The Handbag Evolution

The Handbag Evolution

Posted on August 18 2017

Bags play a very important role in our daily lives all the time. Whether it be the school-bag from our school-days or the shopping bag for shopping, bags are crucial in one’s lives. With the fast pace of modern life, bags still maintain a key position in our lives and have become even more important.

Medieval Era

Small bags attached to the girdle could carry money, rosaries, scented oranges or prayer books. Women were especially attracted to ornate drawstring purses. For the wealthy, bags were used as gifts, gestures of courtship, and were often carefully decorated with romantic scenes. On the other hand, laborers also used simplistic bags to carry tools and necessities during their work.

Renaissance Era

During this era, bags became a fanciful element for aristocrats and royalty and were still utilized by both men and women. Also during this era, the concept of the “evening bag” became popular, which was a small bag used to carry gaming chips or other personal necessities for a night of festive frivolity and other social events.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

During this period, handbags started to evolve to become more gender specific. Because hanging bags were seen as more feminine, women often carried dangling bags from their wrists, while men maintained smaller bags secured to their waists.  

By the 19th century, handbags for women became an increasingly popular accessory, as well as an avenue for women to show off their artistic and needlework skills. Furthermore, the advent of the railroad led to an entirely new line of accessories for small luggage, and this era saw the generation of still-popular brands Hermes and Louis Vuitton.

Early Twentieth Century

From traditional purses to leather shoulder bags, to a handheld clutch, this was a time in which bags truly became one of the most versatile accessories available. The art deco trends of the 1930’s saw the rise of the classic, iconic image of a handbag, with the dual-handles and clasp frame, often utilizing the latest in modern materials. However, the dawn of World War II saw bags become larger and more utilitarian, often with an undercurrent of military influence- the bags demonstrated the need for self-sufficient practicality as well as the restricted availability of materials due to the war efforts.

Late Twentieth Century Fashion Revolution

The post-war economic boom brought handbags into the forefront of high-fashion. During this time, handbags became the ultimate accessory, and women often owned many so that they could coordinate with every outfit or occasion.  The 1950’s was a time that focused on beauty and sophistication, and the handbags of this period perfectly reflected the style trends. With the outrageous fashion rebellions of the 1980’s and 1990’s, bags not only became “anything goes,” but they also demonstrated the genesis of what would later become a diverse landscape of personal accessories that evolve for both style and usage.

Bags Today

The new millennium, as well as the technological revolutions that continue daily, has ensured that both men and women utilize bags in a variety of ways. Our lives have become the most mobile of any other time in history, and we are now required to carry a plethora of materials and devices just to get through our day-to-day lives. From briefcases and messenger bags, to purses and laptop bags, these personal accessories are as diverse and customizable as are their carriers.

Kate Spade

Yves Saint Laurent




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