loose gown opening in front worn by women 17c.-18c. (also the name of a type of loose cloak worn by women c. 1850), 1670s, a corruption of French manteau "cloak, mantle," from Old French mantel (see mantle); form influenced in English by Mantua, name of the city in Italy. Mantua-maker (1690s) became by mid-18c. the general term for "dressmaker."
[The mantua-maker's] business is to make Night-Gowns, Mantuas, and Petticoats, Rob de Chambres, &c for the Ladies. She is Sister to the Taylor, and like him, must be a perfect Connoisieur in Dress and Fashions; and like the Stay-Maker, she must keep the Secrets she is entrusted with, as much as a woman can .... She must learn to flatter all Complexions, praise all Shapes, and, in a word, ought to be compleat Mistress of the Art of Dissimulation. It requires a vast Stock of Patience to bear the Tempers of most of their Customers, and no small Share of Ingenuity to execute their innumerable Whims. [R. Campbell, "The London Tradesman," 1747]