Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Status on the Wrist: A Fancy, Flowered Silk Purse, c.1830

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Susan reports:

Purses as we know them – accessories for the holding of Stuff – are a relatively new invention. Women in the 18th c. wore over-sized pockets, sewn to a ribbon that tied around their waists, that were hidden beneath their hoops and voluminous petticoats (examples here and here).

But when skirts narrowed to a slender column by the end of the century, there was no place on a fashionable figure to disguise a pocket bulging with necessities, and small drawstring purses soon made their appearances in Paris and London. Often called reticules (a French version of the Latin word for a small mesh or net bag), 19th c. purses could take whimsical shapes and designs, and might be beaded, fringed, embroidered, crocheted, or netted - every manner of handwork embellishment. This was not the place for understatement.

Then as now, a purse was a chance for a lady to exert her personal style, whether the purse was bought at great cost from a Parisian shop or fashioned at home. They weren't large, holding only the essentials. Just as a modern woman will carry a tote along with a purse, her earlier counterpart might have carried a handled work basket or workbag for the excess  - or, if she were wealthy enough, she'd simply turn over the extra things to her servant.

The drawstring purse, above, must have made a sizable fashion statement dangling from a chic wrist. The flowers are created from wired chenille - think pipe-cleaners - that make the petals of the flowers curl outward, the drawstrings are tasseled, and the green silk bag is still vibrant after nearly two centuries. (See here for a detail of the flowers.) That long-ago owner clearly took excellent care of her purse, and with such a prize, who can blame her?

Above: Flower Basket Purse, Europe, probably France, c. 1830. Silk, silk & wire chenille. De Witt Wallace Collection, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. From the exhibition "Accessories: Head to Toe", now on display through 12/12. 


Regencyresearcher said...

I saw a Regency reticule this past weekend. It was done with silver thread and ribbon embroidery. The flowers were of ribbons. It was lovely. The lady also had one that was knit. The stitches were so fine it looked as though it had been done on tooth picks.
Some lovely accessories.
I do like your posts.

Isobel Carr said...

One of my favorite purses is from the 17th century. It’s in the form of a frog:


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Regencyresearcher - I agree - there seem to be an unlimited number of designs for these purses. I have to think many were made at home by ingenuous women, too. The 19th c needlework magazines are full of purses.

Isobel, why have I never seen that little frog before? Sooo cunning! I wonder if he was carried by a woman, or a man - so many of the earlier purses (17th-18th c.) seem to have been for the men, used like wallets. Do you know?

Isobel Carr said...

I don't know if anyone knows. The purses of that era are pretty much unisex.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket