Thursday, October 16, 2003

Don't ridicule reticule's lineage

Tall Stacks

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The tiny purses you're seeing swinging at the waist of period dresses at Tall Stacks have a tall tale behind them.

The story goes that the tiny drawstring pouches got their name - reticule - from the word "ridicule" because folks thought it was "ridiculous" for women in steamboat days to carry any kind of bag. Heretofore, the menfolk toted money and necessities, leaving the ladies' hands free for parasols. But with smelling salts, gloves, hankies and fans, a purse became a necessity.

Dressmaker Carol Lee Peter of Blue Ash, who outfits many Tall Stacks characters, has been stitching up several of the 4-by-6-inch or smaller pouches and trimming them to match period dresses.

It's a charming story. Trouble is, it's not on the historical mark.

Purses became a necessity for the fairer set some 100 years earlier, during Josephine's time in the fashion spotlight, according to Margie Voelker-Ferrier, associate professor of fashion design at the University of Cincinnati.

During the reign of Napoleon and his heartthrob, "waists went up, way up under the bust line, and gowns were diaphanous and sheer," she says. With no pockets and no belts, purses - or pouches - became a necessity.

The name reticule probably came from the word's definition as a system of lines or wires in the focus of a telescope. It's thought the purses were made originally from net-work, or a type of mesh fabric.

Regardless of its history, the reticule is making a return in the fashion world. Tiny pouches in luxe velvets and satins, as well as leathers and colorful mohairs and art fabrics, have reappeared, trimmed with beads, crystals and buttons to carry everything from formal-dress necessities, such as lipstick and a credit card, to handbag tag-a-longs holding cell phones and PDAs.

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