Janet's Vintage Finds

Vintage Purse Guide: The Reticule

Reticule

Guide to Vintage Purses: celebrating the reticule

Dainty drawstring bags called reticules were fashionable in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The term is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as “a woman’s small netted or other bag, especially with a drawstring, carried or worn to serve the purpose of a pocket.” As that definition suggests, the bags were initially seen as a necessity to make up for the absence of pockets in the slimmer, more form-fitting skirts and dresses that were becoming popular at the time. However, they turned out to be a forerunner of the modern handbag.

The name reticule is derived from the Latin “reticulum,” meaning “netted bag,” reflecting that the first bags were made of netting or loosely woven cloth.  In 1801, Catherine Wilmot wrote a letter in which she mentioned the bags, and the description was so apt that the OED included it in its next edition, according to the web site World Wide Words: “Reticules,” she wrote, “are a species of little Workbag worn by the Ladies, containing snuff-boxes, Billet-doux, Purses, Handkerchiefs, Fans, Prayer-Books, Bon-Bons, Visiting tickets.”

The bags eventually caught on as a fashion statement, to be hung from the waist or carried. They began to be made from silk, velvets, handmade lace, or knitted materials and decorated with beads, tassels, fringe, lace and ribbons, according to The Reticule: A Fashionable Accessory in the Regency Period, posted by Jane Austen’s World. Jane Austen’s Emma Wodehouse and her contemporaries would have carried dainty silk or beaded reticules as their purses of choice.

19th century woman with reticule
Reticules were fashionable accessories in the fictional heroine Emma Wodehouse’s time.

Reticules were often elaborately embroidered with “beetlewing,” an applique made of iridescent spangles against black satin, according to Fabrics.net, which wrote about the history of the bag in its informative post, “Please Don’t Ridicule my Reticule! Purses from Clutch to Lug.” Victorian women were particularly fond of an offshoot called the money-miser or stocking or ring purse.

Reticule vintage purse
Reticules started out as a substitute for pockets. (photo from Jane Austen’s World)
reticule
The small handbags were often elaborated decorated. (photo from Fabrics.net)

Most bags in the mid-1800s Victorian Period  were made in Czechoslovakia, France, or Italy, notes Fabrics.net. They often featured brocade and beads woven into the fabric. Makers took great care with the bags, sewing beads individually with thousands of tiny stitches. Beads were made of a myriad of different materials, including glass, shells, crystals, amber, and coral.

1800's Antique Multi-Colored Beaded Reticule Purse Made in GERMANY
An 1800s reticule from NancysJewelryBox2 on Etsy.

Designs evolved into the 19th century, when many bags were crafted with ornate frames and chain handles. Following World War I, designers began to apply images directly to the fabric in an early form of silk screening. These are some of the most collectable bags from that era.

1920s flapper reticule
Reticules fit well with the flapper styles of the 1920s. (photo from SeeJaneSparkle.com)

Reticules remained popular into the 1920s. Bags with screen-printing or enamel zigzag patterns were especially prized by flappers, says Collectors Weekly. The style dropped out of sight for a while after that but reemerged in the 1950s, revived by stars like Ingrid Bergman and Jane Russell.

Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid Bergman was reportedly a fan of the reticule in the 1950s.

Stay Tuned! My Vintage Purse Guide continues next week with a post about evening bags and clutches. In case you missed it, check out last week’s post that offers some tips on how to shop for vintage handbags.

In the meantime, take a moment to peruse these vintage bags listed on Etsy in the reticule style. Thanks for stopping by!

Beaded Purse | Antique Reticule Bag| carnival glass |Blue glass beads | Drawstring purse | iridescent glass | Something Blue
An antique reticule bag from ClassicEndearments.

 

Antique Evening Bag Micro Beaded Reticule Vintage Edwardian or Victorian Seed Bead Purse Art Nouveau Art Deco w/ Tassel
Vintage Carolina listed this microbeaded reticule from the 1910s.

 

Vintage Purse - Glasses Case - Sunglasses Case - Eyeglass Case - Cell Phone case
This vintage beaded crocheted bag could be used for a cell phone today. (Janet’sVintageFinds)

Women Who Wore Hats: Pulling off the Vintage Look

Stylish hats are back in style for women who like a vintage look.  But it’s hard for some of us pull off the looks that women achieved in the early decades of the 1900s. Back then, hats were part of everyday styles, whether at the office, nightclub, or Sunday church. Looking back at some pictures from that era illustrates just how adept these women were at picking the perfect hat for any occasion. Below are some photos that I think showcase some of the most attractive pairings.

Vintage Everyday, which stores a trove of nostalgic photos on its web site, recently posted, “50 Vintage Fashion Photos that Reveal Just How Awesome People Used to Dress.” There are so many fun photos in this feature, including some that highlight fashionable hats.

Check out this picture of a crowd on the streets of London in 1908 — people going about their daily business in hats of all shapes and sizes. Note how they pair long dresses and boas with appropriately large brimmed hats with feathers. Even the kids are wearing hats.

vintage hats city streets
Hats in the crowd

This model at a photo shoot in New York City in 1956 sports a jaunty tam. I love how it looks with the cape. I haven’t seen many capes among vintage clothing today but it looks so stylish and comfortable.

new york model vintage hats
A model in NYC in 1956

“A woman’s hat is a part of her outfit as a whole, not an afterthought,” says Solanah at Vixen Vintage. She posted a collection of vintage hat looks on her blog that is worth checking out. She makes the important point that unlike men, women didn’t remove their hats when they entered a room. The hat was not only a necessary complement to her outfit but also integrated with her hairstyle. Hats were often pinned on with the woman’s hair arranged to suit her hat style.

Audrey Hepburn provides a case in point. She didn’t need a hat to look great but she definitely rocks this pink bowler. Note the positioning pinned on the back of her head rather than perched on top. I think it really accentuates her beautiful face and simple pearl earrings.

audrey hepburn pink hat
Audrey in 1962

African American women routinely wore hats to church and on other special occasions in the early part of the century, and some still do today. Vintage Everyday recently posted photos of some of those women from the 1920s-1940s. I was struck by how well they pitched them at the perfect angle and paired them with just the right outfits. Here’s one who appears to be waiting to leave for church, sporting a wide-brimmed straw hat.

vintage wide brimmed hat.
The wide-brimmed hat, perfect for dressing up in hot weather.

Kristina Uriegas-Reyes at xojane has blogged about her love for the pillbox hat. Finding the perfect positioning is key, she says, rightly pointing out that a lot of older hats are too small for the average woman’s head. However many can be worn at an angle using pins or combs.

Here are some of the hats I’ve collected in my recent travels to thrift shops and estate sales. What are your favorites?

vintage hat glenover
The Glenover Beret by Henry Pollack
vintage hat bowler
A wool bowler with front flower embellishment
vintage straw hat
A straw sunhat with open top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

vintage pillbox hat
Taupe pillbox hat with veil
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