England, mid-18th century
Made from silk and linen
The change came at the end of the 18th century and into the Regency period (1811-1820) when petticoats and voluptuous skirts went out of fashion and instead the slim-line, empire-waist Regency gowns came to the fore. These dresses had no room for pockets - it would mess with the lovely silhouette, so pockets had to go. In their place came reticules (Jane Austen even referred to one as a "ridicule"). These were essentially what had been worn on the underside of the dress, only now your hands were tied up with holding onto it, and opportunistic thieves could more easily snatch them. Meanwhile men went on to have more pockets, not less. A gentleman of the 1940s had, thanks to his suit jacket, waistcoat and trousers, an average of two dozen pockets! The Regency may have given us some beautiful fashions, but it also, in some ways, ended our hands-free capability. Strange how little quirks of fashion can still influence us today.
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I’m curious… Other than a reticule for small items, what sort of bags/baskets/haversacks/etc would have been used for larger items? I have seen some artwork with working women carrying baskets, but what about upper class women? How might they carry their needlework or a meal or whatnot? Does anyone have references or extant examples?
First, the reticule was originally intended as a bag for needlecraft, then it was realised that it was useful for other purposes.
Secondly, if you look at the remarkable watercolours by Diana Spurling, published many years ago as ‘Mrs Hurst Dancing’, and easily found on line you will find some pictures of the Ladies of Dynes Hall carrying baskets, exactly like the wicker shopping baskets you can get today.
Finally, a lady might follow the advice of Jane Loudon, in one of her books she describes how to prepare a sketch block – ‘which you will find a very convenient size for your maid to carry’.