Through the Decades: Women’s Handbags & Purses

This week we are focusing on the changes in styles of handbags and purses.


Handbags and purses go as far back as ancient times when they were seen in Egyptian hieroglyphics and in rural communities to carry various seeds.


Zoom to the Victorian era, and you find that purses become more detailed and unique in design due to improvement in technology for creating various fabrics. Purses were frequently embroidered and decorative belt hooks were worn to hold them.


In the early 1900s, the clutch or “pochette” was created. Leather shopping bags were being referred to as handbags at this time. Women also wore “Dorothy bags”, which were drawstring and decorated to match their outfits and most often hold their opera glasses and folding fans.


1920s, women continued to carry pochettes, and purses/handbags no longer needed to precisely coordinate their outfits. Discovery of King Tut’s tomb (1923) during this era led to embroidery and designs on purses representing Egyptian-inspired art.


By the 1930s the shoulder bag, satchel, and official clutch were established. Designs with plastic, zippers, and other industrial materials were emphasized due to the Art Deco movement.

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1940s and bags became bigger and more practical and frames were commonly made with plastic or wood and synthetic fabrics were used. More women were entering the workforce and, with it, a well functioning shoulder bag was in high demand.


In the 1950s, accessorizing outfits with fashionable handbags began trending. Popular design houses such as Hermes emerged. Small bags represented femininity.


By the 1960s and 1970s, individual expression became essential. With it, fabric shoulder bags and purses that were not mass-marketed became popular. A romantic and ethnic to bags of this “flower power” era became popular. Buckles and zippers were also common, as they represented strength of women during the feminist movement.


In the 1980s & ’90s, health and fitness was increasingly popular. In turn, sport bags and sporty styles became highly popular.

Now, bags come in various shapes and sizes and represent many of the styles of various decades. Stop by Most Everything Vintage today and see the many types of handbags, clutches, and purses available! Thanks for reading!


(All research from:

Categories: Features by SarahTags: , , , , , , ,

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