Combining utility and beauty, chatelaines were a form of functional jewelry worn hanging at the waist. Comprising a hook and multiple dangling chains attached to small, useful objects (scissors, writing utensils, keys, purse, watch, perfume vial, etc.) chatelaines were hooked to a sash, belt or waistband. Visible storage worked in intricate designs of silver, enamel or gold, chatelaines were also an expression of authority. Chatelaines usually adorned the “keeper of the keys” for a large household and signified a position of familial and social authority. This was a clear visual expression of the literal meaning of chatelaine, a mistress of the chateau. Though their origins are a bit obscure, the chatelaine probably developed sometime in the Middle Ages, enjoying periodic revivals through the late nineteenth century. An early nineteenth century cut steel chatelaine can be seen here and an 1887 octopus shaped chatelaine can be seen here.
In the nineteenth century, chatelaines were usually worn by women. As the century progressed, variations on the chatelaine emerged, including the chatelaine pocket or chatelaine bag. Unlike a chatelaine which featured multiple items dangling from an elaborate hook, a chatelaine pocket or chatelaine purse showcased one item, a small pouch or purse. Purse and pocket chatelaines were particularly popular from the mid-1870s until the early 1880s. During these years, the fashionable silhouette clung tightly to the hips and upper legs and would have been disrupted by a pocket, especially if it was actually in use.