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The Timeline of “HANDBAGS”

The Timeline of “HANDBAGS”

Believe it or not – The first handbags were used as early as the 1500’s; here we have the story of the “handbag” through time to present day!

1500 – 1800 A.D.
At the beginning of our civilized world, the use of a pouch, purse or a shoulder bag were used not just by our women ancestors but also the men folk of the time, not dis-similar from today. There main usage were for carrying personal belongings and
money, clothes in these times did not have pockets like today which meant the necessity of some type of bag or purse was far greater. This we know through old paintings, prints and tapestries of the time, also the rare remains of them which are now kept in museums.

The reason for their rarity was due to not only their age but due to the perishable materials used at the time. These bags, purses and pouches were designed in different ways depending on the purpose they were to be used. Leather pouch purses which had LONG DRAWSTRINGS made a secure purse for money; bags were made with CLASP FASTENINGS to secure their contents. Also they some would use open shoulder bags which had no fastenings which were a lot rarer than the others, despite these differences they were all secured by a girdle type body-belt.

Above pics are examples of leather purse/pouches


The introduction of pockets towards the end of the 16th century pockets were introduced into the design of clothing which meant that the need for men’s bags became a thing of the past during the 17th century. Starting around the 16th century it was common for women to wear their purses on a hook with chains called a chatelaine, from which small utensils could be hung, these included keys, knife-cases, scissors and sewing tools.
These Chatelaines became a popular item back then and were often crafted from precious metals so they soon became recognised as a type of jewellery which in turn led to them becoming a symbol of status. This chatelaine evolved in design throughout the centuries, but it wasn’t until the 20th century which saw the beginning of the “handbag” which finally was to replace it. In the 17th and 18th centuries and most of the 19th century, the new designs in women’s clothing with the larger skirts allowed for hidden pockets of considerable size to be concealed beneath the skirt. These pockets were worn in pairs, one hanging from each hip – this style came to be known as “thigh pockets” and remained en vogue for the majority of 19th century.

Above examples of  the Chateleine


1800 – 1900 A.D.: A New Era
New Bags in the 18th century due to the Roman city of Pompeii being discovered lead to all ancient Greek and Roman things began to increase in popularity. This period was known as Classicism and immensely impacted on women’s fashion of the time: dresses took on a new straight design with high waistlines. Hence there was no longer room for the huge concealed thigh bags. The new style handbag called the “reticule” became their replacement, which was carried using the aid of a chord or chain. This was the first proper handbag as we know it today. This style of fashion handbag continued up until the early decades of the 19th century. Reticules were popular as they could be handmade from all kinds of fabrics, most of the time by the same women who used them.

Queen Elizabeth I pictured holding a Reticule


In the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, saw the start of many new manufacturing methods and techniques. New papier-mâché, iron and polished steel were now contributing to the production of handbags and bags.

An example of a papier-mache bag – covered in silk


This made way for new kinds of bags such as new bag designs for the modern traveler, which would make their journey easier by boat or train of carriage.

Victorian Lady with LEATHER TRAVEL-BAG

Designs for hand luggage to be used for new rail travel and became the first template designs of our modern day handbags; hand carry bags which would make ease travel, and also of use when shopping or visiting friends and relatives.



1900 A.D.: Handbags of Today
In the 20th century, with the coming and going of many different art and fashion movements the handbag evolved also alongside. However, the most influential factor in the shaping of the handbag was the changes in lifestyle, with most women now out at work, and a lot more mobile than before, handbags were now being designed both in variety and necessity. Unique changes i.e. specific workbags for going to the office, leather document cases, leather and plastic everyday bags for daily outings,for traveling and dressy and elegant, eye-catching sparkly bags and minaudières (clutches made with metal) fashion accessories for evenings and parties .


A modern day version of a MINAUDIERE



Also in the 20th century branding became more popular which gave birth to some of our most famous designers.




This made them well known to the world, for exclusive handbags designs and leather ware products. These included famous names such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermès and Prada. For fashion designers such as Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Donna Karan and Dolce & Gabbana, the handbag is now their biggest accessory. Where as in the past centuries the handbag rarely changed in appearance, today it is changing and evolving, as now they are producing a new handbag for every season.

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