An elastic band worn around the wrist, as for the purpose of confining the upper part of a glove. — Webster, 1882
In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s By the Shores of Silver Lake (Chapter 21, “Merry Christmas”), Mr. Boast’ is given a pair of wristlets, knitted in red and gray stripes. Wilder doesn’t tell us whether these stripes were horizontal or vertical, nor exactly how the wristlets were knitted. Ma had made the wristlets for Pa, but “the company must have Christmas presents” (the Boasts had arrived unexpectedly on Christmas eve), and Ma could always knit more. Mr. Boast was pleased with his wristlets, which fitted him perfectly.
A wristlet was pulled on over the hand and was worn against bare skin and covering the wrist; it added an extra layer of protection between the coat sleeve and the glove. While Mr. Boast’s wristlets may have been shaped to flare slightly below the thumb and/or over the muscles of the forearm, they also could have been knitted tubes from four to eight (or more) inches long. Wristlets were originally made more as garters to hold the end of a glove in place, but probably were increased in length when it was discovered that they provided extra warmth as well. Often, the elastic part of a glove which covered the wrist was called a wristlet, as was the cuff on the end of a coat sleeve.
The wristlets pictured were knitted of fisherman’s wool – 42 stitches around on size 8 needles – with ribbing at each end. They were felted slightly for added warmth.
Wristlets can also be knitted or crocheted with either a thumb-slit or thumb-tube; these are often called “fingerless gloves.” They are quite fashionable today, and with both fingers and thumb free, they allow for dexterity not possible in full gloves or mittens while still offering some warmth and protection. Today, a small purse with a strap is also called a wristlet, but this was not the item described in the “Little House” book!
It was believed that wearing a warm pair of wristlets was almost equal to an additional garment for keeping the whole body warm. The blood at pulse points was said to be very close to the surface, and by keeping this area protected, the whole circulation was favorably improved. (— American Agriculturist, 1873.) Knitted wristlets were worn by young and old, and were often finished at the hand by a narrow decorative fringe, crocheted border, or knitted ruffle.
Wristlet Parties. Desiring to give a new zest to social gatherings someone not long ago hit upon the device of Wristlet Parties — so called from each lady invited being required to furnish a pair of wristlets for the occasion; one of which she retained for her own use, its fellow being forwarded to the party committee. On the evening appointed for the gathering, each gentleman-guest before entering the room selected a wristlet from a basket outside; and then proceeded to look up the lady wearing its fellow, upon whom he was bound to dance attendance until the party broke up. – Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature, 1880
The article about wristlet parties at right is from the Iowa State Reporter, Waterloo, Iowa, December 1876.
wristlets (SSL 21)