Thursday, October 22, 2015


As a woman I'm not sure that I could function out in the world without my purse.  I don't know about most of you, but I need most of the stuff that I carry inside mine.  Usually there is my wallet with my money and cards, then medications I can't live without like my epi-pen, inhaler, and Ibuprofen, next you would find cosmetics, such as lip gloss, clear polish and lotion, oh then, there is a little case with bandages in it, because I have kids and you know you always need a bandage in the craziest of places, and for me my sewing kit, and a notebook to take notes in, oh, and my calendar, the phone....  You know exactly what I mean!

When I head out to SCA events I run into the problem of how I am going to carry around the stuff I need access to during the day, granted the list becomes a lot smaller, but there are some things that have to go with me, the inhaler.
So what did the regular Renaissance girl need in her bag to carry around with her?  Well, we aren't really sure, we know that money was probably carried in their pouches, maybe food and sewing supplies, but whatever it was, they still had stuff to carry and needed somewhere to put it.  The answer we usually find is "pouch" or "basket".

Now pouches came in more than a few varieties as we know from the artwork, but I'm most interested in the pocket variety that can be found in the museum collections, art, and wardrobe accounts.

These pouches all have center front openings and hang from a belt or the waist area, much like a portable....wait for it.....pocket!!!!!  We know that pockets were used extensively in the 17th and 18th Centuries before reticules (small purses) came into vogue with the Victorian Era.  The V&A has an extensive collection of pockets as does VADS.   However we don't know much about the pocket/pouches found in pre-1600 sources.


In Italy, the evidence for these types of pockets is shown in the paintings.  Allesandro Allori, painted scenes of a woman on wash day, as show in the first portrait.  The following two portraits are also be Allori, and show two different women with pockets.  In the first paining, one can see that she is not fully dressed, but a pouch/pocket is secured at her waist.

In this painting, the pouch is accompanied with a needle case, and it makes me want to think that perhaps she has other needlework implements tucked away inside the pouch.
A Woman at her Toilet. 1575-78

In the final portrait, the pouch appears to be attached to a thin belt or string around her waist possibly the same thing that is holding up her apron.

Birth of the Virgin

What all three of these pouches have in common is that they open with a center front slip, are suspended from a belt or string, and are embellished.  The first pouch appears to be worn over the underthings and likely under the sottana, while the second two appear to be worn over the sottana (underdress, worn commonly as the "outer" wear in the home, and covered with the "overdress" when going out)


There are three extant pieces dated from middle to end of the 1500's such as these from El Museo del Traje, Spain have similar construction and design:

All three of these pouches/pockets appear to be made in a style similar to those of those from the Florentine paintings.  They all have center front openings, are richly embellished, and appear to be suspended from a belt when worn (The museum identifies them as pockets).

At least as far as Spanish and Florentine fashion in the late 1500's, I think it is acceptable to say that the pocket pouch was at least one method for a woman to carry her valuables.


It is a bit trickier here when we bring England into the discussion.  As far as I am aware there are not any paintings of women from England that specifically show one of these style pockets.  However there are some interesting references to pockets in the Warrants and Wardrobe Inventories of Queen Elizabeth.

In some cases it is quite clear that the writer meant for pocket to mean a packet, as in a packet of cloth.  However in other instances the author(s) write in such a way as to imply that the pocket was part of the clothing as in these two notations from the site,, which has a collection of transcribed notations from many period sources.

Example 1
1584: Wardrobe Warrant for September 27th, ER 26 (1584)Pg/Fol.: fol 199 v
Item for making of sixe payer of Pockettes of taphata of our greate Guarderobe

Example 2
1590: Warrant for the Robes, May 18th, ER 32 (1590)Pg/Fol.: 133
Item for makinge of xii paire of pockets of Taffata of our greate warderobe

After reading each and every one of the 146 citations my search produced, I surmised, that while sometimes it was meant as a "packet" or package, in most cases, it was a list of pockets to be made or worn with certain garments.  While a number of the references were for men's pockets, the majority were for pockets that were to accompany women's gowns.  We have no way of knowing if these "pockets" were made in the same manner as the pockets from Spain or Florence, so while it is awesome to find the citations it is still slightly disappointing to me that I have nothing visual to confirm my suspicions.

Check back in a few weeks for pictures of various pockets I've been making, with instructions to follow!

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