Estimated Time to Read: 3 minutes
There are some accessories, like ladies handbags, that will always remain popular and never go out of style. A handbag (or often colloquially called a purse) is not only stylish and a finishing touch to any ensemble, it is practical and useful. Handbags are simultaneously signifiers of power, status, and beauty and keepers of a lady’s deepest secrets. As the holders for all the important necessities of daily life, ladies handbags have been strongly influenced by technological, societal, and cultural changes. Modern currency, cosmetics, cigarettes, and cell phones are just a few inventions that have influences the design of handbags.
Early ladies handbags were more functional than fashionable and were most often targeted at men. Purses, pouches, or bags were made of leather or cloth and used mainly by men to carry coins and other valuable items. Even ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs show men wearing purses around their waists, and the Bible specifically mentions that Judas Iscariot wore a purse.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, both men and now women carried pouches attached to their girdles. Because pockets were not yet invented, wearers could also wear other valuables, such as a rosary or dagger, attached to a girdle. These drawstring bags were attached to the waist via a long cord, and, like today’s ladies handbags, particularly ornate bags were already becoming a way of identifying one’s social status. Later similar bags (called “swete bagges”) were filled with sweet-smelling materials, hung under a lady’s full skirts, and used as a type of deodorant in a time when personal hygiene was lacking.
Medieval purses were more than just practical, and were often associated with marriage and betrothal. A common wedding gift from the groom to the bride or from well-wishers to the happy newlyweds was a pouch embroidered with intricate love stories. Ladies handbags as we know them didn’t become more popular until the nineteenth century.
The Beginning of the Modern Handbag
Developments in science and industry during the Victorian era opened the door for a vast array of styles and fabrics that women could coordinate with the rest of their outfits. Though pockets had since been invented, women continued to carry ladies handbags and spend great lengths of time embroidering them to show off in public.
The Advent of the Railroad
The inception of the railroad and train travel in 1843 would lead to great changes in ladies handbags. Hand-held luggage had once again become a necessity for both genders, and now they needed to be bigger than ever before. Soon the term handbag was developed to describe these new hand-held luggage bags; in fact, many of today’s top names in designer handbags began their careers as luggage makers.
Hermes, a popular and high-end designer of ladies handbags, was founded by Theirry Hermes, a harness and saddle maker. Louis Vuitton, similarly, was a luggage packer for the socialites in Paris, and developed his designs into modern ladies handbags. Many of today’s handbags still harken to the days of early luggage making with pockets, locks, keys, frames, and buckles.
From the beginnings of coin purses to developing into rudimentary hand-held luggage to today’s wide variety of options, ladies handbags have certainly evolved over time. Today the most sought-after handbags are designed by well-known and high-end companies that often specialize in quality leather goods. Gucci, H.J. Cave & Sons, Marc Jacobs, and even Tiffany & Co. (the jewelry company most often associated with their robin’s egg blue boxes or Audrey Hepburn’s iconic movie role) produce the kinds of bags women will spends hundreds of dollars on.
But not everyone can afford those exorbitant prices. Luckily, there is the option of purchasing a designer-inspired ladies handbag from any number of online and brick-and-mortar retailer. Designer-inspired bags are not knock-offs; they are not pretending to be something they are not. Rather, they are designed to be just as trendy, just as beautiful, and just as coveted as the expensive name brands.
Ladies handbags, like anything else on this planet, have not remained stationary in its design or its function. Today they can span a wide range from casual and functional like a duffel bag or beautiful but slightly impractical like a small evening clutch. No matter what a lady prefers, though, it’s likely she carries a purse of some kind.
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