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What is a Gown?
A typical ball gown of that time traditionally was a full-skirted gown reaching the ankles, made of luxurious fabric, delicately and exotically trimmed. Most dresses were cut off the shoulder with décolleté necklines.
The Victorian version of décolleté neckline was cut low on the shoulders. Since then this neckline became a traditional component of evening dresses and ball gowns. The shape has changed little since the middle of 19th century. And it was also an era of crinolines that made a difference.
The history of dressing gowns begins in the early 18th century, with the introduction of the banyan, a loose-fitting coat that could be worn by men in the confines of the home, or at the office when fashionable jackets were too restricting.
Influenced by Middle Eastern and oriental cultures, these garments were often made of colorful fabrics, such as silk damask, printed cotton, or even velvet. They were a mark of the upper class, and well-educated upper-class gentlemen of leisure often had themselves depicted wearing banyans in their painted portraits.
By the mid-19th century, the banyan, now usually called a dressing gown, was relegated to at-home wear, and was used equally by both men and women. At a time when men’s clothing took on a somber tone in both color and cut, a dressing gown made of colorful fabric with a full, flared skirt gave a man a rare opportunity to add a little color to his wardrobe.
For women, the dressing offered a respite from tightly-laced corsets and layers of petticoats.
A lady could wear her dressing gown while eating breakfast, preparing for the day, or even while sewing, doing needlework, or taking tea with her family. Her dressing gown, combined with loose-fitting undergarments, allowed the 19th-century woman to move freely about her home.
Ball gown of the century that was painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1865) has immortalized not only Empress Sissi, but also international reputation of Charles Frederick Worth. He was famous for clothing the fashionable and wealthy elite of the 19th century.
One of his dresses is represented in this court portrait of the wife of Franz Joseph I, Elisabeth of Austria, who was both Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. The portrait was painted during the Second Empire of Napoleon III and it still is reflecting glamour and epitome of era when half-crinolines were worn .
The concept of the dressing gown lasted well into the 20th century in the garments now known as hostess dresses, peignoirs, or robes.
However, as the century progressed, the idea of sitting around all day in a robe became less appealing, a mark of laziness rather than sophistication. But while few people in the 21st century own or wear dressing gowns, many people still like to change into something comfortable at the end of their work day.