The Chatelaine - A Victorian accessory with a steampunk vibe

The Chatelaine - A Victorian accessory with a steampunk vibe



What is a chatelaine? Well, I guess some of it depends on what you intend to use it for.

The origins of this dangling, fascinating accessory can be traced back to 16th century, Dutch housewives and even earlier as Roman ladies had a sort of chatelaine in use. Because pockets were not an innovation that were welcomed or tolerated in ladies fashion for quite a while(was this because pockets interfered with how fabric hung on a lady and her silhouette?), for women on the go, a solution was created in the form of a chatelaine. 

One could easily carry accessible tools needed for running a large household. Once the utilitarian function and the world of fashion joined forces, the chatelaine also became an ornate, extravagant addition to the wardrobe of Victorian ladies of distinction. 

What would be on a chatelaine?

For someone running a household—either modest and grand— a chatelaine may include scissors, tape measure, sewing kit, tinderbox, notebook, pencil, watch, and, of course, a large key ring.

In the middle to late 19th century, fine ladies who had little need for such things began to incorporate more frivolous items such as a mirror, card holder, fan, boot hook, change purse, smelling salts, and, my favorite, a tussie-mussie.

A tussie-mussie is a posy holder, or portable vase for fresh flowers. When the streets and their accompanying smells became too much to bear, one could simply reach down and bring a small bouquet of fresh flowers that were pinned into the funnel to your nose and breathe deeply until the swoon passed. Or it was perhaps a useful tool for flirting with gentlemen.

One of the more interesting attachments I have come across was a whistle. Was this for hailing a passing cab or to scare off unwanted advances from bounders who lurked in dark alleys? Both?

I was curious as to why I rarely saw ladies in movies or shows wearing this fascinating bit of history until I bought a reproduction chatelaine and realized that they can be extremely NOISY. I can just imagine some poor sound engineer on a set pleading with the director to ditch the chatelaine so that the dialogue may be better heard. I did see Mrs. Hudson wearing one on an early episode of the Grenada episodes of SHERLOCK HOLMES. It did clank around while the actors were speaking. 

I imagine Mrs. Reynolds of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE would have definitely been wearing one. Perhaps Mrs. Hill had one as well?

The chatelaine was featured in several Victorian cartoons as gentlemen found the number of items they contained humorous. They could be elaborately adorned with jewels and precious metals as well.

They really give me a steampunk vibe and I just had to incorporate a very unusual chatelaine in my novel THE PUZZLED HEIRESS.

For an adventuress, what better place is there to conceal weapons and clever inventions? Pomona Moriarty has several instances where her chatelaine is the difference between life and death. 

What would be on a modern chatelaine? Definitely a hook for a phone, phone charger and cord, a small envelope for credit cards, and what else? Hmmm, food for thought.

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