How did women and men carry money, keys, and other personal items in the 18th century? It's a question that came to me recently as I shopped for a new wallet and handbag. To learn the answer, I visited my friend Miss Robin, one of the shopkeepers at the Mary Dickerson Shop in Colonial Williamsburg, who is knowledgeable about such things.
|Miss Robin in the Mary Dickerson Shop at Colonial Williamsburg|
Women and men's clothing in the eighteenth century were devoid of attached pockets. It proved impractical, however, not to be able to carry frequently used items such as money and keys. But these were the days before handbags and wallets had come into use, so it was necessary to use other means by which to carry small possessions.
Instead of pockets sewn into clothing, women wore unattached pockets underneath their petticoats (skirts). These were pouches made from fabric in an oblong shape. A slit in upper end allowed a woman to slide her hand inside and either deposit or retrieve items.
Sometimes pockets were embroidered which made them quite fancy. These were most likely worn by women in the middling or upper classes who either purchased them at a local clothing shop or used their own needlework skills to embellish their pockets.
|An embroidered woman's pocket|
Strings or cords attached to the top of the pocket were wrapped around the waist and tied, thus securing the pocket to the woman's body. Once tied at the waist, the pocket rested against the side of a woman's hip. Depending on how many items a woman needed to carry, she wore either one or two pockets.
One of the middling women I met on Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg kindly showed me her plain and much used pocket.
|A plain pocket|
In order for a woman's appearance to look symmetrical, a pocket was worn on each hip.The woman below is wearing two pockets, but it's impossible to tell because they are worn underneath her petticoats. Petticoats were constructed with a slit in the side seam slightly below the waistband so the woman could discretely reach through her petticoat and gain access to her pocket.
|This middling class woman is wearing two well-hidden pockets|
Eighteenth century men carried items they frequently used, such as keys, money, or small tools, inside haversacks which they slung over their shoulders. Men sometimes carried food inside the sacks when they were unable to get home for a meal. The man below belongs to the middling class and has a large haversack made from fabric.
|This middling class man has a large haversack made from fabric slung over his shoulder|
Some haversacks were made from leather, such as the one the gentleman is wearing in the photo below. Although his haversack is small in size, the durability of leather allowed it to last a much longer time than those made with fabric.
|This gentleman has a small leather haversack slung over his shoulder|
The John Greenhow Store in Colonial Williamsburg sells a variety of eighteenth century goods, including this large leather haversack with an adjustable strap.
|A large leather haversack at the John Greenhow Store in Colonial Williamsburg|
Eventually, women's pockets evolved into handbags carried by hand and men's haversacks gave way to wallets. But thanks to Miss Robin's informative lesson in pockets and haversacks, you and I now understand how eighteenth century women and men carried small items on their person throughout the day.
All photographs ©2017 Cynthia Howerter
Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter grew up playing in Fort Rice, a Revolutionary War fort owned by family members, and lived on land in Pennsylvania once called home by 18th century Oneida Chief Shikellamy. Hunting arrowheads and riding horses at break-neck speed across farm fields while pretending to flee from British-allied Indians provided exciting childhood experiences for Cynthia and set the stage for a life-long love of all things historical. A descendant of a Revolutionary War officer and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), history flows through Cynthia's veins.
Are you going through difficult times or know someone who is? Do you need encouragement to get through a tough situation? There's nothing like 25 true stories from people who have been in your shoes and succeeded. To purchase a copy from Amazon of the award-winning non-fiction anthology that Cynthia co-authored along with La-Tan Roland Murphy, click here > God's Provision in Tough Times Available in paperback and Kindle.