1700s: Chatelaines and Thigh Pockets

In the 1700s it was fashionable for women to carry their personal belongings on a chatelaine. This is a hook with several chains suspended from it. Each chain would carry one of the woman’s personal accessories such as keys, a sewing case and a scent bottle. The name chatelaine arose in the early 1800s. Its derivation is from the French word for mistress of the château or castle. Because of the precious materials they were made of, the chatelaine was a status-defining ornament as well as a practical accessory. Over the course of the centuries, the accessories hanging from them were constantly changing, but not until the early 20th century did the handbag finally replace the chatelaine.

By the 1600s and continuing throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, women’s clothing was so voluminous that one or two loose pockets could easily be concealed under the skirts. These so-called thigh pockets came mostly as a pair, one dangling from each hip, and they remained popular until well into the 19th century. The pockets were made of cloth and often finely embroidered.

Apart from these everyday bags a range of other bags and purses existed. They were quite often made from all kinds of exclusive materials such as enamel and aloe fibers. In addition, a series of purses and other fashion accessories like shoes and cases to carry letters were made of sable beads. These beads are as small as grains of sand and strung on a silk thread.