Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Equipage or Chatelaine

1787 print from Le Magasin.

For centuries ladies carried daily tools about their person. Keys, scissors, money, a watch... In the 18th century this cluster of items was worn about the waist, hanging from an equipage (post 1830's, it is known as a chatelaine), often a decorative metal piece with chains hanging from it. From these chains, ladies would suspend all types of daily necessities. Starting as utilitarian object, the chatelaine progressed into an item of fashion, as most accessories do. 

Above is a print of a lady wearing, not one, but two pieces at her waistline. This fashion of wearing two, usually watches, was adopted by ladies in the late 1780s, but men had been sporting this for over a decade by then. According to The European Magazine and London Review, at Queen Charlotte’s birthday in December 1787, '[for the ladies] two watches were universal, unless a picture was substituted for one of them, or a fancy setting.' This fancy setting was often an equipage. Hanging from it might have been any number of things, like sewing supplies (thimble case, needle case, scissors), keys, a watch, a vinaigrette, a small purse, a pin ball, a tassel, a miniature portrait, an aide memoire (a booklet of ivory leaves used to write notes on with pencil), etc. 

1787 print of a lady with two tassels.

Below are some extant examples from the 18th century:

Smiling Fox Forge has some good reproduction pieces. I ordered this one below from them. It's rather simple in comparison to the above examples, but I thought the birds were kind of sweet. The needle case and thimble case are from them, too. The pin ball was made by me and the watch is actually a necklace from Forever 21.

Next on my list of things to get are two of these, also from Smiling Fox. They are much more fashionable. Can't you just picture them at the waist of a redingote...

Chatelaines were worn throughout the 19th century and they are often associated with housekeepers, however in the later part of the century, they were adopted into evening dress, and often held dance cards and fans. This is why Victorian fans have the little loop on them. 


  1. How beautiful they are, delicate, yet functional! Too bad that today, the "equipage" is an enormous feed-bag purse. Functional, certainly, but often larger than the one carrying it.

  2. This is true, but hey, when they go out of fashion a least we can use them for luggage :)

    1. I found chatelaines that my grandmother's owned. I never really knew what they were for. I thought that, perhaps, they were accessories for dolls. But I always hung on to them. What excellent ideas for gifts my kids can buy me.

      Love your page & pictures!

  3. Hi Caroline,

    I'm working on an article about chatelaines for CollectorsWeekly.com, and was hoping I could use an image or two that you posted here. I'm happy to give you full credit, but would love a little more info (particularly on the final image of the two women skating).

    Could you drop me a note at hunter@collectorsweekly.com ?


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