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Women’s Vintage Handbags: 1900 to the 1960s Ladies Bags and Purses

Updated on May 13, 2019
viryabo profile image

Vintage fashion is my hobby because I am fashion conscious and try to be unique. My personal signature? Wearing vintage-inspired apparel.

Fifty years of women's handbags and purses.
Fifty years of women's handbags and purses.

If you, like many of us, are passionate about antique and vintage handbags, you will have to agree that the handbags women carried over a century ago are perhaps some of the best ladies’ bags ever produced.

Modern bags are fabulous and many with their sleek clean lines are some women’s dream. However, the bags of the first half of the twentieth century were pieces of fashion art that are still reproduced today in the 21st century.

When it comes to vintage bags, there's a lot to know and look out for. About 100 years ago, most bags were handmade. They had intricate details and were majorly hand embroidered and heavily ornamented.

The earliest fashion handbags emerged in the mid to late 1800s, at a time when bags were more carrying bags than a fashion item. Women began to hold reticules and small purses to hold a couple of make-up items, a handkerchief, and some smelling salts.

By the early 1900s, women became more fashion conscious, their handbags became more versatile and complex and were made to hold more items like pill boxes, rouge, smelling salts, scent, visiting cards, and a few coins. They soon became a trendy fashion accessory by the early 20th century.

Women’s Handbags of the 1900 to 1910

Design innovations of carrying bags started at this time with the term "carrying bags" used extensively to describe what we now call handbags today. Carrying bags soon had functional features added to them. They had compartments, clasps, and locks, and these features were added to most of the stylish ones.

At this time unlike during the Victorian era, women's carrying bags were no longer made to match their outfits.

The handmade petit point handbags were popular at the turn of the century. They had scenic themes made by needlework and each side of the handbag had a different story in its design.

Petit Point Edwardian handbags were handmade with needlepoint application of scenic designs, each side with a different story to tell.
Petit Point Edwardian handbags were handmade with needlepoint application of scenic designs, each side with a different story to tell. | Source

1920s Vintage Handbags

This is the famous flapper era when women became even more fashion-conscious than their predecessors. Handbags, clutch bags, and purses embossed or embellished intricately with pretty beads and other ornamentations are probably the most striking handbags of the twenties. There was a wide influence of the Art Deco movement at the time, which also had a great impact on fashion and its accessories.

Some other beautiful handbags of the twenties include embroidered bags and purses, reticules, embossed hand-tooled bags, and mesh bags.

1920s ladies hand bags were flirty, feminine, and many times ornamented.
1920s ladies hand bags were flirty, feminine, and many times ornamented.

1930s Women Vintage Bags

Fun handbags (fun bags) evolved in the thirties. They were colourful and pretty and came in forms of wooden box purses or as bucket bags with decorative features. They were novel in shape and sculpture and always well-made with leather trims, hand painted areas, mirrors, beading, and crystals all set in great themes of flowers, birds or other scenic images of nature.

While daytime handbags were heavily embroidered, evening bags of the thirties were elaborately beaded, embroidered or woven in metal mesh to match the elegance of a woman’s evening wear.

The vintage-inspired handbags of today have a great feel of the designs and motifs of this era, with many designs having embroidered motifs and symbols of the time.

Women's handbags of the 1930s. The vintage-inspired handbags of today have a great feel of the designs and motifs of this era.
Women's handbags of the 1930s. The vintage-inspired handbags of today have a great feel of the designs and motifs of this era. | Source

Vintage Fashion Quiz

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

Women's Handbags of the 1940s

The Second World War brought on austere times for most of the people and its effect also impacted women’s fashion. Handbags were made mainly from wood or plastic because metals were necessary and strategic materials and were never to be wasted on frivolities. However, by the late 1940s, DuPont developed plastics, an affordable and readily available material which heralded the creation of the beautiful and popular Lucite bags and purses.

