The Differences Between a Vanity and Dressing Table


Vanity and Dressing Table

A woman getting primped and preened in the morning in front of a fancy piece of furniture is a typical image across media, but they are not always strictly feminine pieces. They have a long history that reflects humanity’s desire and care for appearances which is where the names “Vanity” and “Dressing Table” come from.

While the terms “Vanity” and “Dressing Table” are colloquially used interchangeably, the primary difference between the two is that a vanity has a mirror while a dressing table is larger, has more storage space, and has no mirror.

For the most part, a vanity and a dressing table are the same thing and are often used the same in common speech. However, there are typically some differences that can help distinguish the two when looking for distinct styles. Keep reading to find out more.

Vanities Have at Least One Mirror

A vanity will typically have at least one mirror to which someone can look at themselves, apply makeup, shave, or style their hair. Some of the higher-end models have mirrors with a backlight which gives an additional glow in a better light for putting on makeup, as inside and outside lights can usually make the look drastically different.

Vanities Have at Least One Mirror
Vanities Have at Least One Mirror

Some vanities also have a separate mirror so multiple people can get ready in the morning or even a large mirror with multiple smaller mirrors to help give more angles at once. Double vanities are common in large master suites where multiple people need to get ready at the same time or in Jack-and-Jill bathrooms for children.

Dressing Tables are Typically Larger

A dressing table typically is more significant than a vanity. They are bulky pieces with quite a bit of storage space in the form of drawers and/or shelves down the side. Additionally, they also typically have a top that can fold back to reveal even more storage space.

Dressing Tables are Typically Larger

This style tends to be more popular with people that have a lot of styling equipment and/or makeup. They really focus heavily on the storage side of things to the point they can sometimes even be used as a dresser for storing clothes. A dressing table typically also has a seat where one can put on their shoes or sit when taking time to style their hair or do their makeup. This seat almost always comes with storage itself when paired with a dressing table.

Vanities are Collectible Pieces

Vanities have been made out to be these beautifully crafted pieces where people can get ready for the morning for centuries. They started seeing popularity in the 18th century when it became more of a necessity for everyone to take care of their appearances than just the upper class.

Therefore, they come in a massive range of styles and sizes. They are very popular pieces for antique and furniture collectors. They also make for one of the most important statements in a bathroom, dressing room, or a walk-in closet, so they are highly sought after.

Dressing Tables Have More Storage

While a vanity might have a small shelf, drawer, or even no storage space, a dressing table typically has quite a bit of it. These pieces have a lot of storage down and make excellent use of their large size. They sometimes even have so much storage that clothing, accessories, or even shoes can be stored within the piece and be a one-stop shop for getting ready in the mornings.

The cost of all of this storage tends to be more of a bulky look rather than something beautiful and elegant; however, some dressing tables manage to turn this bulkiness into a regal, royal sort of look which can ramp up some spaces into extreme luxury just by existing.

Vanities are Seen as Feminine

There is little more iconic in period pieces than a woman getting her hair and makeup was done by a servant next to a vanity. A woman getting ready in front of a mirror is also one of the most common scenes in media, as taking extreme measures to work on one’s looks has become seen as more of a feminine activity by modern standards.

Therefore, a vanity is typically made to be a beautiful piece of furniture and appeals to more feminine tastes than a dressing table. They have elegant flourishes and chic designs to appeal to the modern woman much more than a typical dressing table. Any lighting built into the piece is almost always geared towards giving the best lighting for putting on makeup, as that really does matter to the end look.

Dressing Tables are Seen as Masculine

Everyone needs to take some time to get ready in the morning. Just because a woman is seen as having more care in her appearance than a man doesn’t mean all men throw on whatever. A dressing table has less of a feminine implication and allows men to store their supplies in their pieces of furniture.

The ample storage space gives a lot of room for more bulky pieces, from electric razors to hair care products, ties, clothes, and even other pieces included in their haberdashery. Since they appeal more to masculine standards, they are typically less flashy and come in more muted, neutral colors and styles.

