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Women Handbags of 1900 to 1960s

Updated on November 21, 2017
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.

Women's handbags have come a long way from being mere straw sacks required for lugging things from one place to the other, to becoming a fashion item that every woman feels incomplete without.

Early Fashion Handbags

Far back in time, all handbags were made from common materials found within each locality like animal hide, plants twine, and rough textiles. To close them up required fastening with drawstrings, leather, or ropes also made from same materials.

By the late 1800s to the early 1900s women became more fashion conscious and purses and handbags adorned with delicately embroidered or stitched artwork, were held to complete a woman’s ensemble.

They became more versatile and complex and were made to hold items like pill boxes, rouge, smelling salts, scent, visiting cards, and probably a few coins. Soon, handbags like the reticule became a trendy fashion accessory among woman of the early part of the 20th century.


Bags and Purses of the 20th Century


Design innovations for 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 with things like compartments, clasps and locks 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.

Petit point handbags were popular. They are lovely but labour intensive and take a while to make. Many may look at them as old-lady bags the value and beauty of these works of art are certain. They are quite scenic, having different needlework art on either side, and many of their designs tells a story

Petit Point Edwardian Women's Bag
Petit Point Edwardian Women's Bag | Source


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 are probably the most striking handbags of the 1920s. 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 Handbags
1920s Ladies Handbags | Source


Funbags 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.

Thirties Women Bags
Thirties Women Bags | 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?


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 beautiful and popular Lucite bags and purses.

And 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.

1940s Lucite Handbags
1940s Lucite Handbags


By the 1950s, ladies handbags had a wide range of design while material options became vast. From straw and raffia to suede, Bakelite, animal skin and mother-of-pearl, many of the bag designs were quite 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, used by clients and Chanel fashion enthusiasts.

The fifties 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 50s bags include Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Christian Dior, Fendi, and Prada.

Vintage Handbags of the Fifties
Vintage Handbags of the Fifties


This was 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.

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 sixties
Vintage handbags of the sixties | Source

What's decade holds your favourite styles of 20th-century vintage handbags

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© 2009 viryabo

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    • MaggieMaye profile image

      MaggieMaye 4 years ago

      thanks for informative article..i love vintage handbags

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 6 years ago

      Thank you HomerMCho.

    • HomerMCho profile image

      HomerMCho 6 years ago

      Impressive hub!

    • profile image

      Selinenak 6 years ago

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

    • viryabo profile image

      viryabo 7 years ago

      Thanks mysisters, and thanks for visiting.


    • mysisters profile image

      mysisters 7 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Sue McD. 7 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 image

      viryabo 8 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.


    • GPAGE profile image

      GPAGE 8 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 8 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.


    • keira7 profile image

      keira7 8 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:)