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History of the Handbag

The Bible on bags: Coin purses (the starting point of handbags) can trace their origins back to ancient times. Even Judas was said to have carried the purse.


In the late Middle Ages, both men and women could be seen sporting buckle bags, which hung from drawstrings around the waist, and often featured multiple pockets that could only be accessed by the wearer.


By the 16th century, men relied less on bags thanks to the invention of pockets, while women used drawstring pouches


In 1790, women began carrying decorative bags called reticules as slimmer, thinner dresses made pockets untenable. Reticules were most often carried by hand and renamed chaterlaines in 1830.


One hundred years later the minaudiere silhouette, an evening option, was introduced, attributed to Van Cleef & Arpels.


1922: Hermes debuted its first handbag. The ever-fashionable Birkin bag, named for Jane Birkin, debuted in 1984.


Beginning around World War I, envelope bags, or clutches, are introduced. This under-the-arm style provided an alternative to shoulder bags, which grew in popularity during the Second World War.


After World War II synthetic materials were used, with nylon and PVC featuring heavily.


1955: Chanel launched its ubiquitous 2.55 bag, featuring the label’s signature quiliting and gold chain.


In 1985, Miuccia Prada hooked the fashion faithful with a unisex black backpack made of nylon.



[Source: Tassen Museum, V&A Museum]


See also: The History of Shoes