A reticule by any other name spans the centuries

  • Friday, April 11, 2014



Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre and Scarlett O’Hara all carried reticules. These small, pouch-like bags were often made of net, beaded, closed and carried by drawstrings. In those days they contained such things as snuff-boxes, a sweet note or love letter known as a billet-doux, handkerchiefs, fans, prayer-books, and bon-bons.

These personal carriers go back and beyond the fictional ladies. Egyptian hieroglyphics show men wearing purses around the waist. African priests carried beaded bags. As time went on purses grew in number and style and were made of such things as canvass, quilts and fake reptile skins. About the time Summerville was settled, Thierry Hermes and Louis Vuitton began their leather designs. These and others morphed into fashion statements and go by many names: pocketbooks, clutches, shoulder bags, pouches, dotty bags, pochettes, and the hands-free fanny pack. The latter are also known as belt packs, belly bags, hip sacks, waist bags and my favorite – bum bags. Many of these were in evidence as I plied the Flowertown Festival pathways last weekend. Plied them, I might add, toddling along lugging my usual shoulder bag. How can anyone go shopping or anywhere else for that matter with any of those tiny models?

My sister-in-law Jeannette carries a seriously slim bag about the size of a saucer hung by a thin leather strap. This accompanies her on trips she takes with my brother Mike. When I asked how she manages with this miniscule purse, she floored me by replying that it held her passport and her credit card – and “what else do I need?” (Easy for her to say. She of the naturally curly hair and red lips!) In the interest of full disclosure, she sometimes wears cargo pants with a myriad of zippered pockets!

I remember my first – and only – tiny pocketbook. It was my fourth birthday present to go with my new white patent leather Mary Janes. It had an envelope closure and a small strap that just fit over my wrist. After that I lept directly to a variety of shoulder models.

In what else could I cosset my makeup (and the older I get the more I need); wallet and checkbook; small flashlight; umbrella; tissues; mints; pills; comb and small hair spray; eye glass cleaner; notebook (the paper kind with ring binder holes); sunglasses with case; phone and keys. I have about 20 of the latter, many of which I can’t remember what there’re for but am afraid to eliminate.

Worse than that, I have several shoulder bags. I come from the generation that believed one should coordinate outfits. Thus I have shades of brown, green, red, blue, black and white shoulder bags. The biggest problem I have with these is that every time I change colors I always leave something out – something I really need.

I’ve tried to downsize into a smaller purse, but then I can’t fit all of my indispensables. I’m currently carrying a one-bag-fits-all style. It’s a café au lait crocheted number with the apt brand name of “the sak.” It’s relatively light weight and contains zippered pockets. Most of the time now, I stick with this design, but of course the more I fill it the heavier it gets.

Don’t tell anybody I said so, but that reticule – complete with a billet doux or two – might not have been such a bad idea after all.

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