The Decline of the Tallboy
Wardrobes as we know them today haven’t been around for very long at all in the evolution of clothing storage. Before we had wardrobes we had tallboys, or highboys as they are known in America, and before that chests or trunks were the most common way to house clothing and linens.
What is a Tallboy?
Quite simply, a tallboy is a tall chest of drawers on legs. It is raised up to make it easier to access the lower drawers, although steps were often needed to reach the higher drawers. Tallboys were often in two parts, with the lower section wider than the top, and could be taken apart for convenience when transporting or moving house.
Why Did We Stop Using Tallboys?
Along with the advent of motor transport and cheaper woods and materials, bigger pieces of furniture became more popular. Large wardrobes with full length doors and space for hanging clothes became the norm and tallboys fell out of favour. Chests of drawers are the modern equivalent and these days we tend to favour smaller units rather than heavy and bulky items of furniture. Nowadays it's uncommon to find new tallboys, although antiques can still be found from specialist dealers.
Why Was It Called a Tallboy?
The term came from the French “bois” which means wood - so it quite simply means tall wood furniture! The etymology of wardrobe also has French roots, first appearing in the English language in the 14th century. Originating from the old French words “warderobe” and “garderobe”, where “warder” and “garder” meant “to keep” and “to guard”, and “robe” meant “garment”.
Built in wardrobes and walk in closets are now far more popular for homeowners, the extra space afforded by bespoke furniture allows for more storage, greater accessibility and more choice over designs.
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