The evolution of the dressing table shows a series of transformations. Discover the history of the dresser and how you can choose a design to suit you today…
The ancient world
The origin of the dressing table is a box. Wealthy people took pride in owning ornate, beautifully crafted containers to house luxuries, such as cosmetics, perfumes and oils. In fact, when a 3,000-year-old ‘cosmetic box’ found in a pharaoh’s tomb was opened, it was found to contain ointment jars, face paints and other beautifying items.
Many centuries later, rich members of society continued to use portable cosmetic boxes — until they found a convenient place to put them.
During the late 1600s, the dressing table as we know it today began to take shape across Europe. Although, very early designs were far less elaborate and mainly featured a washbasin under a fold-down lid. Perhaps the popularity of the dresser picked up as this was an age where the members of high society took great pride in specialised furniture to display their wealth. For example, the French poudreuse table and the English shaving table, which were both early models of the dressing table we know in 2018.
Many place the birth of the dressing table in France, where it was called a toilette or ‘toilet table’. Originally, it was designed for both men and women and usually consisted of a small table with two or three drawers. Typically, designers would create dressing tables that enabled the owner to hide the furniture’s fittings when it wasn’t being used, however, this changed in the 18th century. Cabinets became growingly decorative and almost always featured elaborate fittings to add to their luxury aesthetic. On a typical dressing table during the late 18th century, you’d most likely find: make-up, perfume flasks, combs, razors, and brushes. Eventually, a mirror was added.
Over time, dressing tables became smaller and more akin to the dimensions we recognise today. As the 19th century neared its end, society was presented with dressing tables in a variety of striking styles — from Gothic and Elizabethan to Renaissance and Rococo. Middle-class Victorian households were particularly fond of dressing tables, and it was during this time that the dressing table evolved into a complementary component of the bedroom décor, rather than keeping its style as a stand-alone item of furniture.
As the Art Deco period took hold at the beginning of the 1900s and Hollywood’s Golden Era swept over the world, dressing tables began to be associated with society’s modern idea of glitz and glamour. The depiction of the dressing table as a luxurious prop in the fantasy world of film, femme fatales and silver screen heroes gave a desirable and chic quality to this item of furniture.
A dressing table during this era could have a multitude of items on top of it, as designs became larger and cosmetics more widely available. Most likely, you’d have seen: combs, pin trays, perfume bottles, talcum powder, nail buffers, ring holders, jewellery boxes, facial creams, powder puffs, an array of cosmetics, and a variety of antique silver pieces, such as hand mirrors and brushes as well as antique jewellery.
Also aptly known as a ‘vanity table’ in the US, the aesthetic of the dressing table began to evolve during the latter half of the 1900s, with designs ranging from post-modern to minimalist.
No longer were dressing tables for the rich nor restricted to traditional or ornate styles. Today, we can buy dressers featuring LED mirrors, glass tops and in-drawer electrical outlets for our convenience, as well as a range of cost-effective, compact varieties to suit and fit every household.
Types of dressing tables
In 2018, we have the luxury of a wealth of beautiful dressing tables to suit our tastes and home décor. But, this also makes choosing one we love even more difficult.
If you want to instill traditional elegance into your home, you could try an antique dresser. A Queen Anne style is petite with elegantly curving legs and pad feet, while a duchess dresser often features cabriole legs and a serpentine top. Typically, Edwardian dressing tables are slightly plainer in design, or you can opt for a Victorian twin-pedestal style. I have actually written before about matching the furniture with antique style.
Of course, there are also plenty of modern varieties that come in a multitude of shades to suit your current interior design. But, which features should you make sure your dresser has before buying?
What should you look for when choosing a dressing table?
The style and size of your dressing table must complement your décor and personal taste. However, there are some features you must bear in mind when shopping for a new dresser:
- Lighting: is there space for a table lamp or does the mirror come with a lighting feature?
- Storage: are there enough drawers to store everything you wish to use at your dresser?
- Size: if space is precious, opt for straight legs, built-in mirrors and a petite stool over a large chair.
- Placement: can you put your dresser where there’ll be enough daytime lighting? If not, you may have to invest in extra artificial light sources.
- Compartments: if you’re planning on storing small items of cosmetics and jewellery inside your dresser, are there sections where you can keep your pieces safe from tangling, scratches and breakages?
Like many furnishings, the dressing table has transformed immensely over the centuries. Browse online for a variety of beautiful choices to enhance your bedroom.