I have always been a big-handbag person. Right from when I was at school, through my entire career and many holidays.

Now that I am working from home and seldom go out, I don’t even carry a handbag. I have tissues, keys and my phone (holding my cards) in my jacket pocket. I carry an old backpack to bring home the shopping if I am doing a grocery run.

As soon as things return to normal (if they ever do), my trusty tote bags will come out again and start doing heavy duty again.

Before pockets and big bags though, women wore chateleines or equipages.The word chateleine was used from 1828. These accessories were named after “la chatelaine,” the female head of French estates, and also after medieval chateleines who wore the keys to the castle. This is why many of them included a symbolic key.

They usually had a buckle that fastened with a tongue or a brooch pin to a belt, and the accoutrements hung down on silver chains.  I have always thought that if I lived in those times I would have had a killer chateleine. It would have been so heavy!

There were utility chateleines that you wore around the house. You would also have had ones for dances, holding a dance card with ivory pages, pencil, handkerchief, fan, spectacle holder, watch, perfume holder and purse. Nurses, seamstresses, housekeepers and governesses would have had their own specialised chateleines as well.

Big name jewellers such as Tiffany, Fabergé, Lalique and Boucheron made complete chatelaines in precious metals. You hardly see any of these as they would have been broken down and sold as chateleines went out of fashion. If you do see them, they are often of base metal.

I do own two Edwardian pencils that come from a chatelaine. When I bought them – separately – I did have the thought of trying to find other matching items that would have gone on the same chateleine. But I collect enough as it is, so dropped that thought.

My chateleine would have had

  • pocket watch
  • seal for waxing envelopes
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • notebook
  • keys
  • penknife
  • mirror
  • sewing kit
  • chainmail purse
  • handkerchief holder + handkerchief

Boy you would have heard me coming from a mile off!

If you are interested, there are some books about chateleines

  • Chatelaines – Utility to Glorious Extravagance by Genevieve E. Cummins and Nerylla D. Taunton (several of the photos above are from this extremely interesting book)
  • The Master Jewelers by A. Kenneth Snowman

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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