As the use of plastics became popular in the post-war era, it began to play a major part in the mid-19th century decorating and embellishing that swept the fashion and style world. Designers used creative methods to tint and colour clear Lucite bag, making manufacturers begin a fierce competition to produce stylish, chic and even outrageous designs of handbags.

Many of the styles had generous embellishing of sparkling rhinestones, came in whimsical shapes like pagodas, bird cages, and beehives, and were wildly popular with the silver screen movie stars, elites, socialites, and highly paid prostitutes. Soon, it became a trendy fashion accessory and its production skyrocketed, which in turn made them more affordable, especially when lower quality imitations become available.

Vintage-inspired reproductions of the 1940s Lucite handbags made mainly from wood or plastic materials.
Vintage-inspired reproductions of the 1940s Lucite handbags made mainly from wood or plastic materials. | Source

1950s Ladies Handbags

By the 1950s, ladies’ handbags had a wide range of designs while material options became vast. From straw and raffia to suede, Bakelite, animal skin and mother-of-pearl, many of the bag designs of the fifties were exquisite and well-made, even by today's standards.

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 a beautifully hand stitched bag made from the best quality calfskin, crocodile skin, lizard skin, or ostrich skin, and the popular Chanel handbags were quilted designs first conceived in February 1955 and used by clients and Chanel fashion enthusiasts.

The 50s brought on an obsession for the ‘logo bags’ which resulted in the production of both fake and authentic Chanel bags. With its chain-twisted sling and diamond quilted finish, its shoulder bags soon flooded the fashion market. It is one of the few vintage handbags still reproduced today. Other popular designers of vintage handbags include Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Christian Dior, Fendi, and Prada.

Many of the 50s ladies' bag designs have been reproduced today and still look as fabulous as they did back in the fifties.
Many of the 50s ladies' bag designs have been reproduced today and still look as fabulous as they did back in the fifties.

1960s Women's Fashion Bags

This was the period described as the swinging sixties, a fashion era when the desire for personal freedom was a new movement. The handbag was no longer a ‘branded appendage’ but rather became a matter of personal choice. By the beginning of the decade when style became personified by Jackie Kennedy, the classical handbag made with fine tailoring and high-quality workmanship became the trend with the more mature woman.

Meanwhile, with the rise of the youth culture, the rules of ‘correct’ dressing became more relaxed and designs soon took a decidedly free form, with large unstructured youthful pieces emerging, and handmade purses becoming the new haute couture. It was a time when individualism was at its peak of popularity.

Long narrow clutch bags were the earlier purse styles, then came the dainty shoulder bags with long chains (or straps), fabric shoulder bags, large satchels, patchwork Afghan bags, telephone purses, and double kiss-lock handbags. These and more began to dominate the handbags fashion scene which was in stark contrast to the 1950s women’s bag designs. Materials used include wicker, patent leather, raffia, fabric, and animal skin.

Vintage handbags of the swinging sixties. This was an era when personal freedom was the new movement. Handbags was no longer branded fashion appendage, but rather became a matter of personal choice among fashionable women.
Vintage handbags of the swinging sixties. This was an era when personal freedom was the new movement. Handbags was no longer branded fashion appendage, but rather became a matter of personal choice among fashionable women. | Source

60 Years of Women's Vintage Handbags

What's your favourite decade?

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© 2009 viryabo

Comments are Welcome

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    • MaggieMaye profile image

      MaggieMaye 

      6 years ago

      thanks for informative article..i love vintage handbags

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR

      viryabo 

      8 years ago

      Thank you HomerMCho.

    • HomerMCho profile image

      HomerMCho 

      8 years ago

      Impressive hub!

    • profile image

      Selinenak 

      8 years ago

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

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR

      viryabo 

      8 years ago

      Thanks mysisters, and thanks for visiting.

      Cheers

    • mysisters profile image

      mysisters 

      8 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Sue McD. 

      9 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?

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR

      viryabo 

      9 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.

      Cheers

    • GPAGE profile image

      GPAGE 

      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      viryabo 

      9 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.

      GodBless.

    • keira7 profile image

      keira7 

      9 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:)

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