Have you ever wondered about the origin of handbags and purses? Handbags have been essential to fashion history ever since people have had something precious to carry around with them and only the items have changed over time. The very first mention in written literature comes from the 14th century, even though Egyptian hieroglyphs show pouches carried around the waist. Bags were attached to what were called "girdles" which were fastened to the waist. Embroidery and jewels adorned these articles and were used to show status - the richer the person, the more elaborate the bag.
In the 16th century, handbags took on more of an air of practicality with the use of everyday materials such as leather with a drawstring fastener on top.
The 17th century saw more variety and both fashionable men and women carried small purses with more complex shapes.
Neo-classical clothing became popular in the 18th century with a reduction for underclothing worn by women. Wearing a purse would ruin the look of this clothing so fashionable women started carrying their handbags which were called reticules.
The term "handbag" first came into use 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.
The 1920's saw a revolution in fashion with varying hemlines and lighter clothing. Bags no longer needed to match the outfit perfectly and the rage was for the stylish lady to carry a doll dressed exactly like herself, complete with matching bag for her minature companion!
The 1940's saw new austerity in clothing, including handbags with the war effort in mind. Metal frames, zips, leather, and mirrors were in short supply so manufactures used plastic and wood. The
50's saw the rise of important designer houses including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes and the
60's saw the breakdown of old notions of the classical and the rise of youth culture.