It seems that there is a lot of confusion regarding the difference between tallboys, highboys and lowboys. So let’s take a look at the features that distinguish each one, and the common usage of the names in English (within UK and the rest of the world) and American English.
Over time, highboys have become commonly and incorrectly mistaken for tallboys – though the two originally were two very different items of bedroom furniture. This has led to many people who do know the difference, still referring to highboys as tallboys, having to adapt to the change in definition. Even the word “boys” over time has been corrupted from “bois” which is French for wood.
What is a Tallboy?
A tallboy is an item of furniture that incorporates both a chest of drawers and a wardrobe, usually as a wardrobe on top of a chest of drawers. It’s traditionally used to store clothing, as one normally would in a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. The only difference is that the chest of drawers and the wardrobe, in a tallboy, are combined.
What is a Highboy?
Like a tallboy, a highboy is quite similar in fashion but, instead of a wardrobe on top of a chest of drawers, there is another separate chest of drawers. A highboy is often commonly referred to as a double chest of drawers, or a “chest on chest”. Usually the upper chest will sit on top of a wider chest. Traditionally, these two chests of drawers, one on top of the other, would be separable. They would be two separate chests of drawers, the smaller one placed on top of the other to save much needed floor space. But now a highboy usually is built as a single unit. Rows of drawers can be full-width single drawers, or two or three narrower drawers in a row. (Usually the higher the row, the more drawers there are. With wide drawers at the bottom of the highboy.)
What is a Lowboy?
A lowboy is very visually distinct from a tallboy or a highboy which are, by definition, “tall” or “high”. A lowboy is more of a small table at waist height (or normal table height). Usually the lowboy’s “table” surface will have drawers beneath the surface, and they were predominant item of bedroom furniture and clothing storage solution before the tallboys and highboys came into fashion. During the 18th century, lowboys and tallboys were popular pieces of furniture in England and the United States. The lowboy was used as a dressing table. Usually with brass pulls, cabriole legs and crafted from oak, walnut or mahogany . The term lowboy is still most commonly used with antique collectors and usually refers to an 18th century American dressing table (also known as a dresser or vanity).
Average global Google searches per month for tallboys, highboy and lowboy:
Worldwide Google Trends to compare the search terms: tallboy, highboy and lowboy.
In the United Kingdom, it seems that we only ever call them tallboys. Never highboys, and we’re not particularly interested at all in these lowboys (I suppose we just tend to call them dressing tables). But the popularity of tallboys is increasing over the years.
In the United States, it seems that they’ve fallen under the influence of the UK a bit and tallboys are steadily becoming more popular. What’s interesting is that, unlike in the UK, there’s a lot more diversity with the search terms and lowboys have, for years, been the most popular search term.
The Modern Tallboys
Tallboys have come a long way in their evolution from 17th century ornate clothing storage. Now when one refers to a tallboy, is most likely to be talking about this kind of thing:
Image credit: Lamaisonroc.com, hhsrefinishing.com