Alongside clothes – and right beside shoes – handbags rank right up at the forefront of women’s fashion. Captured on the red carpet at Hollywood events – and emulated by the masses – the modern handbag holds enormous credibility in the fashion world; so admired and respected that women will pay high prices to get the bag of their dreams from a bevy of popular designers. The glamorous position of handbags in today’s society, however, is a far cry from its humble beginnings.
Handbags can be traced back to as early as the 14th century when users attached pouches – made from a variety of materials – to girdles that were circled around the waist. Even at this time, handbags were reflective of status – the more wealthy owners bejeweled their pouches with stones and decorative stitches. The pouches became sturdier with the use of leather in the 16th century; and drawstring tops allowed users to carry a variety of materials inside. Fashion took over in the 17th century as handbags were once again decorated with stitch work.
Women really began carrying handbags – as opposed to wearing them around their waist or across their bodies – in the 18th century. Such handbags were designed to go with particular outfits and, subsequently, women owned a variety of handbags to suit particular events. Handbags – in this fashionable state – were now being used to carry “luxury” items such as face powder and calling cards.
Handbags found their name in the 1900s and began incorporating more complex looks and a variety of fasteners into their designs. The modern handbag has continued to evolve in this manner – design, material, and functionality changing to meet the changing needs of consumers. But today, well-known designers – such as Chanel, Kate Spade, Prada, and Dior – have made handbags synonymous with style and sophistication.
As a stunning accessory or a functional tote in which to hold essential times, handbags have certainly reached a pinnacle of popularity in our culture. And chances are, as the fashion industry continues to evolve and produce beautiful designs reflective of the women who demand them, handbags will continue to go along for the ride.