American Evolution of the Clothes Closet
Part IX

The average home of a century ago had twice as many extra rooms as there are in a complete house of today. The smoke room, root cellar, borning room, milk room, chapel room, keeping room, summer kitchen, wash room, and corn room are just a few rooms that were as standard to an old home as a coat closet is to a modern one. Such a maze of rooms must have been fascinating to children. There is little wonder the old houses have lingered through growing-up memories and haunted folks during later years.

The clothes closet as we know it today is an American invention. The "closet" was originally a private or secret room. Clothes were either hung in the open on pegs or folded into chests, each person had a personal chest, often at the foot of the bed.

The only early American household enclosures were cupboards, and even they did not appear until the middle 1700's. In about 1780, American farm wives invented the idea of placing curtains, hung from a wire, to cover the clothing hung on pegs. This arrangement waited only for the curtain to be replaced by wooden doors to give birth to the clothes closet. In you have even seen small hooks hanging from ancient ceilings and wondered what they were, they were probably there to hold "clothes curtains" during the pre-closet days.

Excerpted by Maury Tosi
From Eric Sloane's booklet American Yesterday (1956)