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Historically, the boudoir formed part of the private suite of rooms of a "lady" or upper-class woman, for bathing and dressing, adjacent to her bedchamber, being the female equivalent of the male cabinet. In later periods, the boudoir was used as a private drawing room, and was used for other activities, such as embroidery or spending time with one's romantic partner.
English-language usage varies between countries, and is now largely historical. In the United Kingdom, in the period when the term was most often used (Victorian era and early 20th century), a boudoir was a lady's evening sitting room, and was separate from her morning room, and her dressing room. As this multiplicity of rooms with overlapping functions suggests, boudoirs were generally only found in grand houses. In the United States, in the same era, boudoir was an alternative term for dressing room, favored by those who felt that French terms conferred more prestige.
Recently, the term boudoir has come to denote a style of furnishing for the bedroom that is traditionally described as ornate or busy. The plethora of links available on the Internet to furnishing sites using the term boudoir tend to focus on Renaissance and French inspired bedroom styles. In recent times, they have also been used to describe the 'country cottage' style with whitewashed-style walls, large and heavy bed furniture, and deep bedding.
The term "boudoir" may also be ascribed to a genre of photography. Boudoir photography is not generally a new concept and numerous examples including images of Clara Bow, Mae West and Jean Harlow photographed in a boudoir style from the 1920s through the 1940s.
Typically shot in a photographer's studio or luxury hotel suites, it has become fashionable to create a set of sensual or sexually suggestive images of women (and occasionally men and couples) in "boudoir style". The most common manifestation of contemporary boudoir photography is to take variations of candid and posed photographs of the subject partly clothed or in lingerie. Nudity is more often implied than explicit. Commercially the genre is often (though not exclusively) derived from a market for brides to surprise their future husbands by gifting the images on or before their wedding day. Other motivations or inspiration for boudoir photography shoots include anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine's Day, weight loss regimes, other form of body change or alteration (such as breast augmentation or reduction) and for servicemen and women overseas.
Boudoir photography may, in some cases, be distinguished from other photography genres such as glamour photography, fine art nude photography and erotic photography. According to research carried out in Digital Boudoir Photography (2006), John G. Blair said that the word "Boudoir" or "Boudoir portrait", was used in 1980 by Motherlode Photography Studio in California to describe a picture more elegant than "erotic portrait" or "semi nude portrait".
- "Boudoir - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- Rowe, Critsey (2011). Boudoir Photography. Gardners Books/ILEX. ISBN 978-1-907579-19-6.[page needed]