A Brief History of Wardrobe Trunks

The history of wardrobe trunks is a fascinating story of fashion, technology, and innovation, and one that is closely intertwined with the evolution of travel and tourism. Wardrobe trunks were essential for anyone who traveled in style during the 19th and 20th centuries. These elegant trunks were designed to transport clothing, accessories, and personal belongings while protecting them from damage during transit.  

The Origin of Wardrobe Trunks

In the early 19th century, travel was a luxury reserved for the wealthy and elite. It was common for these travelers to bring their entire wardrobe with them, as well as other personal items such as bedding and toiletries. However, standard trunks of the time were not designed to accommodate the voluminous clothing and accessories of the era.

The first wardrobe trunks were invented in the mid-1800s, and they quickly became a popular choice among fashionable travelers. These trunks were larger than standard trunks and featured multiple compartments for different types of clothing. They also had hooks and hangers for hanging garments, as well as drawers and shelves for storing accessories and other items. 

The Evolution of Wardrobe Trunks

One of the most prominent manufacturers of wardrobe trunks during this time was Oshkosh Trunks, Inc. Founded in 1853 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, this company quickly became known for its high-quality trunks and luggage. Oshkosh trunks were expertly crafted from the finest materials, and many trunks featured innovative designs such as removable trays and compartments.

On the other side of the world, in 1854, a young Louis Vuitton crafted his first luxury product to meet the demands of his clients who were shuffling on and off railcars in Paris.

The product? A sleek, stackable travel trunk. His rectangular trunks were a vast improvement on the standard round rail trunks of the day, which didn’t store well. And as train travel expanded during the 19th century, Vuitton’s handcrafted trunks became increasingly popular among modern nomads. Initially, the wood trunks featured gray Trianon canvas, and then a striped canvas of varying colors. Later came the iconic Louis Vuitton monogram.

At the time, trains and steamships were carrying travelers far and wide, and Louis Vuitton’s stylish and practical trunks were soon coveted by the modern nomad. Louis Vuitton’s upright trunks were made for the proper transportation of garments and doubled as actual wardrobes, ensuring that clothes traveled wrinkle-free. These trunks were equipped with bands to secure travel documents as well as convenient shelves and compartments of varying sizes for every possible traveling necessity, including barware.

In 1929, famed orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski commissioned Georges Vuitton, Louis Vuitton’s son, to design a special trunk that could function as a portable office for his world travels. Thus, the “Secretaire Stokowski” was conceived. Stokowski’s custom trunk was fitted with a foldout desk, drawers for sheet music, and a box crafted specifically to hold his typewriter, and more. The exterior featured rugged canvas that was branded with the famous Louis Vuitton insignia and hardware in solid brass.

The Legacy of Wardrobe Trunks

While the heyday of wardrobe trunks may be behind us, their legacy lives on in the world of vintage and antique collecting. Whether you are a collector, a fashion enthusiast, or simply appreciate the craftsmanship of a bygone era, a wardrobe trunk is a unique and elegant addition to any collection. With its rich history and timeless style, it is a reminder of a time when travel was an adventure and fashion was an art form. 

10 Creative Ways to Upcycle a Vintage Wardrobe Trunk 

Have an old trunk sitting around and wondering what to do with it? Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Make it a statement piece in a room – Use the trunk as a decorative focal point. Liven the trunk up a bit by painting it a bold color or adding decorative decals or stencils.
  2. Turn it into a coffee table – Adding legs to the bottom of a small to medium-sized trunk can create a unique and stylish coffee table that doubles as storage space.
  3. Transform it into a bar cart – With a bit of creativity and some strategic modifications, a vintage trunk can be transformed into a chic and functional bar cart.
  4. Convert it into a pet bed – Give your furry friend a cozy place to sleep by adding a cushion to the bottom of the trunk.
  5. Transform it into a unique vanity by adding a mirror to the top and using the compartments to store makeup and beauty products.
  6. Create a storage bench – Add a cushion to the top of the trunk and use it as a stylish and functional storage bench.
  7. Turn it into a bookshelf – With a little bit of creativity and some strategic shelving, a vintage trunk can be transformed into a bookshelf.
  8. Use it as a toy chest or dress-up chest – Line the interior with whimsical fabric, paint the exterior, or add stencils or decals; the possibilities are endless. 
  9. Make it into a bedside table – By adding legs to the bottom of the trunk and a lamp on top, you can create a functional and stylish bedside table.
  10. Turn it into a mini office – Take inspiration from Louis Vuitton’s Secretaire Stokowski. Adding a foldable desk inside the trunk can create a unique and functional mini-office space.  

Check out the 1930 Oshkosh Steamer Trunk in our collection. P.S., We’ll give you a 15% discount if you can tell us who “Worms” was.