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My friends laughed at me when I said "nice dress man" because "dress" is used for only females. Is this correct? I was always thinking dress is just synonym of costumes and clothes. Is there any gender specific usage of "dress"?

In India girls/woman use word "dress" to differentiate from the traditional dresses that women wear like saree, lahenga, chudidar, ghaghra etc., so anything other than Indian traditional clothing is called "dress" including Ts and Jeans.

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    Have you checked the dictionary definitions to see what they say? – Nathan Tuggy Jun 22 '15 at 19:40
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    So you said "nice dress, man." which is really "nice dress"? Or was there more context. Dress could be appropriate regarding clothing that is formal or for a special occasion. So more context and what kind of clothing is needed to answer. Also it is likely to be localized to some extent. – user3169 Jun 22 '15 at 19:41
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    Related question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/10574/can-dress-mean-skirt (I'm a native speaker and didn't know what "dress" means!) – Andrew Grimm Jun 23 '15 at 1:45
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    I do not agree that (or have not heard) women in India refer to a tee-shirt ("top") and jeans as a dress. They might refer to it in terms like "casual dress", in which case they are using it generically, or they might use it specifically for a flowing western garment without separated legs. I can't recollect anyone calling a top and jeans a "dress" specifically. – Pranab Jun 24 '15 at 7:15
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The meaning of "dress" is context-sensitive.

In "Nice dress, man!", the "nice" modifier makes it sound like you are referring to a specific item of clothing that you like. Therefore, I would assume that you are referring to a skirt-like garment. The same goes for "a dress", "the dress", "this dress", "your dress", or any modifier that makes it sound specific.

There are, however, situations where "dress" has a more generic meaning:

  • "Dress" used as an adjective is likely to be generic:

    This company has a strict dress code: suits and ties for men, pantsuits for women.

  • "Dress" used as a verb is likely to be generic:

    This party will be an opportunity to dress up.

    It's taking you forever to get dressed!

  • "Dress" used as a noun requires thought:

    The wedding invitation says formal dress requested, so I'll have to get my old suit altered.

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    Good for pointing out examples where it literally refers to the act of clothing yourself. In his use case I would use "outfit". – Formagella Jun 22 '15 at 21:53
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    And "dressed to the left" or "dressed to the right" means something else again. – Spehro Pefhany Jun 22 '15 at 22:27
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As a native U.S. English speaker, if I heard someone say, "Nice dress!", I would assume that they were referring to a dress, a specific item of clothing usually worn only by women and girls. To say that a male dresses well, you might say "Nice dresser!" instead, or "Nice clothes!", or maybe even "Nice outfit!".

Similarly, statements such as "He dresses nicely", or "He arrived in formal dress" could apply to both male and female.

  • which english? UK or US? – Inglish Jun 22 '15 at 22:04
  • yup, "Nice dress!" = "That is a nice dress!" based on the feminine garmant, whereas "Nicely dressed!" = "You are nicely dressed!" or "You have dressed nicely!" based on the non-gender-specific non-garment-specific verb and adjective – user56reinstatemonica8 Jun 23 '15 at 9:49
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    @Inglish: Either. – T.J. Crowder Jun 23 '15 at 12:51
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    I've never heard of nice dresser; it might be a more regional thing. – Schism Jun 24 '15 at 13:33
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"Dress" can mean "clothing" or "attire", but it's usually used that way in the abstract, referring to clothes in general. It's not generally used to mean the specific outfit that a person is wearing.

I would take "nice dress, man!" to refer to a dress (singular noun) that's visible for you to remark on, not to dress (non-count noun) in general. A dress, singular, is a long skirted article of clothing that conventionally is worn by women and not by men (but, you know, it's the 21st century). An image search for "dress" should give you the general idea.

Just to confuse matters, a "dress shirt" is an article of men's clothing. In the US it means pretty much any smart collared shirt, in the UK it means a more specific style of formal shirt, which USians possibly refer to as a "tuxedo shirt". I'm unsure because I've never been to an event in the US that called for one. "Dress uniform" is the most formal military uniform, and I believe it can be called "dress" for short. The term "battledress" refers to standard combat uniforms, especially old-style ones. Not, as you might otherwise expect, to a kevlar frock.

So you might say, "nice dress shirt, man" or "nice dress [uniform], man", if the specific circumstances called for it, and that wouldn't imply women's clothing.

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When used as a noun, a dress is normally used to refer a typical type of (perhaps fancy) clothing that women sometimes wear:

The definition from the Merriam Webster dictionary:

a piece of clothing for a woman or a girl that has a top part that covers the upper body and a skirt that hangs down to cover the legs

However, if you say to a man:

Nice dress!

...then it will most likely be interpreted as a sarcastic comment if the man is. Unless he is actually and intentionally wearing a dress, of course. However, people who do that usually want to look feminin (this is called crossdressing, a man trying to imitate the outer appearance of a woman).

If the man you're talking to is wearing a 'costume' like you said, I would just use the word costume instead. This word is used for clothing worn by someone who is trying to look like someone/something else or a type of clothing worn by a specific group of people, especially in past times.

To compliment a man on his attire, there are plenty of synonyms, search for synonyms of clothing in the dictionary and you'll find other suitable terms. In any case, try to avoid using the word dress when talking about a man's outfit.

You could also try to be more specific, if it is a particular part of the clothing that you like:

  • Nice shirt!
  • Nice shoes!

or use a hypernym:

  • Nice outfit!
  • You look well-dressed!
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    "a dress ... (perhaps fancy)". Although beware that especially in British English the phrase "fancy dress" means a costume, portraying some character or stereotype, or whatnot. – Steve Jessop Jun 22 '15 at 21:38
  • Just a note, crossdressing can also theoretically apply to women wearing men's clothes, although this may be less obvious as the amount of clothes only worn by men has lessened. – sumelic Jun 23 '15 at 23:25
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In the military, a fancy formal uniform is officially referred to as "mess dress." Also, the combat uniform used to be called a BDU for battle dress uniform.

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