It may sound like something saucy but, in French, a chatelaine is simply the lady of the chateau. However, to collectors, it is a collection of useful miniature tools suspended on chains from the waist of a dress worn by any fashionable or busy woman in the 19th century.
The wearer of the dress may be high born or a servant but she will have chosen to have on her person the things that she used most often in the day. For a seamstress it may have been a set of sewing things: a little pair of scissors; a thimble; needles or a box of pins.
But in a time before the handbag rose in popularity it was also a way of keeping all sorts of little odds and ends neatly on one’s person: a little notebook and pencil; a handkerchief; a few drops of perfume or a purse containing a single coin.
Chatelaines became a bit of a craze around the 1820’s but had been worn for centuries. Originally they were just a set of keys to important household chests and cupboards containing expensive goods which had to be protected from light-fingered staff so were worn on the mistresses person. They could be very practical and made from base materials but this Regency one, circa 1810, is in gold with diamonds and jasper plaques – gorgeous.
Do you see them coming into fashion again? I wouldn’t mind one – Christmas present anyone?