Wardrobe: Different designs through history

A wardrobe is a standing closet generally used for storing clothes. Historically, wardrobes were pieces of furniture more typically used by nobility. The word “wardrobe” first appeared around the 14th century, but its origin comes from the Old French words “wardereube” and “garderobe. The word’s components are from Old French: “warder” means “to guard” and “robe” means “garment”.

Wardrobes not only were used to store garments safely, but also sometimes housed precious items. In the time of King Henry III’s reign, the treasurer of the household was also the designated keeper of the wardrobe.

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A cupboard made of wood, carving, 1683, Pszczyna – Castle Museum. Photo Credit

It is also known that King Edward I had a whole room called wardrobe as a place to store his king’s robes and precious items.

A wardrobe covered oak designed in 1850 by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Photo Credit

The very first model of a wardrobe was similar to a chest, but it later became wooden closet with hanging spaces and shelves. In palaces, the room called the wardrobe was filled with cabinets and lockers.

Exposed in the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts, Oak Cupboard with copper mount by Bath Cabinet Makers Co., 1899. Photo Credit

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Its form as a hanging cupboard dates from the early 17th century in the United States. It was also a product exported from America to England at that time. Wardrobes were very large in size and made from oak with well-carved fronts.

Philadelphia highboy with cabriole legs dating from 1760.


French Oakley style tallboy, intricately carved with under-cabinet instead of a chest of drawers. Photo Credit


Buffet by Akseli Gallen-Kallela 1897-1899. This sideboard represented the biblical theme of the Garden of Eden. Photo Credit

Although clothes presses with drawers were popular during the 18th century, tallboys were much more commonly used for storing clothes. Double wardrobes at that time were built to be big enough to accommodate eight small men.

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By the beginning of 19th century, the closets were developed to include a hanging cupboard, a press above, and drawers below. A noticeable change came in the design of wardrobes with interior doors, drawers, shelves, and fitted mirrors.

Compound wardrobe made of rosewood, produced in the second half of 16th century during the Chinese Ming Dynasty. Photo Credit


Kas, early 19th century, made of wood, Brooklyn Museum. Photo Credit

In the 17th and 18th century,  large cupboard or wardrobe called Kas or Kasten were very popular in America and the Netherlands. They were made of quality wood such as ebony or cherry, fitted with drawers, and locked by key.