A ball gown is an article of clothing usually worn by women, with a skirt reaching the wearer's ankles or the floor. The dress fits snugly against the torso, usually with a low neckline, and blooms out into a full skirt. It is usually made of expensive fabrics with fine construction, as the garment is intended for special occasions. Compared to other dresses, a ball gown can be extremely expensive, as the kind of occasion at which a fine gown is worn is usually only attended by people of wealth or importance.
Traditionally, a woman was expected to wear a ball gown at formal events specified as white tie occasions, but variations on these gowns are worn for a number of purposes outside these formal occasions. Debutantes, for example, traditionally wear white gowns. Full-length prom dresses may be considered less formal and less expensive ball gowns, although the category of prom dresses is much more flexible and expansive. This type of gown may also be worn as a costume when a person dresses up as a princess or other character who might wear such a gown.
Accessories may consist of opera-length gloves, a clutch, a stole or cloak, and fine jewelry. Jewelry should be appropriate for the occasion, which typically means that it should be in a traditional style and fine materials. Additionally, tiaras or state decorations may be required in some cases, but the traditions regulating the display of these items should be thoroughly researched beforehand as they are complex.
Shoes are also an important part of the ball gown ensemble. The shoes a woman wears changes her height and thus how the dress meets the floor. Most dresses have an intended height of shoes. The gowns are almost always worn with dancing shoes of some sort, whether these are formal high heels or ballet shoes, even if dancing is not expected at the event.
Dress codes for women are typically much more flexible than those for men, and ball gowns have evolved significantly since they originally became popular. While men's white tie garments are strictly regulated, the gown has changed both in design and material. Most interestingly, ball gowns are not frequently worn in many locations, and are replaced with less restrictive and bulky garments for women for many occasions. Still, when attending a function at which white tie etiquette is rigidly observed, it is advisable to wear a traditional ball gown and all appropriate accouterments.