Vanities are Suitable for All Ages

A vanity is a common addition to many bedrooms and is typically lower to the ground than a dressing table. This makes them also great pieces to include in a child’s room or an elder’s room where it gives space to get ready for the day safely. They tend to fit all age ranges and the style preferences that go along with them seamlessly.

Additionally, a vanity is almost always part of the bathroom and bathrooms are multifunctional spaces that everyone regardless of age or sex needs to use. A dressing table implies that it is for adults only, whereas a vanity is more widely accepted for everyone.

Dressing Tables are Multifunctional

A dressing table tends to be an extremely multifunctional piece of furniture due to its ample storage. They can be pieces that hold just about everything a person might need early in the morning, from hairstyling supplies to accessories, clothes, makeup, and even shoes. 

While both a free-standing vanity and a dressing table typically has a stool to go along with it, a dressing table really puts the focus onto storage and therefore can be great additions for a space that caters to multiple people. The stools help give a space to sit while people are getting ready or helps give them a place to put on their shoes. Some even have built-in storage, making them extremely useful pieces for storing just about anything.

Vanities are Commonly Built into the Bathroom

The most common place a vanity is going to be found is built into the bathroom of a home. A sink, any cabinetry around it, the counter, mirror, and lighting fixtures around it are all part of what is known as a vanity unit. They can come in singles or doubles It is that whole space that makes a bathroom more than a room with a toilet.

Vanities are Commonly Built into the Bathroom

Even half-baths typically have a vanity installed as they consist of a toilet and a sink. They also appear in powder rooms as the only real piece in there, as that’s where people are meant to freshen up. The second there is a mirror placed above a sink, it becomes a vanity unit.

Dressing Tables are Usually Free-Standing

While either piece can be free-standing pieces, a dressing table is typically a piece that is a table and is rarely built into the home itself. While a vanity unit might be a piece in a bathroom or built into a proper dressing room, a dressing table can be moved around.

Almost always is a dressing table a literal table, with one or more legs supporting them. When a piece has been mounted to a wall, is floating, or is even built into the wall itself, it is usually referred to as a vanity over a dressing table. So, when looking for something that is free-standing, a dressing table might be a way to start the search.

Vanities are Typically More Compact

A vanity is almost always a small, more compact piece than a dressing table. They can be so small in fact that a minimal design is a small mirror and shelf mounted to the wall at roughly face height. Even full vanity tables tend to be more compact, small, and elegant over the dressing table’s bulkiness.

The trade-off of this is that a vanity has much less storage space for supplies and is more suitable for people without much they need. They also make for great additions to a child’s room both stylistically and for usefulness as they are low and small.

Dressing Tables can be Placed in More Areas of the Home

Vanities almost always find themselves placed in the obvious locations of a bathroom, dressing room, walk-in closet, or bedroom. On the other hand, a dressing table can find more spaces to be in due to its more multifunctional look and use.

These pieces can be placed throughout the home, from entryways to hallways, and not look too out of place. This is especially true if they also store shoes, as they are almost always the last thing put on, typically right before someone leaves the house. Therefore, it makes sense for a dressing table to be put near shoes where a person can sit and put them on before leaving.

Vanities Tend to be More Elegant

In an attempt to appeal to the need for beauty, a vanity is almost always more elegant or chic than a dressing table. Vanities tend to have more flourishes, designs, or parts to them that serve no other purpose than to be pretty. Even the simplest designs cater to an elegant feeling with glass, metals, or swooping edges, feet, or decorative accents.

Even the bulkiest of vanities have a bit of flair to them that helps them stand apart and be more attractive pieces, appealing to the desire for a rich, regal look whereas a dressing table tends to be more toned down and less flashy. They use this flashiness to appeal to a more feminine mindset, though that doesn’t exclude them from more masculine sensibilities entirely.

