Unlocking the Hidden Meaning: What Does a Coat Hanger Symbolize?

The coat hanger – we see it every day, and yet, we never stop to think about its symbolization. For most of us, it is an ordinary object that we use to hang our jackets or dresses on. But for those in the know, it signifies a much darker reality. The coat hanger has come to represent the desperation and horror of unsafe, illegal abortions that were prevalent in the past.

In the days before Roe vs. Wade, when abortion was illegal, women would use coat hangers to perform abortions on themselves. This was a dangerous and often fatal practice, but women had no other options. The coat hanger, therefore, became a symbol of the dire consequences of prohibiting safe and legal abortions. Today, the coat hanger has been adopted by pro-choice advocates as a symbol of the ongoing fight for reproductive rights.

The significance of the coat hanger should not be overlooked, nor should its history be forgotten. It is a reminder of the lengths women have had to go to attain their reproductive freedom and how much work remains to be done. While abortion may now be legal, there are still many obstacles that prevent women from accessing the care they need. The coat hanger serves as a sobering and poignant reminder of the struggles women have faced and the importance of continuing to fight for their rights.

The History of Coat Hangers

Coat hangers, also known as clothes hangers, have been part of our daily lives for more than a century. The invention of the hanger is attributed to Albert J. Parkhouse, who filed for a patent for the “apparatus for supporting garments” in 1903. Since then, hangers have evolved into various shapes, sizes, and materials, and have become an indispensable accessory in our closets.

The following are the key milestones in the evolution of coat hangers:

  • 1900s: The first hangers were made of wood and had a simple triangular shape, with a curved top to prevent garments from slipping off.
  • 1930s: Wire hangers gained popularity, as they were easier and cheaper to mass-produce than wooden hangers. The first wire hanger was invented by O.A. North in 1926.
  • 1960s: Plastic hangers became popular due to their affordability and durability. They came in various colors and designs, making them a fashionable addition to the closet.
  • 1990s: The popularity of velvet hangers soared due to their non-slip surface, which prevents clothes from slipping off the hanger. Velvet hangers are also gentle on delicate fabrics like silk and satin.

Today, coat hangers are made of various materials like bamboo, metal, and even recycled materials like paper and plastic. They come in different shapes and designs to accommodate different types of clothes like suits, dresses, and pants.

WoodDurable, elegantExpensive
WireCheap, easy to mass-produceBends easily, not suitable for heavy clothes
PlasticAffordable, lightweight, colorfulBrittle, not eco-friendly
VelvetNon-slip, gentle on clothesNot suitable for heavy clothes, can collect hair and lint

In conclusion, the coat hanger has come a long way since its inception. From simple wooden hangers to velvet hangers, it has evolved into different shapes and sizes to accommodate our needs. Whatever your preference may be, the humble coat hanger continues to hold an important place in our daily lives.

The symbolism of coat hangers in literature

Coat hangers are often used as symbols in literature. Their form and function can have various meanings depending on the context of the story. Their appearance can range from ordinary and mundane to ominous and foreboding.

  • Abortion: Perhaps the most infamous use of coat hangers as a symbol is in the context of abortion. The utilization of coat hangers by women attempting to perform abortions on themselves became prevalent in the 1960s and 70s before the legalization of abortion in the United States. Therefore, coat hangers have become a powerful literary symbol for the pro-choice movement and the consequences of limiting women’s access to abortion.
  • Repression and limitations: Coat hangers can also represent the repression and limitations in characters’ lives. They can signify the constraints imposed on them by societal expectations and limitations forced upon them. In these narratives, coat hangers usually manifest as objects that prevent a character from fully realizing their potential.
  • Menace and danger: In thrillers and horror narratives, coat hangers can be symbolic of menace and danger. A tense moment where a hanger falls and creates a loud noise can escalate the suspense of a scene and signal that something terrible is about to happen. The shape of a hanger hanging alone can be seen as a nefarious and haunting image within a character’s vicinity.

Coat hangers may seem like ordinary items found in our closets, but in literature, they can hold significant meaning. They represent characters’ struggles with society’s expectations, their attempts to control their bodies, and the fear and tension that come with horror themes. The range and complexity of coat hanger symbolism are vast, providing writers with ample opportunities to use it creatively.

The Psychology Behind Coat Hanger Symbolism

The coat hanger is a simple and common object, often used to hang clothes. However, it also carries deep symbolic meanings in different cultures and contexts. In this article, we will explore the psychology behind coat hanger symbolism, from its role as a reminder of painful memories to its representation of freedom and creativity.

