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The Dressing Case in Britain

Rosewood Dressing/Jewelry Case
French Glass Necessaire
Dressing Case Interior
French Enamel Necessaire
Mid 19th Century

The origin of the travelling case is probably French, dating back to the late 14th century. Over time these cases evolved from functional travel items into luxury accessories. Referred to as "necessaire de voyage", these were mostly the property of royalty or the nobility - containing anything from cutlery sets to candlesticks, these were made for both ladies and gentlemen. In England, by the end of the 18th century more modest versions were being made to accompany upper-class gentlemen during travel. The travelling box or dressing case was originally utilitarian however, since at this time it was only the elite who traveled in style - they were also ways of displaying their owners' wealth and position. As their popularity increased, items were added and they became more elaborate and ornate. A gentleman's dressing case would usually contain bottles and jars for colognes, aftershaves and creams as well as essential shaving and manicure tools.

From the beginning of the 19th Century cases for affluent ladies became more common as did their capacity to travel, for long visits to relatives or friends. Ladies dressing cases would contain perfume bottles, powders, mirrors, brushes, combs, manicure sets and sometimes items for writing and concealed jewelry trays. These “necessaire de voyage” not only show how more lavish a Victorian lady's toilette must have been than her 18th c. counterpart, but also reflect several larger changes in society. By 1870, the upper-classes could travel on a much grander scale, in larger coaches across better roads, as well as by steamship and train. There were more servants in an upper-class Victorian household than in a Georgian one, and the growing responsibility of a lady's maid is reflected in her lady’s dressing case's complexity. It's also the golden age of house parties, when the well-to-do visited one another's country houses for weeks of lavish entertainments.

The use of dressing cases declined for men during the Victorian era as male fashions became more masculine. Towards the end of the 19th Century with the establishment of the English middle classes, dressing boxes became more popular with all ladies of means - not just the more affluent. During the first quarter of the 20th century the dressing case was replaced by the vanity case – an item that would be more familiar to women today.

A high quality mid Victorian rosewood dressing and jewelry case with silver and cut glass canisters.

A high quality mid Victorian rosewood dressing and jewelry case with silver and cut glass canisters.

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