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.
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.