The Trauma of Coat Hangers

One of the most significant psychological associations with coat hangers is their link to trauma, particularly related to abortion. In the past, when abortion was illegal in many countries, women would perform the procedure themselves or seek unsafe procedures, leading to infections and complications. Coat hangers were often used in these illegal abortions, and the memory of the pain and danger they represent is still deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness today.

  • Coat hangers: a reminder of the trauma of unsafe abortions.
  • A symbol of women’s struggle for reproductive rights.
  • A ubiquitous object with hidden emotional connotations.

The Creative Potential of Coat Hangers

On the other hand, coat hangers can also represent creativity and resourcefulness. Artists and designers have used coat hangers as a medium to create sculptures, lampshades, and even a car. The simplicity and flexibility of the coat hanger make it a perfect starting point for creative experimentation.

In this sense, the coat hanger takes on a new meaning: it is not just an ordinary object, but a tool for self-expression and experimentation. It represents the potential for transformation and adaptation, as well as an appreciation for the beauty and usefulness of everyday objects.

A Table of Coat Hanger Symbolism

AbortionTrauma, pain, and danger
CreativityResourcefulness, transformation, self-expression
UtilitySimplicity, versatility, everyday use

As we can see, the coat hanger has a complex and varied symbolic significance, depending on the context and cultural background. Whether as a reminder of past pain, a tool for creative expression, or a simple and versatile object, the coat hanger is an object that has much more to it than meets the eye.

The Use of Coat Hangers in Art

Coat hangers have been used in various art forms, ranging from sculpture to installations. These mundane objects can be transformed into meaningful artworks that represent different themes, such as consumerism, environmentalism, and personal identity. One common motif associated with coat hangers is the concept of confinement and restriction. The following subtopics explore the multifaceted use of coat hangers in art.

The Symbolic Meaning of Coat Hangers

  • Coat hangers represent imprisonment and discipline, as they are often used to hang clothes in closets or wardrobes. In this sense, they connote the repressive aspects of modern society, where people are expected to conform to certain standards and roles.
  • Coat hangers can also symbolize the fashion industry and the power dynamics behind it. They are ubiquitous in the production and marketing of fashion items, yet often overlooked or discarded as disposable items. By using coat hangers in art, artists can question the norms and values of the fashion industry, as well as the impact of consumerism on the environment and society.
  • At a personal level, coat hangers can evoke memories and emotional associations with certain events or individuals. For instance, a coat hanger may remind someone of their childhood home or of a deceased relative who used to hang their clothes on a particular hanger. Artists can use this personal connection to create pieces that resonate with the viewers’ own experiences and emotions.

Examples of Coat Hanger Artworks

Many artists and designers have experimented with coat hangers as a medium, creating innovative and thought-provoking pieces that challenge the conventional understanding of what art should be. Here are a few examples:

The ‘Hanger Chair’ by Philippe Malouin is a minimalist sculpture that combines the functionality of a chair with the aesthetics of a coat hanger. The piece features a metal frame that can be used to hang clothes, bags, or hats, as well as to sit on.

The installation ‘A Pleasant Surprise’ by Cornelia Parker consists of over 8000 wire coat hangers suspended from the ceiling, forming a shimmering cloud-like structure. The piece explores the tension between order and chaos, as well as the beauty that can arise from mundane objects when they are perceived in a new light.

Artist/DesignerTitle of WorkMedium
Andy Warhol‘100 Soup Cans’ Silk screen on canvas
Robyn O’Neil‘Clasp and Hub Bore’Graphite and collage on paper
Yinka Shonibare MBE‘Dysfunctional Family’Wax printed cotton and wire coat hangers

‘100 Soup Cans’ by Andy Warhol is a famous series of silk screens that feature Campbell’s Soup cans arranged in rows. The repetition and uniformity of the cans, as well as the use of a commercial brand as a subject matter, critique the mass consumption and standardization of American culture in the 1960s.

‘Clasp and Hub Bore’ by Robyn O’Neil is a large-scale drawing that depicts a surreal landscape of rocks, trees, and clouds, all made of interlocking wire coat hangers. The piece blurs the boundary between the natural and artificial worlds, and invites the viewer to explore the intricate details and patterns of the hangers.

‘Dysfunctional Family’ by Yinka Shonibare MBE is a life-size installation of a British- Nigerian family made of wax-printed fabrics and wire coat hangers. The work references the colonial history of Africa and the cultural hybridity of diasporic communities, highlighting the importance of diversity and inclusivity in contemporary society.

