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What is a Chifforobe?

Harper Lee's novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird", made the chifforobe famous.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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A chifforobe is a piece of furniture which incorporates a chest of drawers and a space to hang garments. Superficially, it resembles a wardrobe, as a chifforobe is usually tall and bulky to accommodate the drawers and hanging space. A chifforobe is most commonly found in the bedroom, although some homes use a chifforobe in the hall for coats and other odds and ends that various family members and guests bring into the house with them.

The term “chifforobe” is a portmanteau combining a chiffonier with a wardrobe. A chiffonier is a chest of drawers that usually has a tall and narrow configuration with a flat top on which various things can be placed. The first print mention of a chifforobe appears to be the 1908 Sears and Roebuck Catalog, which stated that it was a relatively recently invented piece of furniture, and the term is used today almost exclusively in the American South.

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A chifforobe can be built from a wide variety of materials: solid wood is the most common, although particle board, metal, and even plastics can be used, depending on the design aesthetic of the builder. In addition to use in the home, students started adopting chifforobes as dorm furniture in the late 1990s, as the relatively compact design of smaller chifforobes is ideal for storage in limited spaces, and some classrooms use them to contain the belongings of young students. Many catalogues and furniture stores offer several chifforobe styles for consumers to choose from, although they may not always be described as chifforobes.

A basic chifforobe has a single swinging door that covers the garment hanging area on one side, and a set of drawers on the other. Some chifforobes combine drawers and shelving, so that some items are on display while others are put away. A more formal chifforobe has two doors, one of which swings open to reveal the shelving inside, as some consumers prefer a symmetrical design.

Many Americans outside the South are familiar with the concept of a chifforobe as a piece of furniture thanks to its inclusion in Harper Lee's 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the characters asks another for assistance with breaking up an old chifforobe for scrap, and this becomes a pivotal piece of evidence in the controversial rape case around which the book revolves. The chifforobe also appears in other novels by Southern writers, although many readers outside the South are unfamiliar with the term.

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