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10 a.m. From Ladies’ Underwear to Handbag: Hannah Loring’s Embroidered Bag

Cotton thread on linen cloth, likely late eighteenth century

  Pocket Thumbnail

This embroidered bag likely helped its late eighteenth century owner cope with the fact that her fashionable clothing lacked the convenience of pockets. Eighteenth century ladies’ pockets consisted of cloth satchels fastened at the waist and worn under skirts or dresses. As dresses became narrow around the hips in the late eighteenth century, women could no longer fit pockets underneath them. They increasingly relied on small drawstring handbags called “reticules” to hold their necessary items. Hannah's bag is deceptively shaped like a lady's pocket, but the decorative ruching and drawstring closure adorning this embroidered bag suggest it was likely an early version of a reticule.

Hannah Loring’s embroidered name is the only information known about this object’s owner. Narrowing down the Hannah who created this piece proves nearly impossible. The Loring family has been a prominent family in Massachusetts since the 17th century and, subsequently, many Hannah Lorings lived in Boston in the 18th century. Although a lack of solid information exists so far for this item’s use and owner, it is an important reminder that possessions of eighteenth century women often raise questions rather than provide answers.

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All images are courtesy of The Bostonian Society.