s, 1830s, 1840s,1850s, 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, 1890s
Victorian fashion, Artistic Dress movement, Victorian dress reform.

Dress types

Depending on design dresses are classified. Different basic dress shapes[1] are:

  • Shirtwaist, a dress with a bodice (waist) like a tailored shirt and an attached straight or full skirt
  • Sheath, a fitted, often sleeveless dress, often without a waistseam (1960s)
  • Shift, a straight dress with no waist shaping or seam (1960s)
  • Jumper dress (American English) or Pinafore dress (British English) is a sleeveless dress intended to be worn over a layering top or blouse. Jumper dresses exist for both summer and winter wear.
  • Sundress is an informal sleeveless dress of any shape in a lightweight fabric, for summer wear.
  • Tent, a dress flared from above the bust, sometimes with a yoke (1960s, renewed popularity after 2005)
  • Maxi dress, a long, formfitting, floor or ankle length dress.
  • Surplice dress - has a neckline which is formed by two pieces of fabric wrapping around each other creating a V-neck.
  • Wrap dress, a dress with a front closure formed by wrapping one side across the other and knotting the attached ties on the side, or fastening buttons. This forms a V-shaped neckline and hugs a woman's curves. A faux wrap dress resembles this design, except that it comes already fastened together with no opening in front, but instead is slipped on over the head. (1970s; renewed popularity from late 1990s)

Dresses for particular purposes

  • Gown, a dress with a fitted or tight bodice and a straight or full skirt, worn for formal occasions like a banquet, an opera, or a gala
  • Tea gown, a frothy, dressy dress with a low hem for afternoon social wear, or for dinner at home
  • Cocktail dress, a party dress of the current street length (1950s and sporadically popular since)
  • Dinner dress, a formal dress worn when fashionable people "dressed for dinner" (men in tuxedos or dinner jackets). While it may be as fancy as a ball gown, the skirt is generally narrow.
  • Evening gown, a long dress for formal occasions, worn to formal receptions in the evening
  • Ball gown, a long dress with a full, sweeping, or trained skirt for dancing, worn to balls and other white-tie occasions. The term ballroom dress, by contrast, usually indicates a costume worn for ballroom dancing competitions.
  • Coronation gown, formal wear for coronations
  • Wedding dress, a gown for the bride of a wedding

Fads and fashions

  • Chanel's little black dress (1920s and on)
  • Kitty Foyle, a dark-colored dress with contrasting (usually white) collar and cuffs (1940s, after a dress worn by Ginger Rogers in the movie of the same name)
  • Granny gown, an ankle-length, often ruffled, day dress of printed calico, cut like a Victorian nightgown, popularized by designer Laura Ashley (late 1960s-1970s)
  • Hoodie dress, this dress type became popular in 2006 and continues through 2009. This is a dress with a hoodie. This can look like the style of a regular hoodie top or it can look like a hoodie without sleeves and a long sleeved shirt underneath. Like a layered t-shirt. The hoodie dress is popular worn with jeans, leggings, or opaque tights footed or footless, and sneakers or flats.


A typical pre-prom gathering, with girls in dresses, and boys in tuxedos.

In Europe and America, dresses are worn by females of all ages as an alternative to a separate skirt and blouse or trousers. Dresses are often used by young girls and as more formal attire by adult women.

Potential drawbacks of dresses include being either too long or cumbersome for the performance of some physical activities such as climbing stairs or ladders. Their use can run contrary to the individual or wider public sense of modesty and decency, especially given their potential to intentionally or accidentally expose the wearer's underwear or lack of. In addition, some dress styles, particularly those with back closures, can be difficult or even impossible to don or remove without assistance.

Dresses however can be cooler and less confining than many trouser styles, and they are still very popular for special occasions such as proms or weddings.


Dresses are, like other outer clothing, usually worn with underwear. A wearer of a dress is likely to wear a form of panties as innerwear, though depending on the occasion, type of material, and type of skirt for modesty one may wear a half slip (also called a underskirt) over the panties. Dresses are sometimes worn with tights, footless tights, bike shorts or capri, or ankle length leggings.

On top, one usually wears a bra, but for modesty wearing a camisole or full slip is also an option.

See also


  1. ^ Womens Dresses - Designer Dresses and Skirts for Women
  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • Brockmamn, Helen L.: The Theory of Fashion Design, Wiley, 1965.
  • Picken, Mary Brooks: The Fashion Dictionary, Funk and Wagnalls, 1957. (1973 edition ISBN 0-308-10052-2)
  • Tozer, Jane, and Sarah Levitt: Fabric of Society: A Century of People and Their Clothes 1770-1870, Laura Ashley Ltd., 1983; ISBN 0-9508913-0-4

External links

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