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Mirror Image Blog

The History of the Wardrobe

Posted on 06/10/2015
At Mirror Image, our bespoke fitted wardrobes are a stylish and modern way of storing clothes. But it wasn't always this way: the word 'wardrobe' comes from the French garderobe, which in Medieval times meant 'toilet'! The wardrobe is an item of furniture with a fascinating history, and has evolved to become an integral part of any bedroom.

Before the invention of the wardrobe people stored their clothes in chests, but by the 12th Century, wealthy nobles needed more room to store their fine gowns and robes. The wardrobe was simply a room filled with cupboards and lockers, and the standalone piece of furniture did not come about until much later. The hanging rail was first created for a king's robe, ensuring that the fine material would not become creased - something to think about next time you hang up your clothes! 

history of the wardrobe

The 14th century writer Geoffrey Chaucer used the word garderobe to mean a toilet - but there is a reason for this. Garderobe literally means 'to guard one's robes', and it's thought that this phrase originates from hanging clothes in the toilet shaft as the ammonia from urine kills fleas. 

The oak 'hanging cupboard' dates back to the 17th century in the US, and despite being an enormous and heavy object it was exported to Britain, where woodlands were reserved for the navy, for over a hundred years. After periods of deforestation, the more abundant American walnut replaced oak as the most widely used material for furniture. To get an idea of just how large these early wardrobes were, double wardrobes were based on the 'eight small men' method, meaning that they could hold eight small men inside them! 

history of the wardrobe

In the 19th century wardrobes became smaller, but the elite of society still used them to display their wealth. Sheraton, Hepplewhite and other fine cabinet-makers created extravagantly decorated inlaid wardrobes from mahogany, satinwood, and other foreign fine-grained woods that had previously been hard to obtain. 

During the Victorian period wardrobe doors became full-length, covering the drawers or shelves at the bottom part of the wardrobe, and were often fitted with mirrors. 

history of the wardrobe

Today freestanding wardrobes are still commonly used, but bespoke fitted wardrobes are more desirable. Created to fit your room, fitted wardrobes make the most of any space and come in a wide variety of colours and finishes - good enough to hang even a king's robe! Pop into our Norwich or Cambridge showrooms and we'll show you.