The Evolution of Handbags – Then and Now

The handbag is arguably the most utilised, practical and loved accessory in fashion. It is viewed by many as an everyday essential. But they are also so much more than that. They are a collector’s item, an investment.

It is said that we are spending more than ever on handbags. In the US alone, the handbags category is said to be worth $12,025M in 2019. And this figure will continue to rise.

Here, we explore the evolution of the handbag and the key trends we have seen throughout the years.

The Birth of the Handbag

While bags have been around since the stone ages, when men wore them around their waist to carry their essentials, the modern handbag is said to have been born between the 17th and 18th century. Women were taught how to embroider and consequently, beautifully embellished handbags were born using cotton, linen and silk. Typically, these were tied up with drawstring and featured floral patterns with lavish tassel embellishments.

The Start of the Handbag Evolution

Thanks to the rise of the steam train, travel became increasingly popular during the industrial evolution. This is what kick-started the evolution of the handbag we know and love today. Small embroidered handbags were no longer efficient or practical, so craftsmen were called upon to create larger, more sturdy alternatives.

This led to rise of the iconic Louis Vuitton.

His career took off creating custom design boxes and trunks suitable for his travelling clients. The company later revolutionised the bags lock systems, creating the tumbler lock to protect goods from thieves.

1900s – The Rise of Handbag Fashion

A wider variety of fabrics became available across the market in the 1900s, leading to increased demand for the accessory. Handbags started to become more about fashion than function in the 20s, with clutch purses dominating the social scene. So how were the iconic bags we see today born?

The Shoulder Bag

In 1929, Coco Chanel changed the industry forever, introducing the first handbag with shoulder straps. This is said to have happened to improve practicality, as she found it easier to hang her bag from her shoulder.

The Lucite Bag

World War 2 saw the evolution of the Lucite bag. Made from tinted plastic, these bags became hugely popular due to the impact of the war on women’s fashion. They were created in a variety of shapes and styles, often embellished with rhinestones.

The Tote Bag

Tote bags were born in the 40s, taking off in the fashion industry thanks to their resilience, functionality and impeccable style. The tote is still hugely prevalent in the industry today, with influential designers such as Radley London still championing the style.

The Logo Bag

The 1950s brought a demand for logo bags, to show off expensive designer labels. Most notably, this included those of Prada, Christian Dior, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

So where does the handbag industry go from here? Will we see another wave of design inspiration in the coming years? Or are our style staples here to stay?