Pockets, Purses & Reticules

I haven’t done a history post in a while and this is going to be short because the Victoria and Albert Museum did all the work for me. Check out the link for an engaging article that does exactly what I wanted to do — why reinvent the wheel.

When I began reading historical fiction and such I started to see the word “reticule.” I either figured it out via context or looked it up.  Essentially, with the advent of the empire waist it became harder to wear a dress with a slit. There were rarely intricate folds in the Regency dress styles we are now accustomed to seeing in period dramas and pictures online. Reticules replaced the pockets women wore around their waists and reached via slits in their clothing.  According to Wikipedia:

A reticule, also known as a ridicule or indispensable, was a type of small handbag, similar to a modern evening bag, used mainly from 1795 to 1820. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the name “reticule” came from the French réticule, which in turn came from the Latin reticulum, a diminutive of rete, or “net”. The reticule became popular with the advent of Regency fashions in the late 18th century. Previously, women had carried personal belongings in pockets tied around the waist, but the columnar skirts and thin fabrics that had come into style made pockets essentially unusable. When the reticule first appeared, it was made of netting.


So, until the 1800s women didn’t have to worry about putting their purse down somewhere and losing it.  These are both pictures of Regency Reticules:

I am often stymied by the idea that it took a long time to go from slits to pockets sewn into clothes.  I think the slits with the purses tied onto the waist may have been safer from thieves.  But, it is a pretty easy jump from there to the sewn in pocket.

The word “purse” seems to me to be a more general term that can be used the same way “handbag” is but which is also more generally.  I feel it even applies metaphorically to how much money one has in general. Again, Wikipedia tells us:

The term “purse” originally referred to a small bag for holding coins. In British English, it is still used to refer a small coin bag. A “handbag” is a larger accessory that holds objects beyond currency, such as personal items. American English typically uses the terms purse and handbag interchangeably. The term handbag began appearing in the early 1900s. Initially, it was most often used to refer men’s hand-luggage. Women’s bags grew larger and more complex during this period, and the term was attached to the accessory. …
Modern origin
Early modern Europeans wore purses for one sole purpose: to carry coins. Purses were made of soft fabric or leather and were worn by men as often as ladies; the Scottish sporran is a survival of this custom.


So there you have it.  Not a tremendous amount of information here but the V&A has my back!