The Cultural Significance of Coat Hangers in Different Countries

Coat hangers are not just a simple tool in our modern day-to-day life. They hold a deep cultural significance in different parts of the world and are often used to signify prestige, wealth, and social status. Let’s dive into some of the cultural significances of coat hangers in different countries:

  • In China, coat hangers are commonly known as ‘Shou Gong Yi’. These are often used to indicate the status of the individual, as they are made from high-quality materials and are adorned with intricate designs and patterns. The use of this expensive coat hanger reflects a person’s wealth and status in society.
  • In Japan, coat hangers known as ‘Hikimono’ are used to signify cleanliness, organization, and neatness. It is a reflection of their culture that they always hang their clothing to dry after washing. They prefer wooden hangers to maintain the freshness of clothing and to prevent wrinkles.
  • In India, coat hangers are often a symbol of religious rituals and ceremonies. They are used to hang traditional garments, especially during marriage ceremonies, to signify the importance of the event. Coat hangers in India are usually made out of metals such as iron, steel, brass, and copper.

Coat hangers also hold some historical significance and have even played a role in global politics:

During World War II, Winston Churchill used the phrase ‘Hanging on the Coat-tails of America’ in reference to British dependence on American support. This phrase led to a political cartoon depicting Churchill hanging onto a coat hanger, which became a popular image during that time.

CountrySignificance of Coat Hanger
ChinaPrestige, wealth, and social status
JapanCleanliness, organization and neatness
IndiaReligious rituals and ceremonies

The cultural significance of coat hangers in different countries shows how something as simple as a tool that is used to hang clothes can reflect the traditions, beliefs, and values of a society. From a symbol of wealth and status to religious ceremonies, coat hangers continue to hold a special place in the cultures of different countries.

Different types of coat hangers and their meanings

Coat hangers are ubiquitous objects that have multiple uses in our lives. They are not only useful for their primary function of hanging clothing, but they also have symbolic meanings across different cultures and contexts. Let’s take a closer look at some of the different types of coat hangers and what they symbolize.

  • Wire coat hangers: These are perhaps the most common type of coat hanger and are often associated with cheap or budget options. They are also versatile and can be bent into various shapes, making them useful for creative DIY projects.
  • Plastic coat hangers: These hangers have a more modern and sleek look and are often used to hang clothing in retail stores. They are also lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Wooden coat hangers: These hangers are known for their sturdiness and durability. They often have a more sophisticated look and are used for high-end clothing or in luxury retail settings.
  • Padded coat hangers: These hangers have a soft cushioning, often made of fabric or satin, preventing clothes from slipping or getting wrinkled. They add an extra layer of luxury to delicate fabrics such as silk, cashmere, or even wedding dresses.
  • Children’s coat hangers: These hangers are smaller than standard coat hangers and are designed specifically for children’s clothing. They are playful in design, often with bright colors or cute shapes, making them appealing to children and parents.
  • Wire hangers bent into a shape of number 6: This is a common practice in the hospitality industry. A coat hanger is placed on the back of the door in the hotel room shaped as a number 6, indicating to the guests that the room has been cleaned and sanitized. In many cultures, the number 6 is associated with purity, balance, and harmony.

Symbolic meanings of coat hangers

Aside from their practical uses, coat hangers have symbolic meanings that vary across cultures and contexts. Here are some examples:

  • In popular culture, wire hangers have become a symbol of poverty and hardship, as famously depicted in the 1981 movie “Mommie Dearest.”
  • In Japan, wooden hangers are considered a symbol of longevity and are often given as gifts to elderly people.
  • In Feng Shui, using padded hangers for delicate items of clothing is thought to attract positive energy and good luck into your life.
  • In the LGBT+ community, the pink triangle coat hanger has become a symbol of resistance against oppression, inspired by the Nazi persecution of gay men during World War II.


Coat hangers are often overlooked objects that have more meaning than meets the eye. From their practical uses to their symbolic meanings, they play a significant role in our daily lives and in various contexts and cultures.

Type of coat hangerPrimary useSymbolic meaning
Wire coat hangersLow-cost clothing storageN/A
Plastic coat hangersModern and lightweight option for stores or travelN/A
Wooden coat hangersDurable, upscale option for high-end clothing or luxury retailLongevity
Padded coat hangersAdds luxury and protection for delicate fabricsPositive energy and good luck
Children’s coat hangersShaped specifically for children’s clothing with playful designsN/A
Wire hangers bent into a shape of number 6Symbol of a clean and sanitized hotel roomPurity, balance, and harmony

Next time you see a coat hanger, take a moment to appreciate its practical uses and symbolic meanings. Whether it’s a humble wire hanger or a lustrous padded hanger, they all have their unique place and significance in our lives.

