What are Dressing Gowns?

Sally Foster
Sally Foster

Originally worn only by men, dressing gowns are now a garment that can be worn by men or women. Their evolution has been influenced by many different types of robes from many different cultures.

Dressing gowns may be made of silk fabric.
Dressing gowns may be made of silk fabric.

Perhaps the earliest precursor to dressing gowns was the banyan. The banyan refers to many different styles of robes worn by men from the late 17th to early 19th century. The banyan was generally an un-tailored robe with loose sleeves. It was worn indoors during the day for lounging, or before bed over the nightgown.

Towards the mid 19th century, banyans began to take on Turkish, East Indian, Persian or Japanese influence, sometimes more closely resembling the Kimono. The banyan eventually transitioned into different types of lounge-wear, such as the bathrobe, a terry-cloth robe worn before or after showering, or the bedjacket, which is a jacket worn in bed over pajamas. During this time, dressing gowns emerged as a more tailored type of robe with fitted sleeves, sometimes including a sash-like tie around the waist.

Early American robes still exhibited this strong Japanese influence. They were typically made of a quilted silk fabric with patterns similar to those used on Japanese bedspreads, with a high neckline crossing over one side of the robe, resembling a Kimono. Some American dressing gowns are still made in this style.

Today, both men and women wear dressing gowns. The word is now used to refer to a robe that is worn in the morning before dressing or while lounging at home. The modern men's style usually resembles a bathrobe, and is made of a heavier material, such as flannel or fleece. Dressing gowns made for women frequently fall more in the category of lingerie or night wear. Different types of women's robes include the peignoir, which is a loose-fitting gown, or the negligee, a gown made of a soft, sometimes sheer fabric.

Sally Foster
Sally Foster

Sarah is a freelance writer living in Istanbul, Turkey, where she has taught numerous English language courses and runs a blog focusing on the expat community. Since joining the wiseGEEK team several years ago, Sarah has become a veritable fount of knowledge on many obscure topics. She has a B. A from the University of Oregon, where she majored in Romance Languages (Spanish and Italian) and Linguistics and an M.A. in TESOL from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

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Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - To me, the concept of separate clothes to sleep in makes sense if you've got bedding, because it will stay cleaner if you sleep in it with special clothes.

And you want those clothes to be comfortable, so they don't really shape your body the way that day clothes do, which is why people don't like wearing them casually.


@Iluviaporos - I imagine that the reason women didn't wear them in the old days was because women were always expected to appear in public fully dressed and a dressing gown was too casual.

But when your society is based around this kind of thing, it would also have mechanisms in place to uphold it. So it's not like women went around in their sleep wear without a dressing gown. They would simply not appear out of their rooms after a certain time or before getting ready for the day. Showers and bathrooms are a relatively modern invention and people used to bathe in their bedrooms, so it's not like they would have had to make a dash through the house to reach a place to get clean. That's assuming they bathed daily at all. In some cases I'm sure they simply slept in the clothes they wore during the day as well.

The whole concept of needing separate clothes for sleeping is not necessarily universal.


I'm really glad that dressing gowns are now worn by both genders, because I hate being without one. I find it a real inconvenience when I'm visiting friends for a few days, because I feel vulnerable dressed in only my pajamas, but I don't like putting on my clothes for the day until I'm showered.

Unfortunately, my dressing gowns all seem to be big, bulky things that aren't very economical to pack.

I guess this isn't really that much of a big problem, but it does make me wonder what women did back in the days when only men would wear dressing gowns.

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