Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How Women Kept Track of Their Stuff

*  A Note From Nancy *

I am constantly losing my keys in my purse, along with my glasses, my Chapstick, my pens...
Nanny whistle, pacifier,
and rattle in one

When I did the research for my Gilded Age novels Masquerade and An Unlikely Suitor, I discovered their solution to this age-old "losing things" problem: chatelaines. These pieces of jewelry were the answer to organizing a woman's stuff.  Whatever items women deemed necessary throughout their day were simply hung from chains and clipped to their waistbands or belts.

They were very specialized. Nannies had kid-stuff at their fingertips: a nanny whistle, pacifier, and rattle.

Seamstress chatelaine
Seamstresses had scissors, needles, thimbles, and bobbins of thread at their fingertips.

Maids mights have keys, scissors . . . hmm. I can't see the details on this picture. What else might she have on her chains?

Fine ladies might have a small purse attached, perfume, mirror, and pencil. Or a watch. They were made of sterling or gold, with semi-precious stones.

As a collector of antique purses, I can vouch for the fact that purses of the day held next to nothing, and actually, the wealthy ladies had no need to carry money or keys. They rarely went out without their men, so relied on them to carry such things. Chatelaines were a nice (and pretty) way to carry around some bulkier items--and to show off some gold and stones as an accessory.

Plus, when I think about the logistics of carrying a purse, I see the advantage of the
hands-off chatelaine. With bustles and gloves and parasols . . . a lady needed her hands free to deal with her clothes, getting in and out of carriages, holding up her skirt so as not to trip on stairs, and finding a way to sit and move through a room without getting caught on a stray table or Victorian gew-gaw.

Ah, the freedom we have in our fashion today!  But a chatelaine . . . it has real possibilities.

If you'd like to take a look at hundreds of fashion examples from the Gilded Age go to my Pinterest fashion boards:  Fashion of the 1870's  Fashion of the 1880's  Fashion of the 1890's  Accessories  Shoes of the Past  Antique Purses  Historical Undergarments  Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. I have looked longingly at antique chatelaines wishing I had one just ... because. When I view the tiny beaded purses, I'm amazed. It also makes me smile to think of the Franklin Planner I used to haul around. Now that's all contained in my phone. So I guess I could use one of those tiny beaded purses after all! Love those photos of the chatelaines.