Handbag History – 1800’s-1900’s

Women’s fashion underwent something of a renaissance in the 1700’s, after the Roman city of Pompeii was discovered and a trend for all things Roman and Greek became an obsession. Dresses took on a slim Classical line, and handbags could no longer be worn under the skirts. The first true women’s handbag was the reticule, and it was carried on a chain or cord.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, handbags were coordinated with clothing, and many women embroidered their own fabric purses.


In the 1800’s, with the Industrial Revolution, new materials were invented and new techniques for manufacturing were born. Bags were made from everything from papier-mâché to polished steel and even iron. Travelling by boat and rail became very common, and hand luggage was used for travel as well as shopping and other outings. Many of today’s iconic handbag brands began as luggage makers. Hermes, as an example, was founded in 1837 by a saddle and harness maker. Louis Vuitton was a Parisian luggage packer.

During the 1900’s, art and fashion blended and handbags became more of a practical item. They were created for specific purposes: leather cases for going to work; plastic or leather bags for daytime outings; and elegant embellished bags and clutches for evening use.

The discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 triggered an obsession with all things Egyptian, and exotic motifs were added to handbags.


In the 1930’s, handbags reflected Art Deco styling of the time, and plastic and zippers were added to these accessories. Shoulder bags were born in the 1940’s, reflecting a square, practical military aesthetic, and frames were made of wood with synthetic materials for the body of the bag. The shoulder bag was popular throughout WWII and then disappeared until the 1970’s.

The 1900’s was also when branding became important and iconic handbag designers such as Hermes, Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton came to the fore. This was predominant in the 1950’s and tiny handbags were a sign of femininity.

Youth culture in the 1960’s and 1970’s saw narrow clutches, dainty shoulder bags, bohemian satchels, and other ethnic looks. The next two decades were all about affluence and consumption, and handbags influenced high fashion to a great extent.


Today, “anything goes”. Get your own beautiful, genuine soft leather designer inspired handbag today from Pomeus.