A History of Vintage Handbags and Purses

Many modern women couldn’t imagine living without their favorite purse or handbag. Today’s purses are large and expansive to keep up with our busy lives and offer enough room to carry laptops, tablets, and smartphones that keep growing in size. While women throughout history carried purses, in many ways there were much more streamed and stylish that our current obsession with carryalls.

Victorian Reticules

Women didn’t start truly carrying purses until the late 1800s. Popular during this period was the Reticule – a small, pouch-like bag that often featured drawstring closure and a delicate design. Many of these purses were manufactured from fine fabrics like satins, silks, or velvets, and featured detailed embroidery or beading that turned them into stylish accessories with tapestry-like exteriors.

1920s Dance Purses

The small, thin purses of the 1920s were called Dance Purses, as they were the perfect way to hold necessities while women danced The Charleston until dawn. Inspired by Egyptian influence that dominated this decade’s fashion trends, purses during the 1920s were made of a woven mesh that featured fabulous Art Deco designs and beading for added movement. These stylish bags typically had a metal clasp closure and a dainty chain strap.

1940s Shell Purses

During the 1940s, purses began growing in size due to the number of items women needed to carry when they they travelled outside of the home. It was during this era that the purse became considered an important fashion accessory, which meant more attention went into their design. While there were various styles that were popular during this era, the Shell Purse was one of the most unique and iconic. These bags had a larger bottom with a tapered top, and featured fabric that gathered on the exterior to mimic the look of a seashell.

1950s Designer Bags

The 1950s was when the handbag started to become a status symbol. As women’s lifestyles became more active, they needed larger bags to accommodate their various accessories. Celebrities like Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy brought attention to designer handbags from Hermes, Chanel, and Gucci, giving birth to some of the most iconic purses in history. It was during this time that women strictly adhered to the idea that a handbag should always be the same color as your heels. While now an outdated fashion rule, it shows that during this era, your handbag greatly impacted your overall style.