The terms "dressing table" and "vanity table" are often used interchangeably. What is agreed upon is that this piece of furniture is a place where a person, generally a female, applies her "toilette." A toilette is a French word for the processes of grooming, fixing one's hair, putting on make-up and getting dressed. It was the aristocratic and royal women, primarily, who utilized "dressing tables."
Furniture that we take for granted may have had royal origins and purposes, according to an article written by Anne Gilbert for the Chicago Sun-Times. Gilbert notes that the dressing table, or vanity table, is one such item. The dressing table came into fashion in the early 18th century, according to Gilbert, and it consisted of a small table that featured several drawers.
A vanity or dressing table is defined as a table that has secret panels or handle drawers, a round or oval padded stool for the lady to sit on, a vanity mirror and/or wing mirrors and various separate top modules.
The term "dressing table" was coined as early as the 17th century in reference to small tables that had two or three drawers. Cabinet makers would make the table so that the fittings could be concealed when the table was not in use. Some of the tables were quite elaborate and had folding tops and a basin drawer, where water was received from a cistern. There were drawers for razors, another drawer for combs, a separate compartment for toothbrushes and a place for powder boxes.
Dressing tables can be rectangular or kidney-shape and can be pine, oak, cherry, brass, nickel or other kinds of metals and unfinished or covered with fabric. Dressing tables generally have storage areas including shelves, drawers and an open counter space where you can place your bottles and jars. Once in a while, you will come across a dressing table that has a hinged top that opens up, providing out-of-the-way storage space. Dressing tables often come with a mirror attached to the top, and they come with a vanity seat.
A kneehole table is defined as a dressing table or writing table that features a recessed center to accommodate the knees of the sitter, according to Oldandsold.com. This design dates back to the early 18th century. The kneehole table later metamorphosed into the library table. Not all dressing tables have the kneehole design, but this style is preferable because it's accommodating and comfortable.
A skirted dressing table may well be the most feminine and beautiful of all designs. Some dressing tables come with swags. Any dressing table can be adorned with swags and skirts. Of course, adding a swap or skirt will interfere with access to the drawers, but sometimes we choose to sacrifice efficiency for aesthetics.
Sometimes, a dressing table has a tall dresser-drawer type configuration comprised of three or more rows of drawers. The individual using the dressing table does not sit down in front of it; he stands. There is often a mirror on top of this kind of dressing table and, of course, there is ample space on the counter top where wristwatches, billfolds, money clips and cuff links can be placed.
How to Choose
Dressing tables come in a variety of shapes and configurations. Many sites display a myriad of dressing tables that run the gamut from steel to bone--which in some societies is considered a status and class signifier. Depending on how much you want to shell out for your dressing table, you can select from handcrafted and hand-carved dressing tables. Some feature oval mirrors, whereas other have rectangular mirrors.
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