Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A History of Purses and Handbags

hand crocheted bag
Ever wonder about the origin of handbags and purses that have been essential to fashion history since people first sought something to carry around their possessions with them? The first written mention of such items comes from the 14th century, although we do know that Egyptian hieroglyphs show pouches carried around the waist. Bags were attached to what were called "girdles" worn around the waist. They were adorned with embroidery and jewels and used to show status—the richer the person, the more elaborate the bag.

In the 16th century, handbags became more practical with the use of everyday materials, such as leather and drawstrings. During this period, larger cloth bags were used by travelers and carried diagonally across the body. More variety appeared in the 17th century, when both fashionable men and women carried small purses with complex shapes. Young girls were taught embroidery as a very necessary skill to make them marriageable and resulted in beautiful and unique stitched artwork in handbags.

Neo-classical clothing became popular in the 18th century, with a reduction in the amount of underclothing worn by women. To avoid ruining the look of this clothing ladies carried bags called reticules. Women had a different bag for each occasion and every fashion magazine had arguments on the proper carrying of purses. In reticules one might find rouge, powder, a fan, a scent bottle, visiting cards, a card case, and smelling salts.

Leather & beads made by Indians for tourists
The term "handbag" first appeared in the early 1900's and generally referred to hand-held luggage bags usually carried by men. These were an inspiration for new bags that became popularized for women, including handbags with complicated fasteners, internal compartments, and locks. With this new fashion, jewelers got into the act with special compartments for opera glasses, cosmetics, and fans.

Due to the revolution in fashion—with varying hemlines and lighter clothing—in the 1920s, bags no longer needed to match the outfit perfectly. The rage was for the stylish lady to carry a doll wearing an identical costume to her own, complete with matching bag.
Beaded bag

The 1940s saw new austerity in clothing, including handbags because of the war effort. Metal frames, zips, leather, and mirrors were in short supply so manufacturers resorted to using plastic and wood. This continued into the 50s. I well remember the boxy little plastic purses I had when I was young. The 50s also saw the rise of important designer houses including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes, while the 60s saw old notions of the classical and the rise of youth culture broken down.
Metal bag

I wish I’d known all this years ago when I wrote my books. Now I must hope I used the correct terms for the time period in which my story took place. This is why an author cannot do too much research. Do any of you own any vintage or antique bags? Most would still be popular to carry today under the right circumstances. What sort of bag did you carry to your school prom?

Velvet bag closed
made of fine chain mail
Metal mesh
 All bags shown here belong to the author.


1 comment:

Gaji Ahmed said...

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