A Little History of the Handbag

Why do women carry handbags? Is it because it is a socially acceptable or is it because it provides a function? Most likely both! How did the handbag come to be? There’s a lot of history here and some interesting facts that we learned while researching this wonderful fashion accessory.

The first handbags were made of a soft material or leather. Many of the first handbags ever made could not be preserved and kept as they were made from fragile materials that could not stand the test of time. One myth regarding women’s bags was quickly crushed, the falsehood that the bags were all the same kind. Even back in the 16th and early 17th century there were various designs. Depending upon the function of the bag, history dates bags with clasps, leather pouches and purses with drawstrings to this era. Shoulder bags were worn by a belt or as part of the girdle (we still are not sure if this where the idea of the fanny pack came from.)

Men wore bags as much as ladies to carry coins or papers. It was not until after the 17th century when pockets were added to clothes that the handbag became primarily a women’s accessory.         

This was also the era when young women were taught how to embroidery. This was a very important skill of marriage. With this newly taught skill the introduction of embroidered handbags came to be. 

Somewhere between the 17th and 18th century women wanted to carry handbags that were made from more feminine materials such as silk and velvet. This period was also a transition period for the design of the bag women carried. Rather than keep their belongings in a bag that was attached to a belt or girdle, the small bag (purse) and reticule (today this is referred to as a wristlet) was the handbag of choice. The design was a drawstring bag normally of a more feminine material, which was enhanced with embroidery.                                                   

Handbags up to this point in time did the job of carrying coins and other personal items. The Industrial Revolution along with the introduction and increase in railway travel is where we saw the transition of old to the modern handbag we know today. Earlier bags were too small for travel and could not fit very many things. Additionally, the handbag material of the earlier eras could not withstand the pressure of travel.

Today a woman’s handbag is a window to who she is, what she needs and where she is going. Some carry a bag no bigger than what they need at the moment while others carry a handbag large enough to hold her belongs for a weekend getaway.

Women of all ages keep up with the fashion trends and they want their outfits and accessories to portray their trendy taste in fashion. Some prefer designer brand bags while others want a bag in every color, size and shape that coordinates with their outfits. As long as women are here on earth you can be assured designers and makers of handbags will continue to come up with new materials, designs and styles that appeal to the masses and keep up with the trends.

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