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Our research began with the oldest known pouch to be found on the frozen Iceman named Otzi, who lived around 3,300 BC. So clearly bags and satchels have been essential since the dawn of ages. After scouring the internet and reading about who designed the first bag, our research took us back a few centuries as well as to other continents. We found way too much info to share with all of you in a short blog, but the history of women’s handbags is really quite interesting.
Without getting too historical or excited about sharing interesting anecdotes about the birth of the handbag, we focused on Western Civilization starting with Europe. Bags displayed outwardly on the body were only worn by men. In addition to this practical necessity, men’s clothing was also outfitted with pockets. Okay not particularly interesting, but what became more interesting is that women’s handbags did not yet exist at that time and their garments had no pockets! This fashion trend seemed to mainly apply to women of prominence. For an upper-class woman to be seen carrying anything other than perhaps a decorative fan or umbrella, was considered vulgar and un-lady like. While there is not a lot of info on this, we’re pretty sure that the working-class women were shlepping satchels around!
Since women’s garments did not have pockets they clearly had to improvise. Small pouch-like bags were attached to ribbons and tied around their waists and only worn UNDER their skirts, never in full view. These small bags were actually considered to be an undergarment. As the style of women’s clothing evolved to become much more form fitting, these pouches only created bulk, were not flattering, and therefore were quite problematic. Let us stop here for a moment. Can you image being restricted like this? We think they must not have been out and about as much as the of women today are. So, women began to wear their “unsightly” pouches outside of their clothing. But this practice was very short lived because these pouches were still considered to be undergarments.
As a result, a more fashionable approach to wearing small pouches evolved. The first socially acceptable woman’s bags to be worn outside of their clothing were called a “Reticule”. These bags were quite delicate and highly decorative. Many were the handiwork of the women who wore them. Originally, they were loosely knitted pouches, but over time they progressed into finely beaded designs. By the beginning of the 20th century the demand for a more practical and durable handbag practically exploded. Another win for women!
And so, it began. In 1854, Louis Vuitton, a luggage maker, was one of the first to design a women’s handbag. Vuitton got his inspiration from a suitcase and turned it into a small, sleek and structured bag. His handbag used sturdy handles, snap closures and had interior pockets. The snap closure provided women with some privacy for their personal belongings and gave them a feeling of independence. Wow, really?
So historically the purse really is symbolic of equality and independence for women. We’ve come a long way baby. In today’s world, the bags women choose to wear can represent creative expression and even status. Oh, the things we take for granted, hmm…
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