I've encountered a person learning English using "dress" for a piece of clothing that covers the top half of her body (and possibly her legs as well).

I was under the impression that "dress" used to mean clothing in general, but nowadays is more commonly used to mean "skirt".

However, I looked up Wiktionary and Cambridge Dictionaries Online, and both of them indicate it means a piece of clothing that covers the top half of the body and hangs down over the legs.

I'm not an expert on women's apparel. Was I mistaken in thinking that "dress" could be used for a synonym for "skirt"?


2 Answers 2


Dress can mean garb in the general sense.

But it can also mean a specific type of women's clothing. I used to think that dresses and skirts were all the same, but my wife has finally straightened me out.

A dress is a single piece of clothing that covers the upper and lower parts of the body:

red dress

whereas a skirt only covers from the waist down:

grey skirt

But some people (like me) don't understand the difference and tend to use the terms incorrectly – most people are very forgiving about it.

  • 4
    This is a great answer (the pictures were a great idea!) so +1! I don't think that there's necessarily a common misunderstanding about the difference between the two, though. Maybe men care less; I'm not sure. But I haven't ever heard someone use the wrong term, so I wonder how widespread the misconception really is.
    – WendiKidd
    Sep 21, 2013 at 15:05
  • 3
    What she said: I've never encountered anyone, male or female, native speaker or still learning, who mixes up "dress" and "skirt". Other than that, this is a good answer, but I can't in good conscience vote it up yet, because it asserts something that, to me, is preposterous.
    – Martha
    Sep 21, 2013 at 15:19
  • @Martha- Maybe it's just some men then. I modified my answer to say some. I was unwilling to make a broad generalization about men in my answer so I deliberately just said "some people". But I am pretty sure that the affected group is some subcategory of men. I, for one, operated for many years on the assumption that if it was worn by a woman and didn't have individual pant legs it was a dress and a skirt was just another name some people chose to use; and I know many of the guys I am friends with couldn't tell you either.
    – Jim
    Sep 21, 2013 at 16:56
  • 3
    I grew up in a home with brothers and no sisters. I don't think I had this distinction nailed down pat. Fast forward a few decades – now I have three daughters. I can't imagine getting this one wrong now.
    – J.R.
    Sep 21, 2013 at 17:30
  • 1
    Just to be nitpickingly pedantic, note that a "dress" may include a "skirt", as does the dress illustrated; we'd say the dress has a calf-length skirt. The same may be true of coats. But if the dress (or coat) is short and bodice and skirt are cut continuously, with fitting accomplished by darts, as in this illustration, the lower part will not ordinarily be referred to as a skirt. Sep 22, 2013 at 11:52

There are various dresses which girls can wear. Yes, a dress can be called skirt also because it also comes under dress category. There are beautiful short dresses I wear when I have to go for outing with my friends. We can also say Short Dresses as Short Skirts, Mini skirts, or Skirts; these all names are synonyms.

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