How often do you search for your keys or your cell phone in your purse, only to find all the things you really don’t need? Or look for that pesky tool everywhere only to find it after you’ve bought a replacement already.
World, meet the chatelaine, the most useful and beautiful utility belt for Victorian women. I sincerely hope this year is the year that these come back.
According to MentalFloss and chatelaine historian Monica F. Cohen, the word “chatelaine” itself is derived from the medieval word for a castellan, or a keeper of the castle or chateau who wore at his or her waist the key to the castle’s various rooms.
The chatelaine is a decorative belt hook attached at the waist with a series of chains, that attach useful and much needed tools for Victorian women. It was normal for there to be a large variety of different things depending on the person such as: scissors, thimbles, keys, a notepad, coin purse, and even vinaigrette! Chatelaine’s are fully customization, so a nurse might have a thermometer and scissors on hers or below, pictured below left, is a sewing chatelaine from 1680, complete with a pincushion.
It’s reported the chatelaines were around in early forms in 1510, with the invention of the watch, but were then called equipages (referencing containers on cord and worn around you to carry important valuables).
Jewelers like Tiffany, Boucheron, and Faberge made these impressive items that exploded in 1828 when a London magazine called The World of Fashion featured the chatelaine, showcasing the chatelaine with a symbolic key (as medieval chatelaine’s had keys to the castle). Ladies took to wearing them as a symbol of their status as “The Lady Chatelaine” of their own castles (homes).
Women from all backgrounds wore this—from mistresses to maids—though as mentioned above some were more useful and some were more for status and statements.
Below is a cabinet card (popular type of photo) circa 1880 that displays a well-dressed woman wearing a needlework chatelaine.
This is one of the coolest chatelaines I came across below. Believed by the collector to have been a “Faith, Hope, and Charity” chatelaine for mourning. After purchasing it, a quote from Wadsworth was found on a small piece of paper inside the thimble. “Oppression, and sickness, and sorrow, and pain Shall be to our true love as links to the chain.”
On the right, as pictured from the same article (sources at the end of this article), two sporting-themed chatelaines featuring dog’s head medallions.
I found this sterling silver chatelaine (below) from George Shiebler that sold for over $2,000 at auction. It includes a notepad, dictionary, pencil, shell purse, and Tiffany perfume bottle. Isn’t it fabulous?
Would you wear a chatelaine? What would yours have on it? Leave me a comment below!
Love and clinking chatelaines,