What is a Fainting Couch?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A fainting couch is a backless couch that typically has one end raised, against which a person can recline. This type of couch might have been made before the 19th century, but the term "fainting couch" wasn’t commonly used until the 19th century. Fainting couches were made for women, especially because so many women in the 1800s wore corsets. A tight corset kept a woman almost breathless, making it much more likely that she would faint. Some homes and hotels even had fainting rooms, where women could catch their breath on these couches.

Fainting couches were made for women, especially because so many women in the 1800s wore corsets.
Fainting couches were made for women, especially because so many women in the 1800s wore corsets.


This type of couch is similar to a chaise lounge. It often looks like a small, narrow day bed. Most of these couches have four carved, wooden legs. Various fabrics can cover modern fainting couches, though velvet or microfiber tend to be the preferred upholstery fabric.

A fainting couch may give a restless sleeper another place to fall asleep.
A fainting couch may give a restless sleeper another place to fall asleep.

A fainting couch sometimes has a foot section, which usually is not upholstered. The most popular style in the 21st century does not feature a foot section. Instead it merely looks like an extended chair and is about 5-6 feet (1.52-1.83 m) in length.

Some modern versions of a fainting couch have a partial back. Part of the fainting couch might have an upholstered, rising back with a suggestive feminine curve. This provides additional support for the upper body as a person reclines on the couch.


Some people enjoy using a fainting couch in their bedroom instead of their living room. Restless sleepers might enjoy having an extra spot to try sleeping. The headrest of the fainting couch can provide a way to sleep in a semi-seated position, which can be difficult to do in a bed. Although a reclining chair supplies the same type support, many people prefer the elegance of fainting couches to the bulky aspects of recliners.

Considerations when Purchasing

As with all furniture, fainting couches will vary considerably in price. Inexpensive models often have cheap fabric, and more expensive models might be covered with velvet or leather. The more expensive coverings might be more durable, so couches that have them could end up being better bargains. High-end fainting couches with elegant designs also are available.

Antique fainting couches also are popular among many people. These are not in short supply, because they were popular furniture items through most of the 19th century. Many antiques stores will have them, or they can be found online through various websites. Anyone who is looking to purchase an antique couch should look for sturdy legs, fabric that is in good condition and cushions that still exhibit some spring.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Women were not out of breath because of corsets. There are many pictures of women wearing corsets while horse back riding and such.


Until someone shows you a bill of sale from the 19th century that lists a 'fainting couch,' I would be suspicious of the term. I keep waiting to see an actual advertisement from a Victorian furniture manufacturer listing their 'fainting couches' for sale. What's the guarantee that anyone would be near the thing when they were feeling faint? A lovely sofa, couch, chaise lounge(French for long chair), maybe, but a fainting couch?

And as a person who dances in a corset, I take issue with the stereotype that all the corset wearing Victorians wandered around breathless all the time. And how many children did they have? How did the housework get done? Corsets are very supportive (albeit hot) for physical activities as long as you don't lace too tightly, and the corset fits properly. Certainly some women were uncomfortable. Should we start talking about the high heeled shoes of today?


I was once in a play set in the Victorian era and got to regularly "faint" on a vintage swan fainting couch. When I first saw that on the props list I though it was just a brand name, like an Eastlake fainting couch, another famous fainting couch brand. But no, the thing actually had a swan carved into it!

A beautiful piece, but not overly practical by today's standards, I suppose.


My best friend's parents are quite well-off, and they had an antique Victorian red leather fainting couch. Of course, nobody ever sat on it, but it looked really cool. It was in great condition, and the carving on the legs was so detailed. It made a great conversation piece, as long as you remembered not to sit on it -- that was a sure way to get permanently un-invited to their house.


I had no idea that there was actually a thing called a fainting couch, much less that you could still purchase fainting couch furniture! And here I thought I was fancy when I traded out my living room sofas and got a sectional couch...

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