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What is a Dressing Case?

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  • Written By: Devon Pryor
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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A dressing case is a small piece of luggage designed for carrying toiletries while traveling. The term ‘toiletries’ usually refers to personal care items such as lotions, brushes, and other things commonly used in the bathroom. Dressing cases can be made out of plastic, metal, or wood. Some dressing cases may have fancy leather covers, be engraved or inlaid with a design, or lined with velvet. Others are made of clear plastic. Styles of dressing cases range from utilitarian to decorative. There are a number of names used for a dressing case, including dressing box, cosmetic box, cosmetic case, vanity box, beauty case, etc.

Dressing cases were originally used by upper class gentleman in the late 18th century, mostly in the United States and Europe. When the dressing case first became popular, travel for women was uncommon. Thus, dressing cases were specifically designed for the needs of men, with the appropriate compartments for shaving items and such. In the early 19th century, women also began to travel, and dressing cases were adapted accordingly.

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Whether male of female, possession of a dressing case indicated that one had enough money to travel, and the dressing cases of the late 18th and 19th century were often fashioned with attention to luxury. Use by women also prompted the adaptation of new names for the dressing case. For example, beauty box and cosmetic box imply a female user, since beauty and cosmetics were decidedly female things during this era. Since the 19th century, dressing cases have lessened in popularity among men, but continue to be widely used by women.

A dressing case usually features specific compartments used to store specific items, and is often organized into sections which pertain to certain areas of personal care. For example, there may be a compartment for a manicure set, a place for bottles of lotion, perfume, and other liquids used on the skin, and another section for dental care. In a dressing case designed for a female, there is often a section for keeping jewelry, perhaps including a ring tray. Some compartments may be concealed, and used for particularly valuable items. Built in mirrors are also popular, and may be accompanied by a battery operated light.

Since the dressing case is meant for travel, it usually has some kind of structural feature to keep things from moving around in transit. Such features may include an adjustable strap to hold bottles in place, or individually fastening lids for each of the compartments within the case. A dressing case may include its own set of bottles, which can be filled with the necessary products, and fit closely together within the case. Other useful items may also be included in a dressing case, such as letter openers, brush sets, penknives, scissors, nail files, corkscrews, and collapsible cups.

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