This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun, most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole--Watches

We’re just six days away from Costume College and I can’t contain myself much longer on sharing what I learned about ladies wearing watches and watch chains. So I’m going to share a little bit about my class, and will share more afterwards. My class is primarily a slideshow since you need to see REAL WOMEN in photos wearing them and how they wore them: this is honest to God documentation. You can’t get much better than that. So this makes it hard to be able to share that information in text other than dates. And that doesn’t always work because there were a variety of them worn all in a time period. But I can point you in the right direction so you don’t go too modern on your costume.
A few years back I was writing short blurbs on costuming research that I called “Down the Rabbit Hole”, because as the name implies, once you start you keep going and going and going. It was mostly links to photo albums and videos that showed REAL PEOPLE.  In my latest research, watches and how women wore them, I had no idea how deep that hole would be and that it would finally lead to me teaching a class on it at Costume College.

Watches & Watch Chains--  a Necessary Ladies Accessory

In the beginning…….I was innocently looking for some dress styles in the 1830s for a couple I wanted to make. I set on a couple in 1837 and once that was decided, I looked more closely at the accessories on them. These were actually paintings and a whole series was done by the same artist who apparently repeated his “stage” and seemingly the same dress, but different sitters. They all were wearing watches tucked into their belts that were attached to a long chain around their neck. Watches? Hmmm...
 So I kept looking and found more paintings with ladies wearing watches. At this time they were a few years away from the daguerreotype photographs (also called dags) of 1839. But I did start finding genuine photographic evidence of more women wearing watches. And then the snowball started rolling and down the Rabbit Hole I went. 1840s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and so on. Then backwards in time to 1820s, and further to the 1500s. Yeah, the 1500s! The first watch was made then, and the evidence of one dated 1530 proved it. One of my friends, Barbee, who works in Colonial Williamsburg, sent me a couple photos of paintings of ladies wearing watches in that earlier time period that added to my search. Then I got into the world of daguerrotypes, ambrotypes (gorgeous photos starting in the 1850s), tintypes, and CDVs (carte vistas or “calling cards”- small cards with photos), and later the larger version of CDVs, the cabinet cards. That’s an amazing detour off the Rabbit’s tunnel.
And you know what I discovered? A LOT OF LADIES WORE WATCHES! Much more than I ever thought, or noticed. And they weren’t the little petite ones that I was always looking for. They were the larger ones like your Grandpa used to carry. Are you old enough to remember those? They were about 2 inches across.

I can’t say whether more of them they wore the watches with a cover, or the open face one, since most of them are concealed on their dresses but it seems like both were used. I started talking to friends and one who used to be a jewelry dealer told me to come and look at some of her leftovers and see if I could use any of them. It was like looking through a treasure chest! She had some watch chains and fobs, a couple which I bought from her, and then told her I would try and sell the others for her. So I plan on bringing them with me to my class. In the past couple months I also have found a few more chains that fit right in my price point of $20 to try and resell also.
I also will be displaying my own collection of watch chains and found a nice display box at a store fixture shop to put them in.
This is just a quick overview of the time periods for the ladies. In my class the gents will be getting some attention too. I have almost 250 photos and that should tell you something about the reality of them.

1500s-1800:  equipage were worn, massive hangers that were clipped onto belts or waistbands, sometimes as a pair. (in 1820s the name became chatelaine).
1800s- 1830: Chains draped over their belts, some still wore the chatelaines.

1830s-1860: Long chains, metal, beaded or woven, hanging from the neck, watches tucked into belts or waistbands, or hidden pockets in the skirt.

1860s-1870:    Short chains, long chains, metal, beaded, woven hair, you name it. Hanging from the neck, the waistband, and now long chains with slides on them halfway down, which became very popular for more than 50 years.


1870s-1890:  Pockets for watches on the outside of the dresses were very popular, still using both long and short chains, both near the waist and some moving up. Concealed pockets were fitted into seams. And yes, some were still hanging onto Great Grandma’s chatelaine.

1890s-1900:  Still wearing long chains, tucked into belts and pockets but small watch brooches started to show up, some by themselves or attached to the chain.

1900-1910: Long chains and watch brooches continued to be worn interchangeably.

I pretty much stopped at 1913 because shortly after that wrist watches came into style during WWI. And that’s a whole ‘nuther tunnel to go down.
I hope you’re able to come to my class at Costume College, Saturday at 3pm, but if not, maybe this bit of information will help you in your search for accessories, because my favorite saying is “You can’t just bake the cake; you have to decorate it too.”


  1. Oh my beautiful! All of these pictures and the watches...I cannot wait to take your class in a couple of days! Laaaaaaaaa!!!!! I found a wonderful chain at JoAnn's that I will purchase when I get home...I want to do what you did with your 30s beautiful!

  2. Great article Val, wonderful research and pictures. If I was going to be at CoCo I would have to take your class


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!