Sunday, February 27, 2011

Regency Armlets

It all started with this 1809 painting of Mrs Harrison Gray Otis. She is pretty, the dress is pretty - but it was the bracelet high up on her arm that transfixed me. What was going on? I am a mid-nineteenth century girl, and I can't remember having seen any example of this before. But it is really cool, no? So was Mrs Otis just a bit odd, or was this really a trend?
Then I started looking for further documentation. I found lots of portraits of girls with gold bands about their arms, high and at about the level of the edge of the sleeve. But most of these, I am convinced, are actually just bands of trim on the sleeve. See if you don't agree. These were dead ends for solving my mystery. In fact, I started to worry that even Mrs Otis was just wearing sleeve trim and super-sheer sleeves. After all, there are a lot of renaissance paintings where I know the woman is wearing a super-sheer chemise but I can only really tell because the very edge is slightly visible)
On the other hand, I found a couple of portraits with what might be trim, or what could really genuinely be bracelets, at that same high point but this time over sleeves instead of below them on bare arms. I can't be truly sure on these, but I feel like they are jewelry, not trim.It wasn't until I found this fashion plate (look here) that I really solved the mystery. The text for the plate says "A turban a la Greque, of pale yellow and silver, the hair in small ringlets round the face; diamond earings, and armlets, either with or without necklace. Sack dress of pale yellow, trimmed with silver, white satin shoes, and white kid gloves."Eureka! Armlets! Not bracelets, but armlets. A little further research, now that I had the name, and I am convinced that armlets were definitely a thing in the early nineteenth century. I like that the text says armlets, plural. I don't have evidence that these should be worn in pairs, and the women in the portraits are dis-obligingly in profile where we can only see one arm, but since I am used to bracelet pairs later in the century I am very comfortable with this idea. Anyway, I'm going to have to trot out a pair of cool armlets for our next regency ball (I think I have just the right pair of too-large-and-too-round-for-my-wrists bracelets in mind, even).


  1. Oooh, now I want an armlet for my next regency ball. What a great and interesting post. Thank you.

  2. How pretty! I think I must have a pair, as well. Thanks for the post.

  3. BTW, to what year was this fashion plate belong? Was this Ackerman's or what is the source?

  4. Such armlets are most likely the imitation of ancient sculpture, where for instance Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, used to wear them. The turn of 18/19 centuries costume is in many aspects modelled after antiquity (the "empire" style), and the armlets are exactly like the ancient ones. Try to find a good angle photo of for instance the 'crouching Aphrodite from the British Museum' and you'll see what I mean (on her left arm) :)