What should you put in a hope chest? A look back at this old tradition

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What should you put in a hope chest

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

What should you put in a hope chest? It’s an old-fashioned tradition, so we tripped back 100 years to get explanations of what they were for, and why these pieces of furniture were such a big deal for women long ago.

To find out more, be sure to see this article: See 20+ vintage hope chests from the 20th century: Cedar furniture with a special purpose.)

What do you put in a hope chest, or linen chest? What they said in 1902

The Saint Paul Globe (St. Paul, Minn.) August 13, 1902

A linen chest (or hope chest) is the American girl’s latest fancy, and she is reveling in this deliciously old fashion of getting her linen together long before she has selected her man — or he has selected her.

Woman with blanket for hope chest

The hope chest is not the exclusive possession of the wealthy man’s daughter. In olden times, no matter how humble the household, the daughter of it always had her linen chest — one, perchance, that her mother had once filled — and into it, she puts every piece of household goods that she could make or purchase.

She began very early to fill this chest, for as she generally married early and it took some time to accumulate, it necessarily had to be started when she was still a wee small lassie.

1903 Monogramming linens for the hope chest

Now that American girls have taken this idea up, it is not likely that the linen chest will begin to be filled when the girl is very young, though some mother, with great forethought, have provided them for tiny daughters.

The price of a hope chest should not deter a girl from having one, as the stores are selling them from $3 up. Of course one can pay a fabulous price if one desires. It is wise to buy as good a one as can possibly be afforded, as it is something a girl will want to keep.

After she has bought the chest and brought it home, she should take care that every doily that she makes, every lunch cloth, every hemstitched tablecloth with napkins to match, etc., is carefully laid away.

And then when Prince Charming finally does make his appearance, and the day is set, with honest pride she can show him her store of household linen that proves that she is a tidy, thrifty girl and will make him a good wife.

MORE: Tips for a happy marriage: Advice for newlyweds, from the 1900s

Linen centerpieces for the hope chest

NOW SEE THIS: What every girl wanted: A cedar-lined Lane hope chest for linens and her trousseau


What is a hope chest used for? Insight from 1920

Great Falls Daily Tribune (Montana) May 09, 1920

“What shall I put in my hope chest?” asks the girl in a letter. “We had an argument about it last night, any sweetheart and I. He says house linen, towels and things — and I say personal affairs for my trousseau. Which is correct?

“There are four of us girls all filling hope chests, and we want to know what is the proper thing to put into them.”

Put in linen, my dear, and muslin and soft embroideries. Put lace in and lingerie and pretty filmy materials. Put the art of needlework in, fine stitches carefully taken, gay colors, gaily embroidered, bright ribbons.

Put in little funny pettiskirts with ruffles on them and every ruffle bound with ribbon, blue ruffles bound with pink, and pink ruffles bound with blue, and green ruffles bound with black, and plain ruffles bound with nothing at all.

1920s lingerie and beautiful hair

Put dainty underwear of all kinds into the hope chest, pretty things that you couldn’t afford for every day. Little boudoir caps for breakfast, negligees for days when you aren’t quite up to dressing. House jackets with flowing sleeves and funny little French peignoirs, all imagination and ribbons.

MORE: So this happened… 12 too-cute vintage engagement stories from the ’20s

Home and the hope chest

But first of all, and before all, put right in the bottom of the chest — linens, the best you can afford and some even better than you can afford. Go without the new dress, trim your old hat over and put some of the money into the linen for your hope chest.

Embroider and hem and press and fold this linen with your own hands. Sheets and pillowcases, towels and tablecloths and napkins, plenty of them, and plenty, and then some more.

And when you put them in lay a sprig of lemon verbena or rose geranium leaf, or — if you can’t get that — a bunch of lavender in with the linens.

Christmas stenciling linens for the hope chest

And day by day your chest will fill and fill, and hour by hour your heart will warm and warm, and by the time you have finished with your hope chest, anyone who would try to persuade you to live in a hotel or to board in somebody else’s house, even in that of your own parents, would be no friend of yours.

With every stitch you take, you write “Home” upon your heart. “H-o-m-e” spells home, and it doesn’t spell another thing on earth.

Home for tired hearts, home for weary brains, home for restless nerves — peace, comfort, the joy of living, the delight of little pleasures, the bright fire on the hearth, the plant in the pot in the corner.

1920s linens and curtains - 1922

The books on the shelf and on the table — your chair on one side and his not too far away on the other Moonlight or starlight sunshine or rain — foggy or windy old or young — careless or careful — beautiful or plain — H-O-M-E.

MORE: 62 beautiful vintage home designs & floor plans from the 1920s

And put, too, in your hope chest, first of all — love. True, honest, faithful, trusting love. Love that does not fail at the first provocation. Love that is kind. Love that is understanding. Love that will be to the man of your heart like a shield and a buckler in the battle of life.

Love that will mean not hungry greed, not self-indulgence, not cruel rapacity — but generous, free, full giving — and giving — and giving — or only those who give can ever really receive.

Classic wooden antique hope chest for linens

What should you put in a hope chest? Love, faith & more

And with your love put faith, calm-eyed and level-hearted. And with that tie up a nosegay of hope, sweet, gay, light-hearted hope. Throw that into your chest, and for a good measure gather up a few herbs from the humble garden of patience — throw them into the chest.

And when you are all done and the chest is full and you put your hand into the hand of the man who loves you, take the chest with you and go somewhere together, and make in this harried, restless, worried world a haven and a shelter and a snug harbor against all the kinds that blow and all the storms that rage, and call it “H-O-M-E.”

Then you will have a real hope chest, and one of honest meaning and good import.


Nothing tells your love story like a Lane hope chest! (1950s)

Every man knows you’re actually two women: the one who dreams by candlelight, and the one who sets the alarm for morning chores.

Your ring, your new dress speak of romance. Ironing board and linens tell of your practical side.

There’s just one treasure that symbolizes your entire self: your Lane Cedar Chest. As vivid a symbol of love as a diamond — yet night and day, it protects blankets and woolens as no other storage method.

A masterpiece of fine furniture, it solves home-planning problems, collects trousseau treasures. Nothing tells so much about you as a woman — both before and after marriage — as a Lane.

Lane is the ONLY pressure-tested, aroma-tight cedar chest. Made of 3/4-inch red cedar in accordance with U. S. Government recommendations with a free moth-protection guarantee, underwritten by one of the world’s largest insurance companies, issued upon proper application. Helpful hints for storing are in each chest.

Shown: Front-opening Blond Oak console, sculptured Swedish base, sliding tray. Tambour-effect on paneled doors. #6345.

Vintage Lane hope chest from the 1950s


And finally, a snarky take on the concept (1982)

This vintage Virginia Slims cigarette ad used this illustration as part of their “You’ve come a long way, baby” campaign in the eighties.

It wasn’t entirely accurate, either, as most sources specifically talk about the chest holding linens and fabric items. The cedar lining was to help keep moths from eating the cloth.

NOW SEE THIS: See 20+ vintage hope chests from the 20th century: Cedar furniture with a special purpose

Vintage Virginia Slims ad with hope chest snark (1982)

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