|Love seats were originally designed to fit women’s dresses, not couples.The two-seater upholstered benches we associate with cozy couples were initially crafted with another duo in mind: a woman and her dress. Fashionable attire in 18th-century Europe had reached voluminous proportions — panniers (a type of hooped undergarment) were all the rage, creating a wide-hipped silhouette that occasionally required wearers to pass through doors sideways. |
Not all women wore such full skirts; some historians believe the average woman of modest means owned a mere four dresses with narrower profiles meant for everyday work. But upper-class women with funds to spare on trending styles adopted billowing silhouettes that often caused an exhausting situation: the inability to sit down comfortably (or at all). Ever astute, furniture makers of the period caught on to the need for upsized seats that would allow women with such large gowns a moment of respite during social calls.
As the 1800s rolled around, so did new dress trends. Women began shedding heavy layers of hoops and skirts for a slimmed-down silhouette that suddenly made small settees spacious. The mid-sized seats could now fit a conversation companion; some S-shaped versions were called the “gossip chair.”
But when sweethearts began sitting side-by-side, the bench seats were renamed “love seats,” indicative of how courting couples could sit together for a (relatively) private conversation in public. The seat’s new use rocketed it to popularity, with some featuring frames that physically divided young paramours. While the small sofas no longer act as upholstered chaperones, love seats are just as popular today — but mostly because they fit well in small homes and apartments.
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