What's in the bag? A history of handbags.

As published in the Wagin Argus and The Williams newspapers

I am embracing, and enjoying, the use of handbags over nappybags. We are finally leaving an era tied to prams and wipes. The novelty of carrying a bag, with just a few things in it, has been one eagerly waited upon.

So, I thought it would be interesting to look at the history of the handbag, one of today’s major fashion accessories.

Handbags originated from the humble leather pouch, carrying a few coins on a strap worn around the waist. There are references in the Bible and in Egyptian hieroglyphs to men with purses. Sorry ladies, we were not the keeper of the valuables.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth century, pouches were attached to the girdle hanging off a long cord. A rosary or even a dagger, might sit alongside.  Women had begun to wear a purse, favouring more ornate drawstring styles.  

This continued through the seventeenth century where purses became more elaborate in beautiful fabrics and began to take on different shapes.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, there was a dramatic increase in types of materials, clasps and buckles that were available for women to create purses that coordinated with their outfits.

As train travel took over from horse carriages, people become more mobile. Hand held luggageHermes icon stylingsoon became known as “handbags” to describe its portability.  A number of today’s famous handbag designers developed their workmanship as luggage makers, such as Hermes and Loius Vuitton.

By the 1930’s, handbags had found most of their current shapes – handle and clasp, clutch, satchel and shoulder strap. Zippers and plastic fabric had been invented and found their way into their construction.

By the late 1970’s, anything went as dressing rules relaxed. Small bags on long chains, satchels with lots of buckles and zips, former army bags, fabric bags with embroidery and patchwork, to name a few.

Today, bags reflect this variety of options in style and material, while classic icon bags continue to demand their status place.

Do you have one or two trusty bags that are your go to stapels? Or, are you someone who likes to change your bag to suit the occasion or outfit?

Whichever you are, take a moment to be grateful for the heritage it represents.