…a Brief History…

hermes barenia
A few things you may not know about handbags.

  • Up until the 17th century clothing didn’t even have pockets, so men carried handbags for their belongings they needed throughout their day.
  • In the not too distant past young girls were taught embroidery and knitting necessary skills for marriage one of the things with that skill was used for was creating handbags. During these times handbags were referred to as purses rather than handbags.
  • An example could be seen with the Scottish Sporren young girls in Scotland were taught embroidery as being a necessary skill for marriage Which in turn enabled them to create very beautiful purses and handbags.
  • In fact from the 14th to the 17th century handbags were either referred to as purses or a hanging bag or a reticule. These bags served all the purposes handbags serve today and were also made of very beautiful fabrics and other materials. In some cases perishable items as well. These hanging bags were often worn on a small chain no utensils could be attached such as a knife scissors sewing tools and keys.

Our Great Grandmother’s & Grandfather’s Purses and Handbags

Up until the 19th century womens’ clothing was so bulky that more than one bag or hanging pocket could easily be hidden underneath skirts on a dress. These pockets are usually worn on the thigh or hanging from the hip. It’s believe that this is where the side pockets on the pants that we know of today came into being.

During the 19th century womens clothing slimmed down and dresses became straight and higher. This fashion trend didn’t leave room for any pockets under multiple layers of skirt fabric. At this point this is where you started to see the precursors of today’s handbags come into being replacing the previous reticules.

These bags are also known as carrier bags. Often used for travel for longer distances. Smaller carrier bags were used for everyday shopping visiting friends and family and business.

20th Century Fashion & The Handbag

With the rise of high fashion in the early 20th century where art and fashion joined the handbag also evolved as a fashionable item that served the purpose of carrying belongings.

The great handbag designers at the 20th century emerge from the design houses we know today including or Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada. For other designers that came later such as Christian Dior, Yves Saint Lauren, Versace and others which came into being in the later part of the 20th century The handbag was just as much of a fashion item any piece of clothing.

The Future of the Handbag

As we move through the technology age fashion designers are wondering about the impact that our smartphones will have on handbags.

Will technology allow us to consolidate the belongings that we carry with us and reduce our need for handbags? Will high fashion continue to shape the handbags we use?

Or Will the contents of our handbags change As they always have throughout history. We will see.

Image & Reference Credits

The Met Fashion – French Reticule

Hermes Handbag

1997 Kelly Bag



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