MYTH # 98: Curtains that puddled on the floor were a sign of great wealth.

Trish Aleshire writes: As a manager of an 1835 historic plantation in Louisiana, I can testify that these myths are very much still alive and being told at historic house museums.  They are not told at our plantation, but we get some testy visitors who want to argue the truth behind the myth. Could you please address the topic of overly long drapery that puddle on the floor being a sign of great wealth. Our drapes do this and we are constantly bombarded with visitors telling us this myth. 

This is one of those myths that has a little substance to it. Throughout the 19th century (and the 18th, for that matter), lavish use of fabric was an indirect way to show wealth and status, as were fine carriages, sleek horses, liveried servants, jewelry, and a grand house. It’s a bit of a stretch, however, to say that wealthy people were purposefully installing extra-long draperies to advertise their bulging bank accounts.

The puddled style is still popular–I see it in decorating magazines today–but I don’t believe anyone would suggest it means that the homeowners are flaunting their great wealth. They like the look and can afford the extra yard of fabric.  

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4 Responses to MYTH # 98: Curtains that puddled on the floor were a sign of great wealth.

  1. Margaret Geiss-Mooney - Textile/Costume Conservator says:

    From a textile conservator’s viewpoint, it was good to have the drapes puddle on the floor as ‘puddling’ helps mitigate the effects of gravity. Of course, the floor needs to be clean, dry and not waxed often (possible chemical contamination and damage from too much handling).

  2. Susan Baker says:

    Hi, when I was in Art History and Stage Craft in college this was how it was explained to me: the additional fabric was to act as a draft stop, same as the idea behind using heavy fabric that cut out the wind because it was tighter weave. I think function may have come before fashion, but fashion followed the function.

  3. Carlos Talavera says:

    I believe that Susan Baker is correct in that this was devised for the stated purpose of keeping out drafts. A sign of wealth would have been how lavish the fabric was and not necessarily the copious amounts used…Although MORE of a exceptionally fine fabric would be a pretty obvious sign.

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