So we all know what a wardrobe is: a large cupboard with hanging space and very possibly some drawers or shelves, all purpose-designed to house our clothes.
But where do wardrobes come from? Let’s take a trip back in time to see when the wardrobe first came into existence…
30,000 years ago, as homosapiens donned animal hides to protect themselves from the cold, we witnessed the beginnings of clothing been worn. Surely though we can safely assume that our cave-dwelling ancestors were not concerned about how to organise their Monday to Friday hunting pelts, and their furs for Sunday best!
It’s something we take for granted. After all, we all need somewhere to hang our clothes, keeping them tidy, crease-free and safe from clothes moths. But where exactly do wardrobes come from? And when did we expand our personal stock of clothing to such an extent that it needs such careful organising?
The Online Etymology Dictionary cites the early 14th century as the point in time when history recorded the first examples of ‘a person’s stock of clothes for wearing’ being stored in a chest of some sort. Around 1300, wealthy nobles would refer to the ‘room where wearing apparel is kept’ as a warderobe or wardereube. This derived from the Old French verb warder, which meant ‘to keep’ or ‘to guard,’ coupled with robe, which meant ‘garment.’
Fast forward almost 400 years and we can see examples of an actual item of furniture, rather than a room, being referenced in historical documents. In England, this ‘movable closed cupboard for wearing apparel’ was, according to the Britannica Encyclopaedia, commonly known as a press or wardrobe, and had two distinct sections: one for hanging garments, the other for laying them flat.
Within more wealthy households, wardrobes would be adorned with heavy carvings and elaborate detailing, making a bold statement in the bedchamber. Whereas in others, the wardrobe was all but invisible, having been built into the decorative panelling of the room. Say hello to the first fitted wardrobe!
By the 1800s, wardrobes had become an essential part of the 19th century bedroom. Regardless of class, people had more relative wealth compared to their generations before. This resulted in them owning more clothing and taking such pride in their appearance that the first mirrored door appeared in the 1860s, with mirrors fitted to one of the doors that faced the bedroom.