A christening gown is a garment worn by infants and small children during baptisms or christenings. The gown is part of a Christian tradition and is worn by boys and girls alike. Christening gowns are always shades of white, to symbolize purity and innocence, and may be simple or elaborate. They are often passed down from generation to generation.
Originally, christenings were ceremonies before a baptism or religious right of passage where a baby would be given a Christian name. Over the years, however, since children were named at birth instead of at the christening, christenings and baptisms began to mean the same thing. Baptisms are Christian ceremonies which are said to cleanse a person of "original sin," or sin they were born with. Usually performed within their first few weeks after birth, Christian children are baptized by a religious official sprinkling water on their heads in a baptism ceremony. Though a person may be baptized at any age, only a small child wears a christening gown.
Starting in the 18th century, infants began to be christened in gowns instead of swaddling clothes. A christening gown was usually made by the mother while she was pregnant with her first child and used for all the subsequent children. Gowns were fashioned after the style of children's clothing at the time and even now maintain this basic style. Christening gowns are one of the few types of clothing that still resemble the period style in which they were originally created.
Christening gowns normally have high waistlines on scoop-necked or collared bodices with short sleeves and long, loose skirts often falling past the baby's feet. The length of the skirts are normally 22 to 42 inches (56–106.7 cm) on average. Gowns are usually made of cotton, linen, or silk because they are soft fabrics that will not irritate a baby's skin. They also may have embroidery, lace, or other design elements on the bodice, skirt, or both, and skirts may be layered or otherwise decorated as well. Purchased gowns often come with a matching bonnet and sometimes with booties.
Although gowns are now normally purchased at various retail stores or stores specializing in christening gowns, they are still sometimes made by hand and can even be made out of a mother's wedding dress. A christening gown made out of a wedding dress do not necessarily damage the dress if the wedding dress had a detachable train. The train normally provides enough fabric for the small gown.