What are Lamp Shades?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Lamp shades are frames that typically fit on the top of a lamp and cover the lighting source. They can be made of glass, various fabrics, and different forms of paper. They serve both a decorative and practical purpose that dates back in history by several centuries.

Lamp shades fit on top of a lamp.
Lamp shades fit on top of a lamp.

When gas lamps were first introduced, they emitted a light quite different from lights made by gas lanterns or candles. The light was harsh and bright white, and there was also concern about potential exposure to dangerous chemicals from gas and to explosions from lighting gas. The purpose of lamp shades was to protect against potential health issues and also to help filter the light. Early experiments with gaslights in public areas had a tendency to create problems and people often complained of headaches when exposed to them.

Lamp shades may be made of rice paper.
Lamp shades may be made of rice paper.

Popularity of lamp shades only increased with development of the incandescent light bulb in the late 19th century. Today lamp shades are still used to help diffuse light and reduce glare. Even when using softer fluorescent lights, they may be preferred and a lamp without a shade is fairly informal.

Styles of shades truly vary, and may or not come with purchased lamps bases. One common practice is to sell lamp bases and shades separately. This can be helpful too if a lampshade needs to be replaced, since there are numerous choices to purchase to replace old or dirty ones.

Of course, this is a bit more difficult when the lampshade is made of glass. Some brands like Tiffany® specialize in beautifully and intricately colored glass shades that not only diffuse light but create artwork. While it is possible to get Tiffany® shades repaired if one gets broken, this is a more involved process and expense is high.

Inexpensive shades made in paper or fabric can come in a variety of colors, and color may slightly affect light emitted. Many people choose white or cream-colored lamp shades but others opt of shades with designs, paintings, or prints. Shapes are also variable and include shades shaped like a bell, those that flare out from a narrow top, and cylindrical shades.

Different countries have some preferred styles of lamp shades but it’s fairly easy to find all varieties in most big countries. There are numerous Internet shopping sites devoted to selling lamps and shades. On the other hand, shoppers can find exceptional variety of lamp shades in lighting stores, hardware stores, home improvement stores, department stores, and Big Box stores like Walmart®, Target® and Kmart®.

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


My friend has a bear lamp with a matching shade. The base has a brown metal bear walking across a square piece of metal, and the shade also features a brown bear.

The shade is a burnt orange color, and the scene is painted in brown, so there is only a slight contrast between the two. The bear and several birds flying overhead appear as silhouettes without detail. There is grass and even a few trees.

This lamp is one of those that you can adjust the brightness of by touching it. One touch gets a dim setting, another touch makes it slightly brighter, and a third touch makes it the brightest.

I like that the scene is so understated. Even with the brightest setting, it is still subtle, like an image viewed through fog.


@kylee07drg – You are lucky to have one of those lamp shades. I would own one if I had the money.

I have been able to find a few glass lamp shades that are beautiful and inexpensive. They don't have the same look as the Tiffany shades, but they are very decorative.

I have one frosted glass table lamp shade that has little patterns carved in the frost where the light shines through. It also has strings of little clear beads hanging down from the base like fringe.

This shade gets very hot after the light has been on for awhile. I have to remember not to place it near any fabric or wood.


My parents have a couple of pleated lamp shades that feel like they are made out of thick paper. They were sort of a creamy yellow shade to begin with, but now, the pleats have turned partially brown.

When you get dust down inside a pleated lamp shade, it is really hard to remove. Also, since the material seems to be a type of paper, you can't really get it wet in order to wipe the dust off.

My mother has been using a dusting cloth rolled around a stick to try to clean the shade. It does a little bit of good, but she will probably end up just replacing the shade eventually. I don't think she paid much for it, anyway.


I always loved the glass Tiffany lamp shades, and I was thrilled when I got one for my eighteenth birthday. I think I stared at it for hours, which I could do without damaging my eyes, since it shielded them from direct light.

It had a rainbow of pastel colors painted onto the pieces. They were all put together like a puzzle with some type of black putty. The shade is very heavy, so even though the lamp is only medium sized, it is hard to lift.

I would hate to think of how much it would cost to repair the shade if I broke it. I probably couldn't afford to have it fixed. I'm really careful with it, because I know it is the only one I will ever have.

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