Frog purse

Six Fascinating Facts About the History of Handbags

Handbags in one form or another go very, very far back in history. According to Insider, “handbag images date back at least 11,000 years, which means they’re older than Stonehenge. Imagine that!

Did you know? According to the Women’s Museum of California, before handbags were invented, women carried what they needed in – wait for it – pockets. Yes, pockets! However, these weren’t pockets as we think of them today (and wish we had on every single article of clothing we wear).

1. Pocket – Garments?

Waaaay back when, women’s pockets were a separate piece of clothing (men’s pockets, even then, were part of the same garment). The original piece of women’s clothing was a garment tied around her waist under her skirts. And because hundreds of years ago, women’s skirts were generally voluminous, this made it easy to hide the “pocket undergarment.”

By the end of the 1700s, however, high-waisted gowns came into fashion, and with them the need to dispense with the “pocket garment.” Enter the handbag, or purse, designed for women to carry.

 2. From a Man’s Purse to a Woman’s Accessory

The original “handbag” was an accessory carried by – wait for it, again – men. But the first handbag wasn’t really a handbag – it was more of a “oh my, I need a way to carry my tools” in ancient times.

According to Fast Company, this began to change in the Middle Ages, when bags began to gain favor as a “form of self-expression.”

3. Bags as Self-Expression

 Speaking of self-expression, have you heard of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford? According to their website, “The Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology, founded in 1683. Our world famous collections range from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art, telling human stories across cultures and across time.”

It’s a fascinating site, and the source of the frog purse image above. According to their Facebook page, this bag was used in 17th century England and likely was used to carry herbs or perfume sachets. The sachets helped to ward off some of the malodorous cents which abounded in the 16th and 17th centuries. Speaking of which, maybe it’s time we go back to carrying “sweet bags,” as these were known.

4. When Did Bags Become Status Symbols?

Insider claims that bags as designer status symbols didn’t come into fashion until the 1950s, but after seeing that frog purse, we’d tend to disagree.

5. The Miser Purse

Feeling the need to, um, curb your spending a little bit? Allow us to suggest the “Miser Purse,” so named because it had a small opening which made it hard to access. This, the thinking went, made it less likely that you’d spend any money.

You can learn more about and see an image of the Miser Purse, which dates to the mid-1800s, at the National Museum of American History.

6. From the Late 1960s to Now: The Most Popular Handbags by Year

If you want to have some fun, check out Cosmopolitan’s fun “The Handbag Everyone Was Obsessed with The Year You Were Born.” From 1969 through 2022 (bright colors, anyone? Yes please!), it’s a fun look through the past few decades of handbag fashion.

Check Out Our “Watercolors” Bags

After that fun trip down Memory Lane, check out our Watercolors line, our very first design. And stay tuned for more to come!


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