Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Very Necessary Thing

 The Reticule

Some things a lady may carry in her reticule, clockwise from the left: gloves, calling cards, pencil & notebook, small book to read and her work bag with her current needlework project.

The onset of the Regency Era brought many changes to English life; architecture, attitudes and of course fashion. Georgian gowns were eschewed for the more figure flattering, sleek lines of the Empire line gown made popular by Josephine Bonaparte. Of course, the problem of where to put one’s essentials arose when those pockets within the Georgian gown were no longer available, necessity bringing forth the advent of the reticule.

The reticule became an indispensable item for a lady to carry things like her handkerchief, her calling cards, and those necessary things a lady needs when making her morning calls or travelling. In time, the reticule, sometimes dubbed the “Ridicule” became quite a fashion statement, taking on many shapes, sizes and materials and was embellished in artful ways.

Today our handbags are still indispensable, housing all manner of things, but what did a lady of the 18th Century carry in her bag? The handkerchief and calling cards as we have already mentioned, but there were other things a lady deemed essential. A small coin purse, a comfit tin, her almanac or date book, a note pad and pencil and her vinaigrette, among other things.

Sweet breath was something all took seriously in this era making the comfit tin or box an item no one was without. Small confections with herb or spice flavours were used to combat bad breath which was unwelcome in polite society. These small containers were elegantly decorated and made of metal, wood or porcelain. Those little sweeties contained within ensured one’s breath did not terminate an advantageous introduction.

In a time when sanitation was not easily controlled and disease was often thought transmitted through the air, a vinaigrette was indispensable to ward off evil smells or to revive a lady should she swoon. It was also used to carry perfumes when a lady travelled. Silver phials or boxes were generally small, fitting in the palm of one’s hand, and most often made of silver and enamel, some were worn around the neck for easy access. As with any item, different shapes and sizes were available with a variety of designs. Phials simply held the decanted liquid, however the boxes, when opened, revealed a filigree, hinged lid, to allow the essence held within, contained in a small swatch of felt or fabric, to waft out. If a lady felt faint or swooned, her vinaigrette or that of a friend would be employed as a “smelling salt” to revive her. The scent, or vinegar held within, varied from lady to lady, just as the decoration of the box did.

The almanac, or date book was quite necessary in planning future visits or journeys. With no illumination other than that of the moon, evening travel was confined to those days when the light of the moon was ample enough to guide one’s coach. The almanac showed the monthly phases of the moon and also contained pertinent days of interest, such as Lady’s Day, Candlemas and so on. Employing your almanac ensured confidence when planning a meeting or journey.

When a lady made her morning calls these things were most essential, but when a lady travelled, she may also carry other items in her reticule, such as a small “work bag” or fabric folder which contained her current sewing project, a housewife so all her sewing implements were at hand and also small volumes of books so she may pass the time pleasantly when she is awaiting someone or something.

The reticule helped a lady to prepare herself for any eventuality when she left the house. It’s usefulness has never waned and today it is still a most essential item of a lady’s wardrobe.

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