The first handbag to show up in written word was in the fourteenth century, but since the beginning of time people have needed something to carry their things in including Egyptians who have pouches attached to them in ancient hieroglyphics. Pictures from the Medieval period showed both women and men wearing a girdle that was like a large belt gathered about the waist and you would see a bag attached to it and hanging down. This ancient handbags were often ornate with embroidery or had sparkling jewels attached to them. They did not use them just to carry possessions but also for carrying food for their falcons, a popular pet of the era or they would hold supplies they needed for playing certain games. The Seals Bag was carried by the Lord Chancellor and it held relics of the church that were used during the mass.
The Fashion Of Handbags Through Time
Handbags became much more practical during the 16th century and were made of either fabric or leather and had a drawstring that would enable them to be opened or shut. Travelers would wear large bags made of fabric that slipped diagonally over the shoulder. In the 17th century, women would create beautiful samplers of their abilities in embroidery and this transferred to some of their purses to let gentlemen know she had these skills and would make an excellent wife.
- During this era, both men and women carried small purses when out in public. Because Elizabethan clothing was rather voluminous prestigious women wore bags under their skirts and men had leather pouches that were kept inside their breeches. Often times personal hygiene was not of importance in many countries and people of high station carried bags that were made of fabric and filled with sweet-smelling herbs and flowers. They would hold these bags to their noses whenever the scent of the city became too much for them.
- Large skirts and multiple undergarments gave way to a smarter, narrower skirt during the eighteenth century and the purse came out in the open again. Women insisted on having bags to carry face powders, fans, scented waters and they needed something to carry what was called visiting cards. These were cards they gave to gentlemen in hopes they would call on them. They carried reticules to carry these necessities that matched each of their outfits.
- The actual word handbag started to be used in the 1900s but it was not the same as what we think of today but was a piece of luggage carried by men. Designers that would soon design purses started to make this luggage so it was smart and popular. Women wanted something similar because of all the compartments that were included inside the luggage, because they locked and because the fasteners were intricate. Soon smaller bags for women were being produced that included these compartments to hold their fans and their cosmetics.
- In the 1920s matching bags were no longer in style and you could carry any bag with any outfit. The clutch that did not have a handle and was tucked under the arm was invented and it was decorated with beautiful geometric designs. The Boulevard Bag and Briefcase became popular for working women. The Bag could hold groceries that you would get on the way home and the briefcase could be worn over the shoulder.
- The classic bag with a handle and clasp frame, the clutch with no handles, the satchel purse, and the shoulder bag were all made during the 1930s and were not only made of leather but also plastic. Art Deco styles are displayed in abstract patterns and colors. In the 1940s the wallet was bigger and more practical with a military look to them. Fashion designers began designing bags starting in the 1950s including Chanel, and Vuitton. A small bag gives the impression that the woman is beautiful and beautiful and very feminine while a large bag gives the message that she is independent.
- Since then the handbag has gone through the same evolution and women’s clothing. When the leather cowboy looks with suede fringe was in so was the fringed handbag. The hippie era with bright colors and flowing fabrics also took over that same look in women’s handbags. When women became obsessed with health and fitness the handbag also reflected that looking somewhat like undersized gym bags.
At present we find handbags of any color or made of any material from plastic to woven and leather. They are made from small to very large and not only do women enjoy using handbags but also men have come with a Men’s Wallet. You can find inexpensive reproductions of almost all designer handbags out there on every street corner in every city. You would be hard-pressed to find a woman that does not carry a bag or have several different colors. They come plain and simple or bedecked with zippers and multiple pockets. Handbags today are utilitarian yet look smart and have come a long way from the small drawstring variety used by women of yesterday.