Opening your grandparents' large wardrobe and hoping to be whisked off to a fantasy land only to find hangers full of clothes was terribly disappointing for us as kids. As adults, there's new magic hidden in the furniture itself. Perfect for when you've got too many clothes and too little closet space, antique and vintage wardrobes are fashion's best kind of furniture - practical and stylish.
Popular Antique & Vintage Wardrobe Styles
Wardrobes are tall, upright, and hollow wooden pieces of furniture that were used to hang clothes and store other goods. They got their start in the Medieval period and flourished as the centuries passed. People have always needed safe places to house their clothes when they're not using them, and long before there were custom-built walk-in-closets, people used external pieces of furniture for storage.
These heavy pieces of furniture are subtler in their decorative effect than other types like armchairs, but they've been beautifully crafted for hundreds of years. Typically, you don't see many wardrobes surviving from before the 17th century, and most that are passed down today are from the 19th or 20th centuries. But being younger doesn't make them any less fabulous than their older cousins.
You've probably heard wardrobe, armoire, and chest of drawers used interchangeably. While chest of drawers refer to a short and wide piece of furniture that usually has shelves, armoires and wardrobes describe the same type of furniture, just in two different languages.
The mid-18th century is the earliest documented period where antique wardrobes appear in abundance. This style used light woods and delicate designs, often featuring rounded tops like little grain silos. For pieces from this period, you should see some aging and patina on the wood and saw marks on the unfinished edges (since they were hand-crafted).
If you're a Jane Austen fan, then you know the Regency period well. Wardrobes that would have been right at home in Pemberly were simply designed with a particular focus given to their symmetry as well as using luxurious and exotic woods.
If you want variety, then Victorian wardrobes are the style for you. The decades-long period in the 19th century saw so many style revivals that you can find elegant, dark wooded, cutout-filled Gothic wardrobes and tall, resolute mahogany pieces in a Renaissance style from the same year. Besides these revivals, you can find rare examples of more niche movements like Aestheticism, which focused on making beautiful art because it was pretty to look at.
Overall, mass-manufactured Victorian wardrobes were sumptuously designed, bordering on tacky for some modern tastes.
Design style during the Edwardian period pivoted away from the lavish and, at-times, outlandish styles popular in the Victorian era. Instead, Edwardian furniture was simpler, focused on clean lines, precise decoration, and an overall move away from the styles you'd see in the past to something completely modern.
Art Deco is one of the best-known (if often misunderstood) 20th century design styles. Wardrobes that were made during this period were wider and shorter than years prior, and they had distinct geometric shapes, like this English walnut one has. Many of these rectangular, unique wardrobes were made with heavily patterned wood, creating an almost marble-like effect for a less-heavy and cheaper option.
By the mid-20th century, full-blown wardrobes had turned into imposing pieces of furniture. These light-wooded closets were usually quite tall and held up by MCM's distinctive tapered and off-set legs.
How Much Are Antique & Vintage Wardrobes Worth?
Furniture is notoriously expensive, and the better quality pieces you have, the more they're worth. If you're interested in buying an antique or vintage wardrobe, you're looking at $2,000-$5,000 for the most basic ones, at the very least. Depending on who made them, what materials were used, and how old they are, these wardrobes can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. If you already have one in your possession, then you're in luck because of how valuable it probably is.
For example, this 18th century walnut armoire comes with delicate shell motifs carved into its curved doors and moulding. Up the center runs an intricately carved 'Tree of Life' that spreads its branches over the entire top section. One of the most beautifully preserved pieces made from an expert hand like this should cost a lot of money, and it does. Currently, it's listed for $54,000 on 1st Dibs.
A wild swing in the other direction is this lovely folk-art painted wardrobe from Bohemia circa the 19th century. The paint is fading in places, but other than the expected wear and tear, it's in good condition, yet it's only listed for $3,715.37. Any furniture that falls outside of the conventional, traditional western form is typically valued at lower prices than pieces that've been crafted in western styles.
Buying these wardrobes online can be unexpectedly expensive because of how much money shipping costs. In this case, we recommend that you try to buy in your area and transport them yourself because it's nearly impossible to guarantee your wardrobe won't get any damage if you're not transporting it yourself.
Unusual Ways to Decorate Using Your Old Wardrobe
Everyone knows they can use a wardrobe to store clothes and linens, but there are other unique ways to put them to use. Depending on how partial you are to your vintage wardrobe (and whether it's a family heirloom) will determine just how quirky you can get with your decoration.
- Convert your wardrobe into a dry bar. With the deep shelves and space, wardrobes can turn into cool dry bars where you can store all your spirits and drink-making tools. It also keeps your non-alcoholic goods carefully tucked away from wandering eyes or hands.
- Turn it into a pet bed. If your fluffy friends are agile on their feet, you can set a few pillows and blankets inside. Leave the door open a crack, and your cats or dogs will leap right in for a little snooze.
- Transform your wardrobe into a makeup and vanity area. Just stick a large mirror inside one of the wardrobe's doors, and then you can set up all sorts of removable shelving to store your many cosmetic and beauty products. If your counter space isn't cutting it anymore, look to DIY your own makeup station.
The Fashion-Forward Deserve Fashionable Furniture
Fashion isn't limited to just clothes. No, anything you integrate into your personality and wear with pride can be your kind of fashion. And, there's no better way to honor your fashion sense than by treating yourself to the best type of fashionable furniture - the thrifted kind. Antique and vintage wardrobes come in all shapes and sizes, and since they've been around for centuries, they're destined to be around for many more.