There are essentially two main types of tablecloths; one is meant to protect the table from spills and scratches, such as the plastic variety common in casual restaurants and family picnics; and then there are fancy, decorative ones that bring a sense of propriety and occasion to any dining room. You may be surprised to learn that these seemingly inconsequential household staples actually have quite a long history.
The oldest and perhaps most widely discussed evidence of tablecloth usage dates back to Europe in the 8th Century. The Emperor Charlemagne reportedly used a tablecloth made from asbestos at his feasts in order to convince his guests that he had magical powers. He would throw it into the fire, the story goes, and everyone would be amazed when he pulled it out undamaged.
Gradually tablecloths became a fixture in the dining ritual of aristocrats, and by the 15th Century, the habit had been incorporated into the lives of common folk as well.
In the late 1800s, trendsetting Queen Victoria lent her style to the realm of table setting and consequently European linens of this era featured dark, rich fabrics with intricate decorations. Victorian design was naturally popular in the United States as well, and therefore American homemakers followed suit with heavily adorned table coverings.
In stark contrast, the Art Nouveau movement of the early 1900s brought bright geometric shapes and art deco inspired graphics to the table. Soft pastels and floral or fruit designs prevailed through the 1920 and 1930s. Post World War II, advances in printing technology allowed for a more three dimensional effect. Tablecloths of the 1950s brought kitschy flair to meal time with cartoon characters and unconventional themes.
As the decades progressed, the fashion and attitudes of each generation was reflected in the fabric they chose to lay on their table. This still proves true even today. From the crisp formality of a white wedding to a rustic French tablecloth in a country inspired kitchen, table linens help set the mood for your dining experience.