Revisited Myth #21: Armless chairs were designed to accommodate women wearing wide hoop skirts.

Queen Mary I

Queen Mary I

Nonsense. Armchairs were a status indicator. According to Ron Hurst, Chief Curator and Vice-President of Collections at Colonial Williamsburg, armchairs were few in number in any given household and were intended for the head of the household or other important people. Most people of average or low status sat on backless benches or stools until the late 17th century. Female heads of state, like Queen Elizabeth I or her half-sister, Queen Mary I (pictured above), are often shown in portraits wearing huge gowns and seated in armchairs. 

Chairs without arms first appeared in the 16th century. Sometime in the 19th century, people began calling them “farthingale chairs,” linking the chair’s purpose with the wide hoops. 

This reminds me of the corner-chairs,were-for-men-with-swords myth (see #10).

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3 Responses to Revisited Myth #21: Armless chairs were designed to accommodate women wearing wide hoop skirts.

  1. robert giles says:

    Some chairs only had an arm on one side. This accommodated the wearing of a sword by military men. I have in my home.

  2. janice says:

    very interesting

  3. This might be purely coincidental, but the status explanation makes sense. The modern dining room set only has chairs with arms at the head(s) of the table. Granted, that’s the only place they really fit, But, if it weren’t a status thing, why would there be dining room chairs with arms at all?

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