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Vintage Hand Bags - 1900 to 1950

Updated on August 10, 2016

Pre-19th Century Hand Bags

Women's handbags have come a long way.

From the time of the straw sacks to the rough beaten leather shoulder bags of the natives, and the vintage hand bags of the 19th century women, they have been carried around by both men and women of all time.


Hundreds of years ago, handmade hand bags were made from common materials found within the people’s locality. They were made mostly of leather, plant materials, and textiles, and to have them closed required fastening with drawstrings, leather or ropes.

By the late 1800's and early 1900s as women became more fashion conscious, hand bags became more versatile, complex and a "must have". Vintage handmade bags like the reticule became a "trendy" accessory every woman must have.

The wealthier ladies had more than one and each reticule had its own purpose and was meant for a specific occasion. It held various personal items for the women of the day such as their rouge, a delicate hand fan, a bottle of scent, some visiting cards, and most definitely a small pot of smelling salts.

They were elaborately adorned with delicately embroidered or stitched artwork, and if you find one today, you've got a great vintage ladies bag.

A Day To Night Vintage Hand Bag
A Day To Night Vintage Hand Bag

Hand Bags of the 20th Century

You'll find that the most popular designs of vintage handbags today are those with bright and cheery themes ranging from cute poodles, birds facing each other, or happy Parisian street scenes with lovely summertime flowers.

There were fun bags that followed the theme of fun skirts. They were always well made, trimmed with leather, had prettily painted areas and attached mirrors, sequins and faux crystals.

Other designs include the wooden box purses and canvas bucket style bags with whimsical decorative themes.

1900 - 1920's "Carrying Bag"

Innovations of vintage designer bags started in the very early twentieth century, with the term "carrying bags" used extensively to describe what we now call hand bags.

These inspired the production of women's bags having more functional features and add-ons like fasteners, inner compartments, clasps and locks, and by this period, women's hand bags were no longer made to match their outfits.

The 1930's Vintage Hand Bag

Theses were the fun bags.

They were produced as pretty wooden box purses, or as bucket bags with decorative features.

The 1930s bags were always well made with leather trims, had painted areas, mirrors, sequins and crystals, set in beautifully breathtaking themes of lovely flowers, birds or other scenic images of nature.

The vintage inspired hand bags of today have a great feel of the designs and motifs of this glamorous bygone era, with many designs having embroidered motifs and symbols of the time.

You will find many of these designs of hand bag accentuates, including decorative needlework and embroidery in history books of women's fashion of the early fifties.

Lucite Handbags
Lucite Handbags

1940's Bags

The second world war brought on the 'hard times' for most of the people, and at this time, women's hand bags were made from wood or plastic, and because metals were necessary and strategic materials, they were never wasted on frivolities, like the production of purses or bags adornments.

However, in the late forties, DuPont developed the affordable and readily available material called plastic, and this heralded the creation of the beautiful and popular Lucite bag and purse.

As modern plastics became an important material of the post war era, it became very popular and played a major part in the mid-19th century decorating that swept the fashion and style world.

And with the discovery of creative methods to tint or colour the clear Lucite, hand bag and purse manufacturers began a fierce competition to produce stylish, chic and even outrageous designs of hand bags with a generous use of sparkling rhinestones, crazy shapes such as pagodas, bird cages and beehives.

At first, these bags were wildly popular with movie stars, socialites, and highly paid prostitutes, but as time went on, more and more of them were produced, and they started to become more affordable when lower quality imitations become more available.

Today, you can still find vintage Lucite purses in great condition. They are highly coveted by collectors, with some Lucite bags even selling for hundreds of dollars.

Lucite Purses - Vintage Inspired Purses and Handbags

Beautiful 20th Century Vintage Hand Bags

1950's Women's Handbag & Purses

Many passionate fashion accessory collectors love the 1950's hand bags.

At this time, there was a wide range of design and material options, and designs were created with materials such as:

  • Straw
  • Raffia
  • Embroidered canvas tapestry
  • Mother of pearl
  • High quality leather
  • Suede
  • Sequins and beads
  • Bakelite
  • Perspex or Lucite

Many vintage hand bag collectors absolutely love these 'era' bags, because the designs are very exquisite and well made by today's standards.

Plus the materials are durable and long lasting, so there's no need to worry about them warping or shrinking.

Vintage handbags of note include the Chanel quilted bag and the famous Kelly bags originally made for Grace Kelly by Hermès. The Kelly bag is beautifully hand stitched and made of the best quality calfskin, crocodile skin, lizard skin or ostrich skin.

The original design of this bag was based on the saddlebag design of the 1930s. If you have to order one of these today, there is a six month waiting list from Hermès!

The popular Chanel quilted vintage hand bag designs was 'conceived' in February 1955, with the bags quietly used by clients and Chanel fashion enthusiasts.

And with the 'logo obsession' of the second half of the 20th century, both fake and authentic chain-twisted Chanel diamond quilted shoulder bags flooded the fashion market. It is still one of the vintage inspired bags to be seen with today!

Other popular designers of vintage hand bags and vintage inspired women's bags include Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Christian Dior, Fendi, and Prada.

Vintage Fashion Quiz [with Images] . . . So, how much of a pro are you? How much do you know of vintage fashion and its history? How much do you know about some of the people behind those great trends?

© 2009 viryabo

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    • keira7 profile image

      keira7 7 years ago

      Hello my dear friend, actually I was tinking of you yesterday. I received my present from my husband and son. I was so happy. I need a new bag now. :) Quality hub again my friend. See you soon:)

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 7 years ago

      Glad you got your present keira. Now, i feel like shopping too. LOL!

      Thanks for coming over my friend and enjoy your jewelled straps. I'm sure they are really pretty on you.


    • GPAGE profile image

      GPAGE 7 years ago from California

      viryabo! I have an extensive collection of vintage hand bags. My favorite belonged to my grandmother....GREAT hub! Always like the pics you choose also. You have a good "eye." Best, GPAGE

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 7 years ago

      Hello GPage, how are you? Thanks for your visit. i have a vintage bag that i got from my mum, but the clasp is slack and i can't seem to get if fixed successfully. i still manage to use it though. You're so lucky to have a collection of vintage hand bags cos they are so rare.


    • profile image

      Sue McD. 6 years ago

      I have recently acquired a vintage evening bag or cocktail purse, and can't find any pictures of similar items; or find out anything, really. It is cylindrical, about the size of a soda can, with petite-point inserts, a beveled mirror inside the lid, a silk cord strap, in excellent condition. The markings on the zipper tell me it was made before i945 in Nurnberg, Germany. Any ideas on where I can go to learn more about this bag?

    • mysisters profile image

      mysisters 6 years ago

      Great Hub. These vintage bags are beautiful! I love the look of the Rosette handbags.

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 6 years ago

      Thanks mysisters, and thanks for visiting.


    • profile image

      Selinenak 5 years ago

      It's a great hubpage, and I'm still learning from it~

    • HomerMCho profile image

      HomerMCho 5 years ago

      Impressive hub!

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 5 years ago

      Thank you HomerMCho.

    • MaggieMaye profile image

      MaggieMaye 3 years ago

      thanks for informative article..i love vintage handbags

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