Most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, chatelaines were very practical accessories worn by both women and men. The word “chatelaine” comes from the French meaning “mistress of the castle,” and initially referred to a belt hook from which the keys of the castle were suspended. Through the years a variety of small, often-used household tools were hung in this fashion, and eventually cases for spectacles were included. The cases were usually silver and very ornate (example shown at left), as were the clips or brooches used to fasten them to a dress or belt. Cases were also made of leather (example shown at right), steel, cloth, or other materials. Originating as simply a pre-pocket device to keep eyeglasses handy, the chatelaine became a fashionable clothing accessory, with styles reflecting the status of the wearer. By the 20th century, however, spectacle case chatelaines were out of fashion, replaced by retractable chains, neck cords, and handbags.
Courtesy of The Archives & Museum of Optometry, St. Louis, MO, an entity of Optometry Cares—The AOA Foundation.