The Impact of Coat Hanger Inventors on Society

Coat hangers are an everyday item that we often take for granted. However, they have had a significant impact on society, particularly through the inventions of coat hanger innovators.

One of the most influential innovators in the coat hanger industry was Albert J. Parkhouse. In 1903, he invented the first wire coat hanger using a single piece of wire. Prior to this invention, coat hangers were made from wood, which was expensive and not as durable as wire. Parkhouse’s invention revolutionized the industry and made coat hangers affordable for the average person.

The impact of Albert J. Parkhouse’s invention was significant. Not only did it make coat hangers more affordable, but it also paved the way for future innovations. Today, there are many different types of coat hangers, including those made from plastic, metal, and even velvet.

  • Another major innovator in the coat hanger industry was Elmer D. Rogers. He created the first wooden coat hanger with a bar across the bottom in 1932. This invention allowed people to hang pants and skirts on coat hangers, which was previously not possible.
  • Another coat hanger innovator was Harry Soref. He invented the first padlock for coat hangers in 1921. This innovation allowed people to lock their coat hangers in public places, such as schools and offices.
  • Finally, Peter Pakosh invented the first portable coat hanger in 1960. This invention allowed people to easily transport their coat hangers, making it convenient for travelers and those on-the-go.

The impact of these innovators on society goes beyond the creation of new coat hanger materials and styles. Their inventions helped to make coat hangers more functional and practical, which in turn helped to make everyday life a little bit easier for people.

More than just being useful, coat hangers are also symbolic. They represent order, organization, and efficiency. They are an essential item in many people’s closets and are used to keep clothing wrinkle-free and in pristine condition.

Albert J. ParkhouseWire coat hanger1903
Elmer D. RogersWooden coat hanger with a bar across the bottom1932
Harry SorefPadlock for coat hangers1921
Peter PakoshPortable coat hanger1960

Overall, the impact of coat hanger inventors on society cannot be overstated. Their innovations have helped to shape the way we organize and care for our clothing, while also making everyday life a little bit easier.

Coat hangers in fashion and their symbolism

A coat hanger is not just a simple object used to hang clothes, it also carries a deeper meaning and symbolism in the world of fashion. From the shape to the material, every aspect of the coat hanger is carefully considered by designers to convey a certain message and create a distinctive aesthetic. Let’s take a closer look at the symbolism of coat hangers in fashion.

The number 8

Have you ever noticed that some coat hangers have a shape that resembles the number 8? This is not a coincidence, as the number 8 is associated with infinity and endless possibilities. This shape is often used in clothing stores to convey the idea of abundance and variety, inviting customers to explore and discover a wide range of styles and options.

  • Another interpretation of the number 8 shape is balance and harmony. As the two circles are perfectly symmetrical, they create a sense of equilibrium and stability, which is also reflected in the choice of materials. High-end brands often use wooden coat hangers, which have a natural weight and texture that exudes a sense of luxury and durability.
  • On the other hand, plastic or wire coat hangers are more affordable and practical, but can also be seen as impersonal or disposable. This highlights the tension between functionality and aesthetics in fashion, and how different materials can convey different values and messages.
  • One interesting trend in recent years is the use of recycled or sustainable materials for coat hangers, such as bamboo or cardboard. This reflects a growing awareness of environmental issues in the fashion industry, and a desire to create more responsible and conscious products.

Wrap it up

In conclusion, coat hangers are not only functional accessories, but also powerful symbols of fashion culture and values. From the number 8 shape to the choice of materials, every detail can convey a different message and enhance the brand identity. Whether you prefer classic wooden hangers or innovative eco-friendly options, remember that the coat hanger is a small but significant aspect of the fashion experience.

AbundanceShape of number 8, variety of styles
Balance and harmonySymmetry of two circles, wooden materials
Environmental awarenessBamboo or cardboard materials, sustainable design

Next time you walk into a clothing store, pay attention to the coat hangers and see what messages they are sending. You might discover new insights into the fascinating world of fashion symbolism.

The controversy surrounding coat hanger symbolism in pro-choice movements

One of the most controversial symbols in the pro-choice movement is the coat hanger. While some see it as a powerful reminder of the horrors of illegal abortions, others argue that it is too graphic and potentially traumatizing for those who have had abortions or may need one in the future.

