“I’m on the M7, I’m taking my gowns back to Mum’s place…”
is the reply when I ask my music theatre star friend where she’s taking my call. I picture beaded satin sheaths strapped upright in the backseat, enjoying a rare daylight outing.
Later, after I hang up I start thinking about the word “gown” and what is it that distinguishes a gown from a dress, or for that matter, a dress from a frock? Is it opulence? When Kate Middleton married Prince William it was the wedding dress the commentators swooned over – elaborate lace, hand embroidery, two metre train and a reported £250,000 price tag notwithstanding. So no.
Maybe it’s the occasion. When the humble Mrs Edna Everage first emerged from Moonee Ponds she wore frocks; sensible, floral, possibly Osti, the preferred label of many a young matron. Later as Dame Edna she experienced her own Windsor moments, appearing at Command Performances in elaborate confections of taffeta, sequins and feathers, but somehow they were still frocks. So no again.
Perhaps it’s an aura of serious glamour that elevates a dress to the status of a gown. “Gowns By Orry-Kelly” read the great Australian designer’s Hollywood credit, worn by screen goddesses Bergmann, Davis, Del Rio and De Havilland (but it was dresses for Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot). To add to the confusion there’s the formal: frock coat, dress uniform and ball gown and the casual: house frock, play dress and dressing gown.
a long elegant dress worn on formal occasions
Remembering the great life lesson from primary school (look it up!) I consult the oracle, The Oxford Dictionary which defines the word gown as:
a protective garment, as in “surgical”
a garment indicating professional status, as in “academic”
The garments making their way down the freeway back to safe storage are long and elegant, they protect the wearer as the armour in which she struts her “divaness” and they are symbols indicating her professional status (you don’t get to wear these numbers in the chorus)... They are truly gowns, in every sense of the word.
By Lorna Lesley