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The History and Evolution of Purses and Handbags

Even though the handbag is the essential element of every woman's wardrobe, because of its fashionable and functional design it is one of the most common accessories for both women and men - and have been for as long as mankind can remember.


The bag has been historically referred to pouches used for carrying seeds, religious items and medicine for centuries. When men and women traveled even on short trips, they needed something to carry their belongings with them. Not until the 15th century, does more modern day artifacts exist that shows the utilitarian and decorative aspects of the pouches. Back then the purses (typically embroidered with illustrations of a love stories) were traditional gift from grooms to their brides.


During the 16th and 17th century, skirts expanded to enormous proportions. Rather than the pouches that were easily lost in the large amounts of fabric, women started to wear their pouches under their skirts, and men began to wear bagges (pockets made of leather), usually filled with lavender, herbs or sweet smelling material.


After the French Revolution, the women’s full skirts became less popular and more slender dresses emerged, leaving no room beneath for pockets. Purses became popular again, this time in a form of embroidered, often silk drawstring bags called reticules.

Developments in science and industry during the the Industrial Revolution brought a variety of fabrics and changed bag styles from the classic drawstring to a popular flat style. The bags during this era were marked with the date and their own initials and were often heavily decorated with beading and needlework. There were smaller versions as well, and they’ve been used as coin purses which including a metal fastener.

By the early 20th century handbags became much more than just hand-held luggage. Working women who now started to be gone from home for longer periods of time could choose from different models including larger handbags and purses.


The Art Deco period brought new industrial materials, such as plastic and zippers, which reflected the handbags that were created back then. By the 30s, most of the bags that we use today had been invented, including the classic handbag with handles and a clasp frame, the satchel, the clutch and the shoulder bag.


The World War II made changes to the smooth contours of the previous decade and introduced larger and more practical military style bags. During the post war economic boom major designers such as Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior emerged to transform the classic handbag into a cult status.


Nowadays, compared to the past centuries when a certain design could remain unchanged for many decades, the handbags have developed into a fashion accessory that is changing with every season and is worn by both women and men.

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