  • Those in favor of using the coat hanger as a symbol argue that it is necessary to remind people of the dangers of illegal abortions and the importance of access to safe and legal abortions.
  • Those against its use argue that it can be triggering and traumatizing for those who have gone through an abortion or may need one in the future, and that there are other symbols that can be used to convey the same message without causing harm.
  • Some also argue that the coat hanger symbol is no longer relevant or accurate, as advancements in medical technology mean that abortions can be safely and easily performed by trained professionals.

Despite the controversy surrounding its use, the coat hanger remains a widely recognized symbol in the pro-choice movement. Its use highlights the ongoing struggle for reproductive rights and the need for access to safe and legal abortions for all women.

Powerful reminder of the horrors of illegal abortionsPotentially triggering and traumatizing for some
Emphasizes the importance of access to safe and legal abortionsNot relevant or accurate in today’s world
Widely recognized symbol in pro-choice movementThere are other symbols that can convey the same message without causing harm

The debate surrounding the use of the coat hanger symbol in the pro-choice movement highlights the complex and emotional nature of the abortion debate. While there is no clear answer as to whether it should be used or not, what is clear is the ongoing need for access to safe and legal abortions and the importance of continuing to fight for reproductive rights for all women.

The Use of Coat Hangers in DIY Projects and Crafts

Coat hangers are not just for hanging coats; they are versatile household items that can be used in various DIY projects and crafts. Here are some creative ways you can use coat hangers:

  • Wreath Frames: Coat hangers can be easily turned into a wreath frame, and you can add different materials like flowers, leaves, or ribbons to make a perfect wreath.
  • Photo Display: You can create a unique photo display by bending the hanger into different shapes and attaching photos with clips or string. It’s an effortless way to showcase your favorite memories in a creative way.
  • Mobile: Coat hangers can also be made into a stylish mobile by attaching different shapes like origami birds, leaves, or flowers. It’s perfect for decorating a kid’s room or any space that needs a playful touch.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, here are some DIY projects that require some extra effort:

DIY Jewelry Organizer: You can create a unique jewelry organizer by bending a coat hanger into a circular shape and adding hooks to hold your jewelry. You can also add a ribbon or fabric to make it look more decorative.

Coat hanger Chandelier: Create a chandelier with coat hangers to add a unique light feature to any room. Bend the hangers into different shapes and attach them to a circular frame. Add some lights and a chain to hang it up.

Coat hanger Shelf: Transform a coat hanger into a shelf to hold lightweight items like plants or books. Attach a piece of wood to the hanger and secure it with screws. It’s a unique way to display your favorite items.

Easy to find and cheapNot suitable for heavy items
VersatileMight require some extra effort for more complex DIY projects
Eco-friendlyMay not be strong enough

With some creativity and imagination, coat hangers can easily be turned into various DIY projects and crafts. They are not only affordable and eco-friendly, but they also allow you to make unique and personalized items for your home.

What does a coat hanger symbolize?

Q: Is a coat hanger just a practical tool or does it have a deeper meaning?
A: Yes, a coat hanger can symbolize different things depending on the context. It can represent organization and order, but it can also carry a negative connotation related to abortion.

Q: What is the origin of the coat hanger as a symbol?
A: The coat hanger became a symbol of abortion in the 20th century when women would use them to induce a termination at home, before safe and legal abortion was available.

Q: Can a coat hanger symbolize something positive?
A: Yes, in a different context, a coat hanger can symbolize organization, simplicity, and elegance. It can represent the act of putting away clothes, tidying up, and keeping things in place.

Q: Are there any cultural or artistic references to the coat hanger as a symbol?
A: Yes, the coat hanger has been used in different artworks and illustrations as a symbol of different themes, such as feminism, consumerism, and domesticity.

Q: Can a coat hanger symbolize fashion and style?
A: Yes, coat hangers are essential tools in the fashion industry, where they are used to present and store clothes in retail stores, photoshoots, and fashion shows.

Q: Can a coat hanger symbolize freedom and empowerment?
A: Yes, in the context of fashion, the coat hanger can represent freedom of expression and individuality. It can also symbolize the empowerment of women who create their own sense of style and use fashion as a means of self-expression.

Q: Is there a universal meaning for the coat hanger as a symbol?
A: No, the meaning of the coat hanger as a symbol may vary depending on the culture, context, and personal interpretation.

In conclusion

Now that you know more about what a coat hanger can symbolize, you can appreciate it not only as a practical tool but also as a complex and versatile symbol. From its negative connotation related to abortion to its positive representation of fashion and individuality, the coat hanger can carry different meanings that reflect our values, beliefs, and aspirations. Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to come back for more interesting topics!