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)

About Janet

Welcome to my blog where I talk about vintage collecting, retro fashions, and home design ideas and tips. I love scouring thrift shops for vintage housewares, purses, and other odds and ends and revisiting styles from the ’40s and ’50s.
Some of my other passions include hiking, being in nature, reading good books, music (have a little facility with guitar, mandolin and piano), and sewing. I live in West Hartford, Conn., with my husband, two sons, and two dogs (a springer spaniel and a Cairn terrier).

4 thoughts on “Vintage Purse Guide: The Reticule

  1. Fantastic post! While I don’t own too many bags that fall under the reticule heading, they’re certainly a style I’ve long admired and which I would like to acquire more of as time goes on. Thank you for the bevy of inspiring images here – if that isn’t enough to make any vintage accessory lover’s head swoon, I don’t know what is! 🙂

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Yes, I enjoyed perusing the selection of reticules in vintage shops on Etsy for this post. There are so many pretty ones. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

  2. Hello Janet! What an interesting article about reticules (I did not know what they were called before, and apparently, my spellcheck doesn’t recognize the word either). The photos are beautiful. Lovely vintage things in your Etsy Shop!!

    I have a few modern reticules which have a vintage feel, very dainty with drawstrings: my burgundy one is crushed velvet, a white crocheted one with a daisy sewn on (it’s in an upcoming post) and a beautifully handmade embroidered one.

    A pleasure to meet you!
    ❤ carmen

    I’m including a link to an interesting post I thought you might enjoy about Lucite purses.

    https://fashionableover50.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/1950s-lucite-purses/

    1. Hi Carmen – thanks so much for your comments. I’m looking forward to reading your post on lucite purses and to following your blog. So nice to connect with you!
      Janet

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