It’s time again for FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Throughout the 18th and 19th
Centuries, chatelaines were arguable the most prominent accessory a
woman could wear. Not only were they practical, but they were also
something of a status symbol. Yet, despite how high profile they once
were, chatelaines are all but forgotten today.

To begin
with, what exactly is a chatelaine? Put simply, it is a
pin or clasp which would hook on to clothes at the waist. It was
something of a combination between a key chain and a Swiss Army Knife.
It held various little tools that a woman might need throughout the day.
Objects similar to chatelaines date back to ancient times, and show up
in several cultures across the globe. It makes sense that in a time
before large pockets or handbags, many different cultures would develop a
system of carrying the small objects which one may need throughout the
day. Sometimes items were tied to the waist with a ribbon, other times a
small pouch would be hooked on to at the waist. Yet ribbons were not
particularly sturdy, and pouches were impractical for some of the most
common items such as scissors and keys. Also, everyone who has used a
purse knows what a pain it is to dig through for the one little thing
you’re looking for.

Chatelaines in their common form
began to grow in popularity in the 16th Century. This was, in part, due
to the invention of the watch in 1510. At this time, watches were hung
from a chain, much like what we think of today as a pocket watch. This
spurred more items to be fitted to chains. Chatelaines became more
customized, depending on a person’s needs. Initially, the most common
chatelaines contained tools for managing a house, such as keys, mending
equipment, even first-aid type objects, such as a little vile of
smelling salts. Chatelaines geared toward seamstresses were also very
common, usually holding scissors, thimbles, pincushions, even little
boxes of needles and thread. While early chatelaines were worn by both
men and women, these customized chatelaines typically geared towards
jobs held by women, and thus they faded out of fashion for men.

the 18th and 19th Centuries, even more objects became available for
chatelaines, so that they were used for a more variety of purposes.
Sporting chatelaines might contain a whistle, an artists’ chatelaine might have a
small notebook, and so on. Some chatelaines were more utilitarian,
intended to be worn around the home, while others were more fashionable.
There were even some that were intended to be worn at balls or other
formal occasions. These styles would often be just as intricate as any
piece of jewelry, created with equally precious metals and stones.

The term “chatelaine” wasn’t used until 1828 when The World of Fashion named the accessory after the French la châtelaine, which translates into “lady of the castle.”
This was due to the fact that the head housekeeper (a very respected position) typically had the
most heavily accessorized chatelaine. The chatelaine fell out of style
around the early 20th Century, when women became more independent.
More independence meant that women needed to carry more around with
them, and a more secure way to carry it. Therefore purses, which of course existed earlier, became larger, more like the
purses we still use today. Chatelaines haven’t disappeared completely,
though. Embroiderers still use them today to keep their tools close at hand.

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