Bags are probably one of the most essential pieces we have in our life. Without them, we wouldn’t know where to keep most of our stuff, let alone take them with us. However, they weren’t always this way, and it took a few centuries before they eventually formed the designs that we now know and love today.
From 1500 to 1800, people were already adopting bags as a means to carry their stuff around. As people didn’t have pockets at the time, this was definitely a necessity in order to carry around their money and personal items. A key theme to the bags of this era, was that they were often worn attached to the belt or girdle, and were made from material such as leather, combined with long drawstrings. Antique bags tended to be rare, as they were made from perishable items. However, the introduction of pockets towards the end of the 16th century meant that bags soon became part of the women’s domain. Women began wearing them as a chatelaine (a hook with chains where you could attach items), before eventually evolving to the “thigh pockets” which were especially handy when putting the voluminous nature of women’s clothing into context.
In the 1800s to the 1900s, the Roman city, Pompeii was discovered, which made Roman and Greek influenced material incredibly popular. This is a movement called Classicism, which had a profound impact on women’s fashion: dresses became straight, and the waistline moved upwards. This spelled the end for thigh pockets, and marked the beginning of the reticulate (the first true handbag). At first, they were made by all kinds of fabric; nonetheless, when the Industrial Revolution came, they began experimenting with different designs involving polished steel and iron. Bags were also redesigned to fit an average traveller, as travelling became more inexpensive and affordable to everyone.
From the 1900s onwards, the handbag began undergoing a series of rapid changes. As art and culture movements came and went, the handbag was shaped and remodelled to fit the particular era based on their needs. As a result, a large variety of handbags were developed for particular needs, such as practical leather and plastic daytime bags for walking and visiting, leather bags for office use, and sparkly, elegant bags to be used for formal occasions.
The increased branding of handbags in this modern age led to the rise of famous handbag makers, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada. They contributed largely to the demands and growth of the fashion industry, and are also instrumental to the success of many other famous fashion names in the 20th century. Thus, due to the continued branding and selling of the handbag, it has now become a steadfast item in the world of fashion, subjected to seasonal changes and designs every season.
Bags have certainly come a long way since their early beginnings. Thanks to the continued evolution of our civilisation and redesigns, they have fitted our needs better whilst making our lives just that much simpler.