04 June 2019

Word for the day: reticule

I've encountered this word a number of times during my reading, have looked it up on multiple occasions.  Finally decided to look into it further and found a definitive discussion at JSTOR Daily.
The dramatic change in women’s fashion in the late 1780s—accelerated by the French Revolution of 1789—put an end to the pocket. Bulky underpinnings would have ruined the slim line of the columnar white gowns of the Directoire and Empire, which emulated the diaphanous draperies of classical statuary. Small, handheld purses called “reticules”—often decorated with tassels, fringe, or embroidery— became essential accessories. Women wore “a more or less ornamental bag with each gown, some being fastened to the waist, others suspended by long ribbons from the arm.” In addition to providing much-needed storage, reticules enlivened the simple, high-waisted silhouette while calling attention to newly bared arms and graceful hands. At the same time, women began to wear drawers or underpants, because their gowns were so body-conscious and transparent, and cashmere shawls, for warmth.

The term “reticule” comes from reticulum, the Latin word for “net.” Many of these early reticules were netted, and netting purses became a popular female pastime, as Mr. Bingley noted in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Reticules might also be made of fabric, embroidered or ornamented according to the latest trends, providing a conspicuous and relatively affordable way for women to follow fashion. During Napoleon’s campaigns, reticules mimicked flat military sabretaches, or sported sphinxes, or portraits of Bonaparte himself. In December 1801, the nomenclature was so new that Catherine Wilmot, an English tourist in Paris, felt it necessary to define it in a letter, making reference to the earlier and more familiar form of handbag, the workbag:
We have not seen Bonaparte yet, except adorning ‘Reticules’ (which are a species of little Workbag worn by the Ladies, containing snuff-boxes, Billet-doux, Purses, Handkerchiefs, Fans, Prayer-Books, Bon-bons, Visiting tickets, and all the machinery of existence).
Napoleon’s wife, Jos√©phine, was instrumental in popularizing the new style of dress, with all its attendant accessories.
There's more information at JSTOR Daily, and additional photos.  "Satirists dubbed the new must-have accessory the “ridicule,” because it was so small and insubstantial as to be virtually useless."


  1. Huh. I always associated it with a Targeting Reticle, the crosshairs in a scope. Makes sense with the "net" origin.

  2. Those familiar with Sondheim's Sweeney Todd will know reticule from "Kiss Me, Part 2," excerpted below!

    JOHANNA: //////////// ANTHONY:
    I'll take my reticule.
    I'll need my reticule //////////// Why take your reticule?
    You mustn't think //////////// We'll buy a reticule.
    Me a fool //////////// I'd never think
    But my reticule //////////// You a fool
    Never leaves my side, //////////// But a reticule-
    It's the only thing //////////// Leave it all aside
    My mother gave me- //////////// And begin again and
    Kiss me! //////////// Kiss me!

    1. About 0:30 here -


      I think. Very hard to understand without your transcribed lyrics.


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