The History of Designer Handbags

The original precursor of today’s modern handbag likely dates all the way back to the earliest hunter-gatherer cultures. These primitive pouches would’ve been used by our ancient ancestors to carry the tools they needed, the items they collected, or some combination of both. At the fundamental level of practical utility, not a lot has changed since then: our handbags hold our stuff. What has drastically evolved are style and appearance. No longer do many even fathom the notion of wearing a homemade sack to lug around day-to-day necessities. Because while still used as an extension of ourselves, designer handbags now provide us an expression of ourselves as well. In the following, we’ll trace these expressions, showing how we’ve grown from cow-skin to Christian Dior.

Although artifacts and other evidence indicates prehistoric human use of handbag-type purses, they weren’t something people considered all too much for a few dozen centuries. In fact, the first mention in writing of a purse doesn’t occur until about the 14th century, when medieval girdle pouches were apparently all the rage. More of a fanny-pack than a handbag, girdle pouches were made of sturdy yet smooth fabrics, attached to belts, and functioned essentially as a pants pocket. A far-cry from modern designer handbags to say the least, girdle pouches had little intention of being easy on the eyes. Instead, exactly as with a fanny-pack, it was all about function and definitely not form.

During the Renaissance in the 16th century, people started paying attention to handbags as a style accessory. Drawstring pouches were often designed in a variety of shapes and sizes often with impressive patterned embroidery. As items of both function and fashion, these drawstring bags initiated an accelerated evolution in handbag designs, with the next major innovations occurring sometime around the Victorian Era.

These were reticules, fashionable ladies purses of the 18th century and perhaps the very first instance of popular designer handbags. Generally worn around the wrist, reticules were the choice accessory for distinguished women. Improvements in the model over the next century eventually brought about chatelaines and opera bags, both of which were worn over the shoulder with straps and clasped shut at the top. Progressing ever faster, by the dawn of the 20th century the evolution of designer handbags was fast approaching its pinnacle.

By the 1950s, the industry for designer handbags was booming. Hermes, although founded in 1837 as a producer of horse saddles and harnesses, was now selling the most expensive handbag in history, the price running as high as $150,000. Similarly Vuitton, which had existed for the better part of a century as a luggage company, became an iconic brand. Channel, Coach and Christian Dior also rose to their current level of prominence during this time, quickly followed by others such as Gucci, Kate Spade and Prada. You can very safely say the modern era of designer handbags, spanning the end of the 1940s until present day, has been the golden age of the industry. And the success proves transcendent: We now even have the fashion phenomena known as the man purse.

If you’re interested in designer handbags, or are in the market for one of your own, give us a call at Pinto Gold. We have a selection of brands and styles to help you leave your mark in fashion history. Humans have been accessorizing with handbags for centuries and we can help you get the look you want. There’s no better time to find the perfect handbag to fit you.

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