Handbags, not quite as we know them today, go back a long way. In 1500 BC, the Assyrians and Babylonians used richly embroidered bags for religious ceremonies; the ancient Persians had small pouches in which to carry their money; and the Egyptian hieroglyphs depict pouches carried around the waist. Handbags as we know them have been essential to fashion history since the 18th century when they were called reticules. Women had a different bag for every occasion. By the 1900 “handbags” were in use—by men—and soon women were using them.
By the 1920s though, a revolution in fashion had taken place and where once bags were always expected to match the costume they were worn with, they became a symbol of independence. With the 1950s came the rise of important well established designer houses such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes. The colorful 1960s saw a breakdown of the old notions of classical forms and tradition, and the subsequent rise of a youth culture has given our modern world a variety of design, material and decoration, bringing an extraordinary beauty and high status to this ever important fashion accessory.
Tessa Paul studied at the Michaelis School of Art, Cape Town University and has had a long career writing on art, crafts and fashion. Her articles on fashion have appeared in WomanÆs Journal and numerous other magazines. She has worked on reference collections, including an Antiques Road Show publication, producing articles on fashion collectible and retro accessories and has authored books on stained glass, decorative tiles, and style, among them Louis Comfort Tiffany, Tiles for A Beautiful Home, and series titles Shoes: The Ultimate Accessory and Handbags: The Essential Accessory.