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What is a Dresser?

This is a side of the house with a brown wooden dresser against a beige wall.

I was 21 when I got my first ‘real’ job. I moved out of my parent’s house and across the country into my very first apartment. It was a trendy studio.

It came with just a stove and fridge. Although matchbox in size, it still needed quite a lot to make it not only livable but comfortable too. One of the very first things that I bought for the apartment, apart from a bed, was a dresser.

Over the years, as I ended chapters and began new ones, that dresser has moved with me. It has been repainted and repurposed. It’s had its hardware sprayed and then replaced altogether.

It’s stood in my bedroom where it was used as storage for my clothes. When I moved into a bigger apartment, I placed it behind a sofa where I stashed board games, table settings, and other odds and ends. And now it holds my children’s clothes.

A dresser is a type of furniture that is used for storage. Most dressers are made from wood but can be made from any other material.

Dressers are made up of a chest of drawers and are most commonly found in the bedroom. They are used to store clothes, makeup, cosmetics, jewelry, and any other personal items. There are many variations of dressers, depending on their purpose and function.

And while dressers are found predominantly in the bedroom, they can be placed anywhere that storage is needed.

Dressers are endlessly versatile, and it is the kind of piece that adapts to your home, style, and lifestyle. There are several types of dressers, the difference being the structure and end-use of each piece.

The history of the dresser

This is a vintage wooden chest that has wrought iron accent and support.

They are conflicting accounts about how the dresser came to be.

Some believe that the dresser evolved from the very humble chest. These wooden boxes became very important as they were used as dowry or wedding chests. As time went by, drawers were added to these chests, and a mirror was placed on top.

Since the chest of drawers stored clothes, cosmetics, and hairbrushes, and because people got dressed in front of them, they became known as dressing tables. The dressing table was then shortened simply to ‘dresser.’

Other sources say that the word dresser was first used in England in the sixteenth century to describe what we now call sideboards. Made up of a single row of drawers that rested on tall legs, these dressers were found in the kitchen or dining room.

Tablecloths, napkins, and silverware were stored in the drawers. The top surface area provided extra space to plate and ‘dress’ meat before the dish was taken to be served at the dining table.

A century later, shelves and backing were added above the row of drawers. These shelves were used to display dinnerware and fine china.

The difference between a dresser, chest of drawers, and bureau

The terms chest of drawers and dresser are used interchangeably. Strictly speaking, the two are not the same.

A chest of drawers is taller and not as wide as a dresser. It also has at least five drawers stacked, one on top of the other. A chest of drawers is perfect for smaller spaces as it provides ample storage without taking up as much floor space as a dresser would.

A bureau could pass for a dresser, but unlike a dresser that usually lives in a bedroom, a bureau is found in an office, study, or library. Not just for storage, a bureau can also be used as a desk.

Dressers are lower than chests of drawers, usually about waist high. Drawers found in dressers are usually bigger than those found in chests of drawers, allowing for more storage space. Dressers come in many different styles, from ornate to classic, modern to contemporary, as well as different colors and configurations.

Types of dressers

Horizontal Dresser

This is a standard gray six-drawer lowboy horizontal dresser.

A horizontal dresser is also called a standard dresser or a lowboy. They are about waist-high. Many horizontal dressers come with a matching mirror.

Structurally a horizontal dresser is made up of two or three rows of wide drawers. The very top row is sometimes made up of a few smaller drawers – perfect for holding socks, underwear, accessories, and other knick-knacks.

The large surface area of this dresser makes it the perfect space to store and display a statement jewelry stand, beautiful bottles of perfume, or anything that you use frequently.

Double Dresser

This is a bedroom with a large wooden double dresser with a mirror beside the bed.

As the name suggests, a double dresser is made up of two columns of drawers. This type of dresser offers tons of storage space but is also bulky, taking up a lot of floor space. The vast surface area could easily accommodate a TV if a mirror atop the dresser is not needed.

If you have a spacious bedroom, a double dresser will make an excellent addition to your space.


This is a vintage wooden highboy dresser with key locks.

Structurally, a highboy is a double chest of drawers with either a cupboard or a narrower set of drawers on top. If it is the latter, it can also be called a chest on a chest. The drawers are placed on legs, which gives this type of dresser a bit of a wardrobe look.

A highboy is quite a traditional piece of furniture, but contemporary designs have given this piece a sleek update with clean lines and smooth finishes.

Combo Dresser

This is a wooden combo large dresser with multiple storage capability.

Add some cabinets to the horizontal dresser, and you have a combo dresser. Drawers are great for storage, but for some, especially bulkier items like purses and hats, drawers just won’t do.

The combo dresser is a functional storage system to keep clothes and accessories organized. It offers both drawers and shelving, so everything has its place.


Dressers have been a part of the home for centuries. There are many different types of dressers, depending on the structure and configuration of drawers and cabinets. Some dressers provide a surface area where many loved items can be displayed and easily reached.

There is one thing that all dressers have in common, and that is to store one’s belongings.


Wayfair: Guide to the Different Types of Dressers & Chests

The Spruce: Fashionable Storage for Every Room

Britannica: Dresser

M.S. Rau Antiques: History of the Armoire and Dresser

OC Furniture: Difference Between a Chest of Drawers and a Dresser

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