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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 December 2006

18th Century Pockets

Women’s pockets in the 1700s were not a part of the gown, they were a separate accessory that tied on around the waist, under the skirt and hoops. The skirts fastened like a double-apron, with only 3/4-2/3 of the side seam sewn up. The hoops also had an opening, and thus with a little work the lady could work her hand through the layers of her clothing and reach her pockets (which are tied over her shirt and stays/corset). The pockets are quite large, allowing many useful things to be carried in them: the ladies wallet, her sovereign purse, extra pins for her clothing, her vinaigrette, etc.

This style of pocket is great so long as skirts are full and there are hoops or hip pads holding the skirts away from the body, but when the ideal silhouette changes to the body-conscious one that we’re all familiar with from the Regency (in the late 1790s) a lumpy pocket under your skirts is not such a great idea any more. Plus, if you’re wearing a round gown, there’ no way to reach the pocket.

Thus is born the ridicule. From what I’ve seen it looks like women simple started carrying one pocket on a string like a purse. The pocket quickly transformed into the much smaller ridicules seen during the Regency, and by the middle of the Victorian era even the name had changed, becoming the reticule.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang it, does this mean I need to go back and rework the scene where my 1811 heroine has the tie-on under-dress pockets? I know I read somewhere, at some point, that they were still around in the Regency, and my heroine is in a situation where carrying a reticule would be awkward, to say the least--she's embarking upon a cross-country escape on foot across rugged Spanish countryside. She needs her hands free, and I just can't picture her setting out on such an adventure carrying a purse.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

By 1811 these would not be a part of an everyday woman’s wardrobe. Think about it. It just doesn’t make sense to carry about things you need during the day in a spot you can’t reach without lifting your skirts and giving the whole world a show. Plus, they’d be unsightly if you put anything bigger than a few coins or bills in them.

HOWEVER, I do have an idea for you: The apron-front style gowns which are popular from about 1800-1812 do have enough of a side opening still for her to reach into a set of pockets. And it makes sense for her to be wearing such a gown. AND, since I know your book is set on the march, perhaps you can justify that she's made a pair to secure/hide her valuables (much like some people wear under-the-clothes money belts today)?

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AND, since I know your book is set on the march, perhaps you can justify that she's made a pair to secure/hide her valuables (much like some people wear under-the-clothes money belts today)?

That's what I had in mind--that she'd hit upon a somewhat old-fashioned solution to the problem of needing to keep some of her valuables on her person at almost all times, but hidden away, leaving her hands free, etc. Maybe I'll just add a line or two about wearing an apron-front gown on days she expects to need to access the pockets. (Assuming, of course, that anyone ever BUYS the thing and gives me reason to fix the stray minor errors I've noticed in the past few months. :-/ )

11:41 AM  
Blogger Camilla said...

So does this mean that all the Regency historicals calling then "reticules" were incorrect?

1:23 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Yep, that's what it means.

But you have to remember that sometimes authors (or our editors) make conscious decisions that while a term might be technically incorrect or anachronistic, that it's still the better choice. “Reticule” while incorrect for the time period, probably sounds more familiar to a modern reader than “ridicule”. So for ease of reading a writer might simply chose to use the former.

I just had this discussion with my own editor, but about “bull dog” verses “bulldog”. The former is correct, but to a modern reader it might simply appear to be a typo, or it might seem very distracting. So, we went with “bulldog”.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Sue Hughes said...

Thanks for the info, I've learned about the "reticule", which I had never heard of until now.

6:57 PM  

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