Dressing rooms are unique spaces because they are designed around and reflect a highly personal routine. We each have our own way of getting ready for the day or a night out. Some of us may simply take five minutes to pull our hair back and wash our face, while others relish in front of the mirror for two hours — carefully applying makeup and selecting accessories. Since the act of dressing, let’s call it the “toilette routine,” is so intimate, I wanted to start this particular Design Glossary entry with some personal history on my own routine and experience with dressing rooms. Afterward, I will dive into the definition, history, and benefits of dressing rooms in the home.
My Personal History and Experience With Dressing Rooms and “Toilette Routines”
Dressing rooms don’t play a major role in this stage of my life. While my bedroom does feature a 1970s-style built-in vanity meant to serve as the dressing space, I rarely use it for that purpose. Instead, I prefer to use that surface for perusing fabric samples or sketching the latest idea that comes to mind for a design project. I wear very little makeup or jewelry, and I don’t keep up with the latest fashion trends. The act of dressing and a toilette routine feels more like a dull chore to me than the escape it is for some of my clients who request a space designed around it. A clean face, a solid haircut, and a pair of statement eyeglasses complete my morning routine checklist. So, you could say my toilette routine is on the shorter side.
My mother was the same. She was a landlord, so she had the luxury of not being held to an office dress code. Oh, how I envy that! She emphasized comfort, uniqueness, and thrift in her wardrobe. I often admired her clothing choices, and she would always let me know what she paid for them. She was proud of her thrift store finds — the thrill of finding that one-of-a-kind item and paying far less than a department store. While my mother didn’t practice an extensive toilette routine daily, she could really pull herself together when she focused on it. I remember when I was little, she would throw parties and dress herself, my sister, and me in fancy party dresses. She would mimic Elizabeth Taylor, accenting her look with cat-eye glasses, a turban, and a tunic caftan. I thought she looked like a queen! Of course, her value of comfort outweighed her appreciation of appearances. Now, I tend to follow my mother’s lead for comfort. However, I can still get dressed up for the occasional party.
My father, who passed away when I was 12 years old, worked in real estate and was much more focused on dressing and his morning routine. He had been an Air Force colonel, and he brought the sense of regimented uniform to his civilian life. I remember he’d dress in button-downs, a business suit jacket, slacks, shiny dress shoes, and a clip-on tie that he gave me the honor of choosing. (The ties never matched, by the way. So, he couldn’t have cared too much because he accepted all of the crazy getups I proposed as a child.) I’d stand on the toilet in the mornings and watch him shave his face and gel his military-short hair. As a child, I was mesmerized by the products that went into it — shaving cream, aftershave, and hair gel. It was a comfort to watch, and I fondly remember it now.
Our professions, values, interests, and families influence our toilette routines. However, we all share the act of getting ready. These rituals bring comfort and set the stage for how we carry our day. So, we need a space to prepare. Cue the dressing room.
So, What are Dressing Rooms?
Well, they are rooms for dressing, of course! Dressing rooms are a type of specialty room designed around getting ready for the day. They are typically located off bedrooms, closets, or bathrooms and offer room to change, apply makeup, and linger in the mirror. Since toilette routines are so unique to each person, dressing rooms need to be customized around an individual’s morning ritual.
A Brief History of Dressing Rooms in Interior Design
Dressing rooms were developed in 18th century France for the nobility to showcase their toilette routines to their courts. In many ways, the act of getting dressed was seen as a performance. Think Marie Antoinette lounging on a chaise, eating cake, having her hair done, and conducting the day’s business. Oh, wouldn’t we all love to work from bed? The toilette routines of the royals had both private and public elements requiring multiple dressing rooms. For example, a noble may bathe in a private room and then transition to a more public room to eat breakfast, dress, and conduct morning affairs. Throughout the Rococo, Baroque, Regency, and Victorian eras, it was more common for the social elite to change throughout the day for different occasions. So, the dressing room became a place where one would spend a lot of time simultaneously preparing and entertaining.
Today, dressing rooms have become more private, but they are still a luxurious home feature. In some cases, dressing rooms still serve as a kind of stage. Marie Antoinette used her dressing room to showcase the latest fashions for her court in the 18th century. Similarly, modern beauty bloggers and fashionistas are filming their toilette routines and showcasing their daily outfits on social media from the comfort of their vanities. Modern dressing rooms typically adjoin bedrooms, closets, and bathrooms. It may be an entire room or resemble an alcove or nook inside a larger space. The key components of a dressing room are a vanity, clothing storage, a mirror, and a place to sit and get ready.
Toilette Routines and How to Design Around Them
Each of my interior design clients manages their toilette routines differently, and it is my job to understand every detail to create a space with the function they need. To get the most out of working with your interior designer, you need to share some pretty intimate details about how you live! For example, some clients want a built-in vanity in their bathroom with lots of storage for hairdryers, makeup, and products. Others want an expansive closet off their bedroom with room to sit and linger in the mirror. As a designer, it is my job to assess how they dress, bathe, store, and prepare for their day. Even more important, I need to learn how they want to feel in the space. After all, dressing rooms can set the entire mood of the day.
Benefits of Dressing Rooms
Dressing rooms provide additional storage for makeup, products, accessories, clothes, and everything else we need to get ready. Having a dedicated space for dressing with everything you need on hand can ease the stress of the morning and set the stage for a productive day ahead.
Privacy and Space for One’s Own
Many of my clients request a dressing room in their design so they can have privacy and a space for themselves in the home. Having an area separate from the primary bedroom or bath for getting ready can be a relaxing escape, especially if it’s dedicated to one house member.
Permission to Look in the Mirror
When dressing rooms first came about, mirrors were seen as the height of luxury. Today, mirrors still carry symbolic weight. Permitting yourself to look in the mirror is not only practical for seeing how you look to others but allows you time to literally reflect on yourself and the day ahead. Unfortunately, we don’t always give ourselves permission to admire our appearance. It helps to have a dedicated space for self-care and peaceful thought.
Comfort in Routine
Finally, I think the most significant benefit to a dressing room is having a space dedicated to routine. There is a comfort to be held in our established rituals, and dressing rooms are designed to honor that. Not having a space to practice our routines can make the day feel chaotic right from the start.
Reflecting on my parents’ morning routines and having my children take part in ours brings a sense of comfort and peace to the start of my day.
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Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.