Same, same, but different. People use the words closet and wardrobe to refer to an area that stores clothing and other accessories. But there are key differences between these two terms.
So, what exactly are the differences between a closet vs. wardrobe? While both are spaces designed to store and organize clothes, shoes, and other accessories, the major difference lies in their structure. A closet is an enclosed space with a door that is built into the wall or architecture. A wardrobe is a taller piece of furniture where you can hang or fold clothes. Wardrobes often have doors, but there are many that are open-concept.
The bottom line is we all need a place to park our clothes. There’s no perfect solution that suits all.
Whether you’re thinking of expanding your existing storage space, or looking to build or renovate your home, let’s look at the various types of storage options available.
The definitions of closet vs wardrobe
According to Cambridge Dictionary, the word closet is mainly an American noun, while the word wardrobe is mostly used in the U.K., or places that use British English.
Here’s the definition of closet from the Cambridge Dictionary:
a cupboard or a small room with a door, used for storing things, especially clothes:
a bedroom/linen/storage closet
a small room or space in a wall where you can store things such as clothes, sheets, etc., often having a door so that it can be closed:
a clothes/linen closet
And, here’s the definition of wardrobe, also from Cambridge:
a tall cupboard in which you hang your clothes:
He hung his suit in the wardrobe.
She was showing me her new built-in/fitted wardrobes.
A wardrobe is also a piece of furniture where clothes are kept.
The term wardrobe also refers to someone’s entire clothing collection. For example, “Sally has a large collection of vintage t-shirts in her wardrobe.”
The evolving use of the terms closet and wardrobe
If you lived in medieval times, the words wardrobe and closet had very different meanings.
Today, we think of wardrobes as large cupboards with drawers, and perhaps a mirror on the door.
According to Britannica Encyclopedia, the word wardrobe was originally used to refer to a lavatory. And actually, the word closet also refers to lavatories to this day. In many parts of the U.K. you’ll still see the initials “W.C.” which stands for “water closet” or bathroom.²
And for quite some time, the words wardrobe and closet didn’t signify a piece of large furniture, but rather a room, or small apartment.
You may have heard of the term, “king’s wardrobe” from medieval England, which referred to the actual large room which acted as the hub for the royal’s clothing and dressing needs.
The piece of furniture that housed the clothing was referred to as a “press.” The press had an area to hang clothes and an area to lay them flat.
During the 19th century, people began owning more clothing and the wardrobe became mainstream, and an integral part of the bedroom. In the 1860s, manufacturers began outfitting wardrobes with a mirror on the exterior door; today it’s more common to find mirrors facing the interior.
Over time, freestanding wardrobes evolved into closets that are integrated into the formal structure of the room.
Types of closets
There are several types of closets common today. They range from simple storage places with a rod and a shelf to more extensive storage systems with elaborate storage units. Here’s a closer look at each to help you find the best storage solution for your unique needs.
Standard reach-in closet
Characterized by its shallow depth, reach-in closets may have sliding doors, doors that swing open, or sometimes a simple curtain to conceal its contents. Some are simple and have a rod to hang clothes, plus a shelf above.
Others may have closet organizers to take advantage of each square-inch of closet space.
A walk-in closet is simply an enclosed space large enough for a person to step inside. They are deeper than reach-in closets and are often larger. Many walk-in closets today feature a series of organizational units to accommodate the entire wardrobes of one to two people.
We have come full-circle with today’s large walk-in closets. Once upon a time, closets were actually rooms. Then they became smaller enclosed areas. And now the trend appears to swing back to having an expansive space once again.
Some walk-in closets are truly large enough to be full-sized rooms; others are more modest. The biggest factor, of course, is available space. Some people convert extra bedrooms into walk-in closets.
A linen closet holds your bedroom sheets, hand towels, bath towels, and extra blankets. Most linen closets are smaller reach-in closets that comprise a series of shelves to hold folded towels.
A broom closet is a small reach-in or walk-in closet where you can store your cleaning supplies, mops, and brooms. Typically, broom closets are located off the kitchen or in laundry rooms.
Types of wardrobes
To provide a deeper understanding of what wardrobes are, let’s look at the main types.
Sometimes called an armoire, a standalone wardrobe is a free-standing piece which provides an area to hang clothes, a shelf to store items, and sometimes, pull-out drawers. Sometimes wardrobes have a mirror on the inside of a door which swings open.
Standalone wardrobes are great for those short on space. Many people use these types of wardrobes to store seasonal clothing (winter sweaters and jackets, for example).
Built-in modular wardrobe
A popular option, modern modular wardrobes let you customize your wardrobe closet to your unique needs. Need more space to store sweaters? Add more drawers. Need extra storage for shoes? Add some shoe racks.
Modular wardrobes range from small to expansive, covering an entire wall from floor to ceiling.
Modular wardrobes come in a wide range of finishes, materials, and styles which allow you to customize the look of the doors and shelving.
Similar to a modular wardrobe, an open-concept wardrobe simply lacks the doors. These types of wardrobes are great for those who have nothing to hide, are well-organized, and like to see at-a-glance their whole collection of clothing.
The downsides of open wardrobes is the lack of concealment, plus the tendency for clothes to get dusty.
Considerations when choosing between a closet vs wardrobe
Everyone wants additional storage space! If you are deciding whether to opt for a built-in closet or a wardrobe for a room, here are some things to keep in mind.
- A wardrobe offers flexibility. If you are still deciding on what exactly you plan to do with the room, you can opt for a wardrobe instead. This way, you can customize the design and even the location of the wardrobe within the room.
- You can’t go wrong with a closet. Once a home is built, it’s difficult to go back in to build a closet. Many home buyers prefer rooms with built-in closets, so this can help with resale.
- If you find yourself short on closet space, you can always add an additional wardrobe or dresser if needed.
Here are some other related furniture terms you should know
- Almirah: This fancy-sounding word originates in India according to the Cambridge Dictionary. It refers to “a cupboard or wardrobe that is not fixed to a wall.”
- Armoire: What’s the difference between an armoire and a wardrobe? The Oxford Dictionary defines an armoire as “a cupboard with drawers or shelves below, especially one that has a lot of decoration.” So, essentially, an armoire is a fancy wardrobe. The term has French origins from the old French word armarie, which derives from the Latin word armarium, meaning closet or chest.
- Cupboard: Cambridge Dictionary defines a cupboard as “a piece of furniture or a space for storing things, with a door or doors and usually with shelves.” We often think of kitchen cupboards, for instance.
- Dresser: The word dresser has different meanings in the U.S. and the U.K. In America, most people define a dresser as a piece of furniture with drawers used to store clothes. Sometimes a dresser has a mirror on top. In the U.K. the term dresser refers to a large storage unit with shelves on top, and drawers or cupboards on the bottom. U.K. English refers to a “kitchen dresser” which is like a kitchen “hutch” in the U.S.
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- Cambridge English Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/. Accessed June 2022.
- Britannica, Wardrobe, https://www.britannica.com/topic/wardrobe-furniture. Accessed June 2022.\
- Oxford English Dictionary, https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/. Accessed June 2022.