One single piece of clothing that covers both, the torso, and the abdomen and genital area.
Worn by women.
Worn at "formal" and social occasions; although it can also be worn without the need of social interaction. I want to make a distinction between the dress and the nightgown, the robe or housecoat, and, in general, between the dress and different kinds of negligee clothing. However, designers have been inspired by these types of clothing and it is possible to find a dress with the shape of a robe, for instance.
Different Uses (typology)
Mini dress (short)
Maxi dress (long)
SHAPE AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
Objects should be studied diachronically and synchronically "in relation to other elements with which they are associated at a particular time."
The shape of dresses can be studied in relation to different cultural understanding of the female body and psyche; in relation to different notions of prudery; and in relation to different economic or political conditions.
Up to the late 1800s
The female body and psyche was supposed to be weak and fragile, and thus more susceptible to be influenced by passions and feelings. The body had to be controlled and supported by foundation garments, so dresses closely followed the shape of women's underwear. The dress' bodice usually fit the torso tightly ( during the eighteenth century, in France, a dress previously worn as a negligee became a popular formal dress style ).
Different parts of the female body were periodically transformed or enlarged in different directions with special devices. Dresses followed those shapes. These devices were stays and corsets for the bodice and; panniers, crinolines, and bustles for the skirt.
Dresses' shape usually stressed the waist and the décolletage; these parts of the body were the main points of sexual attraction.
During the nineteenth century elite women's appearance became the main way for displaying the family's material wealth and social status. The bustle allowed the drapery of luxurious fabrics and notions.
It is important to clarify that ,during the eighteenth century, dresses could have an open skirt and thus, needed an underskirt.
Up to 21st century
Gradually the female body was liberated from constraining garments ,and dresses started to acquire more varied and looser shapes. Approximately each decade had a specific body's silhouette and dresses' shape and cut in general followed that general pattern.
The sexual points of attraction shifted and, for instance, the décolletage was perceived as inappropriate for many years.
In the last decade of the 20th century, the female body has gradually been exposed. Ways of cutting and constructing garments have evolved with tendencies in art and architecture, e.g. deconstruction. The shape of dresses then, is less constrained by notions of prudery and principles of classic garment design and construction.
Atelier Versace and Alexander McQueen
CONSTRUCTION AND VALUE
Until clothing was mass produced the value of dresses resided in the fabric and ornamentation, rather than in the shape and mode of construction. In fact, by contemporary standards, dresses were usually badly constructed. The value of the fabric depended on the fiber (e.g. silk against woolen materials), the weave (e.g. plain weave against patterned weaves , and the ornamentation, from different kinds of embroidery and ribbons to golden and silver threads.
Now value not necessarily resides on the fabric; construction is key.
Value is increased when/if:
the dress is lined,
the seams allowances are neaten by binding or other type of finish,
the cut of the dress requires too much fabric and time to put it together,
the designer is highly valued,
the notions are of high value, and
the dress has details that required time and/or were hand made.
SHAPE AND SECONDARY USES
Since the dress is not a tool, it does not have other uses, other than to cover the body. However, one could ask if in "less affluent milieus" the dress can became a tool ,and can be "adapted for a variety of non-specific uses." If the answer is yes, this uses are culture specific.
SHAPE AND MAGICAL FUNCTIONS
Some ceremonial dresses can have magical or spiritual functions, depending on the culture, time and place that they were worn.
SHAPE AND VERBAL EXPRESSIONS
" El habito no hace al monje" (the robe does not make a man a monk, The habit does not make the monk). Meaning that wearing a special kind of dress will not necessarily mean that we are what that dress signifies.
From King Lear:" Through tattered clothes great vices do appear. Robes and furred gowns hide all.