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Victorian-era accessories: Fashion statements peppered in beads and embroidery

December 30, 2014

Filed under Collections, Community and Domestic Life, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Curators Katie McGowan and Carol Buck nominated as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure four purses that date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and one 19th century fan. These artifacts remain in the care of the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Curators Katie McGowan and Carol Buck nominated as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure four purses that date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and one 19th century fan. These artifacts remain in the care of the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The dawn of a new year serves as a time for celebration and an opportunity to reflect on the past. This New Year’s Eve, imagine what it would have been like to welcome a new beginning during the Victorian era.

For one thing, women didn’t have purses at the end of the 18th century. They had pockets… sort of.

In the 18th century, women carried personal belongings in a “pocket,” typically a large cotton embroidered bag that would tie around the waist under a skirt. Changing styles by the early 19th century meant that women could no longer wear bulky pockets under their clothes. Fashion consisted of long, straight skirts and high-waisted lines that rendered pockets obsolete. Still, women needed a place to put their belongings and thus the reticule was born.

The word “reticule,” in Latin, means “little net.” Early reticules were drawstring bags that usually contained beaded decoration on the outside, which women could embroider and decorate using instructions found in popular magazines of the time. By the mid-19th century, pockets were again added to the voluminous skirts, and the reticule evolved into the modern purse.

CAP curators Katie McGowan and Carol Buck nominated as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure four purses that date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and one 19th century fan. These artifacts remain in the care of the State Museum of Pennsylvania. The sparkling Victorian accessories in the above photo have their own “bead”-azzled history.

Folded paper fans originated in Japan and spread to other regions of the world as early 900CE. Folded fans were popular in Europe since the 17th century and were made of silk, paper or feathers. The blades were constructed of wood, bone or tortoise shell. Early fan designs were painted and depicted scenes of nature, city scenes or mythological figures.

By the middle of the Victorian era, a fan became an indispensable fashion accessory for the ladies, as well as a means of communication. Victorian-era social etiquette was limiting, therefore women were able to communicate with gentlemen via signals given by fan such as “I’m married, I’m sorry,” or” I love you.” This particular fan, dated ca. 1890, is made of wooden, black lacquered blades with gold filigree designs. The mount is made of red satin on the front, with a black lining on the reverse. An asymmetrical gold, metal embroidered design of leaves and vines is on the left, front side.

As you dress up this holiday season, don’t forget to accessorize!

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.