Synonymous with the Regency period and its associated romance genre is the reticule. This vital accessory was a small, often drawstring, bag. Women carried essential items in this precursor handbag. In previous eras they kept these items in a pocket hung about their waists and hidden amongst the layers of their clothes. However, the lightweight and slim-line dresses of the Regency period, designed to fall gracefully and emulate the classical clothing of the ancient Greeks and Romans, did not accommodate such a device.
Instead, essential items were carried in a reticule looped around the wearer’s wrist or held in her hand. Popularly, they were made of linen, silk, velvet or soft leather, perhaps decorated with embroidery or with a knotted fringe. A variety of shapes were used. Inside a reticule, one could expect to find a small coin purse, letters, a handkerchief, a pocket book and smelling salts or scented water in a bottle.
Jane Brody, the heroine of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Brody, carries important papers in her reticule:
“By the time Jane had completed her essay an hour later she had talked to herself sternly and returned to reality as she dusted the document with sand, rolled it up and slid it into her reticule for delivery.”
“Jane retrieved the list from her reticule and passed it to her friend who read it carefully before walking to her secretaire to add some more names.”
Neither Jane nor Elizabeth Everslie, sister of the Marquis of Dalton would go anywhere without a reticule, even to a ball:
“Turning to his sister, he asked, “Are you ready to depart, Elizabeth?” She agreed and gathered her reticule and shawl.”
“At eight o’clock a loud rap on the knocker of Reverend Brody’s front door sounded and the housekeeper, Mrs Creevy, hastened to answer it. Jane was still upstairs assisting her sister with her hair combs. She heard a masculine voice and assumed the coachman’s offsider had come to the door to inform them of the carriage’s arrival. She immediately collected her reticule.… She hurried down the staircase only to halt halfway down the last flight of stairs, pinned by the arrested look on Lord Dalton’s face as he stood in the hallway below looking up at her.”
I don’t suppose the Marquis of Dalton noticed Jane’s reticule, but she would have been lost without it.
Do you have a favourite scene in a Regency book that features the heroine’s reticule?
‘1800 Accessories – Regency Fashion History’, <http://www.fashion-era.com/1800_accesories.htm#Reticule Handbags> accessed 26 Mar 2015.
Jane Austen's Sewing Box: Craft Projects and Stories from Jane Austen's World. Murdoch Press, London, 2009, pp.181-6. Link: http://jenniferforest.typepad.com/jennifer-forest/books.html
Isabella Hargreaves, The Persuasion of Miss Jane Brody, Steam eReads, ebook, 2013.