Dressing Tables are Usually More Modern

As far as style goes, a dressing table usually has a more modern, sleek look whereas a vanity tries to take on more of a classic one. These pieces use a lot of solid angles and sleek edges, unlike a vanity which typically uses a lot of elegant flourishes or decorative accents.

Therefore, a dressing table tends to be simpler in design and more modern in style. This helps not overpower the piece since there is so much more to it than a typical vanity. They are large and bulky, so doing too much with that can quickly turn them from sleek to tacky.

Vanities are Standard Pieces

Since a vanity unit is almost always one of the main parts of a bathroom, they are present in just about every home. The exception is only when there isn’t a mirror involved for one reason or another, but even so a vanity might still exist if there is a cabinet around the sink.

These serve an important role in society and are almost always a part of the bathroom that are forgotten about and overlooked when thinking about vanities, but they are also one of the most important parts. A bathroom is one of the most valuable and used rooms in a house and a good vanity helps that be true.

Dressing Tables are Dedicated Pieces

A dressing table is almost always purchased with the intent to use it as it is intended— a dedicated piece of furniture to prepare for the day. While they are typically more multifunctional than a regular vanity, they are also there for more reason and carry a lot of intent behind the piece itself. It is a space to get dressed, fix up one’s appearance, and be a dedicated space for one specific purpose.

It is not necessarily a must-have piece like a vanity unit in a bathroom. It’s an additional piece of furniture that has people put into the mindset of getting ready.

What is Vanity in Furniture?

A vanity in furniture is a piece of furniture meant to take care of one’s appearance. It is a dedicated space, usually with a mirror, to apply makeup, fix hair, and get dressed. It can be a free-standing piece of furniture or built into a surrounding wall, unit, or other parts of the home and is most often found in the bathroom as a complete unit with a sink, mirror, and some form of storage space.

Different Terms Used for Vanity

The term “Vanity” implies that it is a space to focus on one’s appearance, which is an act of vanity. It is often used within the media to shine a light on vain actions or even to hint at the issues behind vain motivations. However, the term for the furniture piece is also often used interchangeably with other terms and often with slightly different implications.

TermMeaning
VanityA table or other furniture, such as a cabinet with a mirror, is meant to apply makeup, fix hair, and care for one’s appearance. It can be free-standing, floating, or traditional. In modern homes, this is the place in the bathroom with the sink, cabinets, and mirror.
Dressing TableA larger table with ample storage space consisting of numerous shelves and drawers. Typically, a dressing table does not have a mirror and has more masculine implications than some other terms. This term started seeing use in the 19th century.
Makeup TableA small, low-standing table with or without a built-in mirror is meant to give space for applying makeup. Often is used interchangeably with a free-standing vanity table. Mirrors typically have backlighting in a soft light that helps make it easier to see how it is going to look.
Toilet TableA piece of furniture— typically found in a restroom or bathroom— is meant to be a place to focus on one’s appearance. This term started being used in the 18th century when taking care of appearances became more mainstream and was sometimes still utilized in European countries.

Language is something that is constantly evolving. Colloquial speech is commonly spoken and can sometimes force words to have new meanings as things become added. Many of the terms utilized for a piece of furniture where someone gets ready in the morning, take care of their appearance, or stores their styling equipment are used interchangeably. Sometimes it’s based on regional phrasing, and other times it’s to attempt to make a distinction.

Conclusion

While a vanity and a dressing table are both terms that are often used interchangeably in common speech, typically a vanity has a mirror while a dressing table is a bulkier, free-standing piece with ample storage and no mirror. They have become extremely popular pieces since the 18th century and are spaces where people can get ready for the morning, take care of their appearance, and keep their styling supplies neat and tidy.

The terms themselves are even extremely self-explanatory and hint at their intended use and its feelings. A vanity implies a space for someone to partake in the act of vanity, caring for their appearance and a dressing table implies a table where someone is getting dressed.

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