October 1, 2006

The History of Handbags

Strange but true, it was men that started wearing "handbags and purses" before women did.

From the beginning of time, in fact, men (only later on women too) had the need to carry items with them as they walked about town and travelled away from home.

Originally, the bag was always worn on the belt, and its early form was the drawstring leather pouch which carried coins, and became a must-have item for men during the Crusades, when hung from girdles, it carried their dagger.

But in 1565 Charles IX of France outlawed the purse for exactly that reason: it was too easy to hide a dagger in it.

To still be able to carry (hide) a dagger, they started sewing pouches into men's doublet sleeves, thus pockets were invented.

Other sources say that pockets were invented to carry a new invention, the watch.

Ladies started wearing their pocket (or a pair of pockets) tied on a string around their waists, discretely concealed beneath their gowns. Access to these pockets was gained through side slits, called pocket holes, in the gowns.

In her pocket a lady would hide small valuables, such as jewels and money, or a comb and a mirrow. The concept that a lady could carry her personal belongings away from her body, say in a sack over her wrist, was yet to come.

By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, women's dresses became so much lighter and figure hugging, and this new slim-line clothing didn't have any room for pockets. Handbags and purses developed in response to the need for a place to carry coins, letters and other small items.

These first purses, delicate little drawstring bags, called "ridicules", contained toilet articles and were hung from the waist or carried by hand. They could carry a handkerchief, a fan, a perfume, some rouge.

The Mini Noe could be the "ridicule" of our days.

In the Victorian period an extraordinary variety of types of bag appeared:

In black and vivid colors, made of striped silk or perfumed leather, adorned with tassels, some had clasps of rare semi-precious stones, sometimes they were of tortoise shell, each piece unique.

Beaded purses were knitted, crocheted or sewn into a narrow tube about eight to ten inches long and decorated with beads with tasseled ends.

They were the hottest item in the mid-late 1800s.

I'm not sure how you would fit anything in there...

The metal mesh bag dates late 19th century. The cut steel beads were chemically dyed in the shades of gold, silver and bronze. It was rare when the French cut steel beaded bags were found with other colors such as pink, blue, green or yellow...

...these colors were instead used to create magnificent floral displays as well as the much rarer figural scenics. These bags are highly collected today.

By 1900 bigger bags became a necessity for a woman whenever she had to leave the house for more than a few hours. These new bags had to serve the needs of travel and work as well as pure fashion. Handbags became much larger because of the change in lifestyle and social needs following World War I and with the increase in travel to Europe, the security of documents resulted in more robust designs and stronger materials, such as leather and vinyl.

During WWII years, the handbag world took a backseat due to cutbacks and war restrictions, and leather and decorations were replaced by plastic and wood.

The first shoulder bags appeared at this time, when people started hiding gas masks in boxy bags with straps worn diagonally across the body. But since then the shoulder bag has been mostly worn rested on the shoulder and hip of one side only.

Following the War, the 1950 saw the rise of important designer houses like Dior, Chanel and Hermes and the long-awaited return to fashion.

Today, we are far from the drawstring and the waist pockets, and for that I thank Prada, Fendi, Valentino and the rest of them, for giving us such beautiful bags as these:

and I thank them because without them I would look pretty stupid...

...and definitely not fashionable...

...lugging around, tied to my waist...

...my ipod, my wallet, my makeup, my mirror, my chewing gum, my change, my books...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The bags pics are great -
Sorry I can't tell you a thing about fashion - rains here (a LOT!) so what I carry gets tucked under a rain cover and into pockets.