Handbag variety

Like shoes, handbags and purses straddle the line between functional and decorative objects. Though many women (and some men) consider them necessary containers for objects such as keys or money, the sheer diversity of available styles demonstrates that handbags are also a design object in their own right. Until about 1800, when menswear became more sedate and less decorative, both men and women carried purses on a regular basis. From this point onward, men typically carried compact wallets or a very small pouch tucked in a sleeve or pocket. Women continued to carry decorative purses, creating an association between handbags and femininity.

Beaded purse
c. 1920
Gift of Penny Schnabel

Elaborately beaded handbags were popular in the early years of the 20th century. They were typically quite small, often with the type of kiss-lock closure seem in this FIDM Museum example. Beading could be extremely detailed, featuring images drawn from nature such as flowers or butterflies. Also popular were a category of beaded purses that featured nostalgic scenes inspired by stereotypical European castles or landscapes. No matter the appearance, beaded handbags were intended to carry only the bare essentials: lipstick and a bit of money.

S20048212-2S2004.821.2 detail

Handbags of the 1950s and 1960s often took a whimsical turn, as seen in this woven wicker dog-shaped handbag. Its head tilts forward to reveal the inside of the purse and the strap mimics a leash. Also popular in the 1950s were handbags made of see-through Lucite, which revealed the contents of your purse to all interested parties. Because it is so whimsical, this dog-shaped handbag might have been carried by a teenager or young girl, rather than an adult.

2003530Wicker purse
Museum Purchase

This black and white leather handbag showcases contrasting geometric shapes, which were seen frequently in early 1980s accessories. These shapes echo the angular silhouettes seen in both fashion and hairstyles of the decade. Contrasting color combinations, such as black and white or neon orange and pink, were widely popular.

2005542Geometric purse
Museum Purchase

For the woman who can’t be bothered to carry a separate handbag, Moschino created the all-in-one leather jacket seen below. Though not big enough to carry anything beyond the bare essentials, the attached pockets ensure that the wearer would never loose track of her keys, cash or lip balm. It also suggests some of the earliest types of “purses,” which were actually interior pockets or pouches worn next to the body.

Museum Purchase

2005533-3 2005.5.33 Pocket detail

6 responses to “Handbag variety

  1. Becky D says:

    Oh my!

    That would actually be a really cute jacket, if it weren’t for all those purses! How funny!

    And the dog? Oh boy!

    But the beaded bag? LOVE it! WANT it. Not sure I wouldn’t STEAL it.

    As usual, your blog is delightful.

  2. Shelley Monson says:

    Do you have any information about the designer of the dog purse? What is the provenance?

  3. Rachel says:

    Hi Shelley, the dog purse was a Museum purchase, so we know nothing about the provenance. Unfortunately, there’s no tag, so we also lack any knowledge about when/where it was manufactured. I’ll check with my colleagues in the Museum to see if anyone has any additional information about this type of novelty purse. If you have specific questions (or would just like to talk about the purse some more!) please feel free to contact me via email and I’ll do my best to help you out.

  4. Rachel says:

    Hi Becky,

    Thanks so much for your many kind comments about the blog! However, I would advise against stealing!! Wouldn’t want you to get in trouble…

  5. Becky D says:

    Haha! I was kidding, of course. Just meant that it’s beautiful…sigh.

  6. sweet beaded bag, i love it! hmmmm…makes me think of asking a friend to make one close to that handbag for me. The dog? if I can have that dog, I will display it and no kidos will be allowed to touch it! Get me that jacket please. That jacket is a treasure to me.Like it, like it but no purses please. A separate handmade purse I would love to have is a designer wrapper purse of Nahui Ollin or Naveh Milo. Their collections are great for women like me who really loves recycle handmade bags and purses.

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