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What is a Nightdress?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A nightdress is typically synonymous with nightgown and both terms refer to sleeping wear for women that takes the form of simple to complex dresses. Other terms that have been used in place of nightdress include peignoir and negligee, though these terms often reference fancier nightdresses that might be worn for seductive rather than sleeping purposes. Contrasted to nightgown is the term nightshirt, which is often a straight long gown worn by men, though many women enjoy wearing nightshirts too.

Significant variety exists in what may be deemed a nightdress. Anything from heavy flannel flowing gowns that are floor length to skimpy polyester or silk gowns might qualify. The unifying factor tends to be that these are most often worn to bed, which has not always been a common practice. It wasn’t until after the Middle Ages that any type of night wear became popular, and some people still better prefer to sleep unclothed. For women a nightdress has the advantage of adding a bit more modesty, if getting up in the middle of the night is necessary, and it can additionally provide some warmth while sleeping.

For a long time, many nightgown styles were made of either linen or cotton. Few women could afford silk. Flannel was popular especially in winter months, but linen or lighter cotton might be used in warmer seasons. Such gowns emphasized modesty and might have full-length sleeves and be at least ankle length.

With the advent of fabrics like polyester, nightdress styles diverged. While it was still easy to find cotton flannel gowns, polyester negligees became especially popular, and these had a more dress-like cut, often featuring no sleeves and an empire waist. Fabrics like polyester could be warm, and some manufacturers returned to cotton, especially making gowns of cotton knit. Knee length gowns with tank top sleeves became popular, or some manufacturers designed even shorter dresses, worn with shorts or panties.

Today, nightdress style remains diverse and women can find anything from cotton flannel classics to polyester peignoirs. Length of gowns varies with each maker, with knee length or slightly above the knee being the most popular styles. A few manufacturers specialize in what might be considered classic nightdresses. For example, Eileen West® has made high quality cotton lawn or muslin gowns for many years that feature beautiful trim, and come at a high price.

Given the plethora of nightdress styles, women may need to do some shopping and consider a few things. Lingerie shops are often best places to look for gowns that are specific to romance. Cotton gowns in knits or material like lawn tend to be coolest to wear, and choosing gowns with short sleeves or tank tops can augment coolness. Some gowns come in sets with a robe that can be conveniently worn in the morning or evening to reduce chill. In general, for most comfort, women may want to choose one size up, as trying to wear a tight nightdress to bed can be uncomfortable.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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