Handmade bags to designer purses – a colorful history

Handmade Bags to Designer Purses – A Colorful History

From hunters and gatherers to divas and fashionistas, handbags and purses have played a colorful role throughout history. As society has evolved, culturally and technologically, so has the bag. The bag has evolved from its early form as a practical carrier of berries, flint and other provisional materials to a major player in the modern-day culture of designer fashion.

The first bag was most likely animal skins sewn together by animal skin lacing. Nothing fancy, nothing cherished, nothing designer about it. Just a practical container for flint, food and a tool or two. These bag owners were hunters or gatherers. Like any survival tool, bags were functional objects whose sole purpose was for provisional storage. These bags, more like pouches, were held together by a drawstring and fastened around the waist of the wearer. They had to be strong, secure and comfortable to carry. Style and grace were not considerations in the making of these bags.

Up until the mid-nineteenth century, women’s bags were tiny mesh embroidered bags with a drawstring closure. They wore these purses around their waists and hips, particularly on the lavish girdles fashionable for women at the time. These purses were too small to carry much of anything, and husbands had to carry around their wives’ fans, perfume, makeup and whatever else was too large for the tiny purse. Furthermore, these tiny mesh embroidered bags revealed the woman’s contents inside, offering her no privacy at all.

At the time it was believed that only lower classes such as hard laborers and peasants carried shoulder bags held alongside their person. It was not until the 1860′s that the first real leather handbag was introduced. These handbags resembled small suitcases for traveling, with an exterior lock, key and ample space for personal belongings. For the first time in history women could carry around their own personal belongings with privacy. They no longer had to ask their husbands for their cigarettes, lighters, makeup, money, keys, hair clips and whatever else they carried out of the house. A woman could now conceal her own private little world in her handbag. A woman’s handbag soon became a portable home away from home; a secure compartment to house her personal items on the road.

From very humble beginnings, handmade bags evolved into a decorative work of art. Animal skins, plant fibers and synthetic materials are now processed into every size, shape, color and texture imaginable. Beads, stones, gems and precious metals are used as embellishments and lavish ornaments of design. Women today have closets full of bags, purses, handbags and clutches for every occasion. Long gone is the one-for-all handmade bag of the primitive past. Women have a day bag to take to the office, an exercise bag for the gym, a weekend bag for a getaway, a beach bag for summer, a basket purse for spring and, of course, a sexy little purse or two for evenings out.

Whatever the occasion, whatever the contents in need of carrying, a woman’s bag is a private, secret space all her own.

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