Gowns are typically thought of as garments that only women wear, but this has not always been the case. During the Middle Ages, a gown was any item of clothing worn by either a man or a woman that fit over the head and shoulders and then hung loosely from the body like a big shirt. Men still wear gowns during certain ceremonial or professional events. For example, judges and religious men wear gowns while performing their duties.
Most often, the word "gown" signifies the kind of dress that is reserved for formal occasions. It will typically have a fitted bodice and a long, flowing skirt. A proper gown has a regal air about it. Formal styles have fallen out of everyday fashion, so it has become somewhat rare to see gowns outside of weddings, society events and high school proms. The most famous gown in recent history was Kate Middleton's wedding dress. Sarah Burton designed the gown for the Alexander McQueen label. The entire dress was covered in lace details, and the semi-sheer sleeves made the visible corset appropriate for the royal ceremony.
Vera Wang's name is synonymous with wedding gowns. She knows how to modernize classic styles with simple additions like single asymmetrical straps and brightly colored sashes. Wang's skirts usually puff out dramatically, giving every bride the princess look she wants on her big day.
Oscar night is also huge for gowns. Every year there are a few dresses that garner more press than the award winners do. The best look from the 2012 show was Natalie Portman's vintage coral Christian Dior gown, which she dressed up with a simple black clutch and one piece of statement jewellery, a large collar necklace. When wearing lavish gowns, it is important to choose accessories that augment them, not compete with them.