Etiquette: dressing gowns

Gown from

Gown from

A look at what’s slovenly and what’s sophisticated in this wardrobe hinterland

For an item of clothing that is all about casual relaxation, the dressing gown hasn’t half come in for a lot of criticism over the last few years. From etiquette experts telling us that it’s terribly bad form to come down to breakfast in one when staying with friends to shoppers and school-gate mothers being ‘shamed’ for wearing them out of the house. But they are rather cosy and comfy aren’t they? And a bit glam too. So when is it acceptable to don a dressing gown?

The clue is in the name, really, it’s intended to be put on between getting out of bed and getting dressed (or indeed, getting undressed and getting into bed). But surely it’s possible to stretch that definition a little? If one returns from work on a blustery and difficult day and wants to get into pyjamas before dinner (as 14% of us do according to a 2017 survey by the department store, Liberty) surely a dressing gown over the top is advisable on a chilly winter’s evening?

In fact, far from being a sign of bad breeding, wearing the right sort of of dressing gown may be a sign that one knows what one is about. It’s all down to the right lounge wear at the right time. So here’s a brief rundown.

Dressing gowns

Beginning as ‘banyans’ in the early 18th century, and beloved of terribly posh men both at home and in the office. Banyans were intended to be a comfier, loose-fitting coat for when a formal jacket was too restrictive, and men would stride around the home or the office in silk or satin banyans looking slightly exotic. These days we’d advise you think twice about a banyan, particularly the short, silky kind (imagine the static). If you really must, gentlemen in particular should take care that they are (ahem) securely tied. And also that they aren’t open to the waist, revealing a chest rug. This sort of look should be left to Burt Reynolds, and only Burt Reynolds.

A nice cotton dressing gown in summer, or a deliciously fleecy thick one in winter, with either buttons or a tie fastening though, is a boon on Sunday mornings. And we don’t care what etiquette dictates, it’s the only thing to wear while enjoying toast and marmalade over The Archers omnibus. Do put some clothes on if you pop to the shops, though.

Bath robes

You can of course don a dressing gown after a bath but we think a bath robe, made of towelling, and therefore properly absorbent, is best for a bit of post ablution lounging. A nice fluffy white one gives you the feeling of being in a posh hotel, which is always lovely. If you are in a posh hotel, remember bath robes stay in your room, unless you are going to the spa or pool. They should never be worn to breakfast. And never stowed away in one’s luggage. Buy your own.


At one stage, the terms ‘house coat’ and ‘dressing gown’ were almost interchangeable. Both are lounge wear of a sort, but a housecoat is generally work-related and designed to protect the clothes under it while you’re doing chores. Wear it while polishing the family silver (or even unblocking the sink); this garment is all about practicality.

Lounge wear

From ‘house trousers’ to ‘lounge vests’, there’s a wide range of lounge wear (that is clothes designed specifically for relaxing around the house in) on the market now. The White Company is the purveyor of some of the finest in our opinion. What you want is muted colours, soft fabrics and plenty of elasticated waistbands. Lounge wear items should be beautiful enough to accept unexpected guests in but comfy enough that you could drift off for a nap on the sofa in them at any moment. Think of them as a sort of modern-day smoking jacket, but without the filthy habit.

We would like to make clear that onesies do not count as lounge wear. In fact, they don’t really count as ‘clothes’ at all unless you are under ten. Sorry.

In our February issue’s Miscellany, we’ve picked three of our favourite dressing gowns, including the one pictured above, the Europe Map Gown, £69.95,

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More from our February issue…

More facts from our miscellanies…