Learn About the History of Handbags - Why Were Handbags Invented?

Learn About the History of Handbags - Why Were Handbags Invented?

Bags aren't a new idea; we've been carrying things in bags for as long as we've had things to carry. Hunter-gatherer humans used fiber bundles and pouches to store and transport food and tools as early as 38,000 BCE.

Both men and women wore the drawstring purse dangling from their belts from the period of Ancient Rome to the Renaissance and beyond. The modern woman's handbag, on the other hand, is a considerably more recent evolution in the bag's long and lowly history.

Since many have something precious to carry, handbags have existed for thousands of years. They progressed in lockstep with fashion and societal conventions. Let's take a look back at the history of our favorite item, which is also a history of women's liberty and independence in some ways. 

A Brief History of Handbags

Handbags have been a part of everyday life for as long as humans have had something valuable to carry around with them, with just the contents changing through time. Even though Egyptian hieroglyphs show pouches worn around the waist, the first documented reference of the dates from the 14th century.

Bags were tied to "girdles," which were belts that were worn around the waist. Embroidery and gems adorned these items, which were meant to demonstrate rank - the more intricate the bag, the more wealthy the owner. Find out more about medieval attire.

With the use of everyday materials like leather and a drawstring clasp on top, handbags in the 16th century took on a more utilitarian appearance. Cloth bags were utilized during this time period, which was enlarged larger and carried diagonally across the body by travelers.

In the seventeenth century, there was more diversity, and fashionable men and women wore little purses with increasingly intricate shapes. We observe the emergence of beautiful and distinctive stitched artwork in handbags as a result of young girls being taught needlework as a vital talent to make them carryable.

Bags for Men

Handbags began as a man's accessory, did you know? Yes, it is correct. Men were the ones who carried bags from Ancient Egypt hieroglyphics depicting men carrying pouches around their waists through the late 17th century. Even the name 'handbag,' which became widespread around 1900, was originally a phrase for a man's hand luggage.

Bags were essentially utilitarian for thousands of years. Hunting and gathering gear were carried in bags manufactured from animal skins and plant fibers by our forefathers.

Bags were first used as a fashion accessory in the Middle Ages. Bags became a means of self-expression as well as movable canvases for the bag maker's work.

People started carrying drawstring bags with beautiful embroidery and jewelry on them. Men of high social position flaunted their wealth by wearing lavish purses around their waist.

Messengers utilized robust bags made of tooled leather to carry paperwork and money between banks when the first courier service began in Renaissance Italy.

Leonardo da Vinci dabbled in fashion design in 1497, sketching an elegant leather purse. In 2012, the design firm Gherardini resurrected Leonardo's bag and dubbed it "La Pretiosa" as a tribute to the city of Florence (meaning Precious).

Men used to carry money in a pouch made of cloth or hide that was fastened to their waist belt. Drawstring purses were worn by women as a fashion accessory or a receptacle for little goods. As wedding gifts, grooms would offer brides bags with embroidery depicting love stories and poems.

They put objects like pomades and rosaries on the drawstrings of women's girdles. These were forerunners to the chatelaine, a decorative belt hook or clasp worn at the waist and hanging from chains with little sewing tools, clocks, and other trinkets.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, fashion drastically changed, and ladies began to wear long dresses with a lot of cloth. They could no longer wear their girdle pouches on the outside of their garments because they became tangled in their gowns. They wore girdle pouches under their skirts instead. Pockets were created as a result of these experiments.

Men's fashion evolved at the same time, as did the pouches they carried. Men no longer had to carry a purse fastened to a belt when pockets were introduced around 1670. They still carried their money in tiny pockets. Eventually, these became wallets.

Not everyone, however, wore little pouches. Messenger bags and bigger sack-like bags worn across the body were carried by the lower classes, peasants, and travelers. These were primarily utilitarian bags that were more suited for transporting heavier objects.

Fashion evolved once more in the eighteenth century. The discovery of the ancient city of Pompeii sparked an interest in sleek, slender designs. As a result, ladies began to wear smaller and narrower gowns, which made it impossible for them to use girdle pouches.

It was necessary to re-invent the purse. With a diminution in the amount of underwear worn by ladies in the 18th century, neo-classical apparel became popular. Because carrying a purse would detract from the appearance of this attire, fashionable females began to carry reticules or handbags.

Every woman had a different bag for every occasion, and every fashion magazine had debates over how to carry these purses properly. Rouge, face powder, a fan, a scent bottle, visiting cards, a card case, and smelling salts could all be found in the reticules.

Bags for Women

The bags reflected not just the wearer's social rank and identification, but also how much freedom he or she had to roam around in society. Because wealthier men were more inclined to venture outside of the home, the first bags were carried primarily by them. Women didn't need to carry luggage because they were at home.

With the introduction of public train travel at the end of the nineteenth century, women began to socialize and travel more independently across the sea and land. The purse became a true emblem of women's liberation.

Women required smaller bags to store tickets, paperwork, and money in addition to the enormous luggage carried by porters. Designers such as Louis Vuitton started making practical bags that were effectively miniature suitcases with solid handles, many compartments, and a snap clasp.

The portmanteau bag was perfect for travel and was very popular among doctors. The handbag as we know it was born as a result of this.


Unlike a flimsy mesh reticule or a decorative coin purse with a string, this bag snapped shut, allowing ladies to carry their belongings with some degree of privacy for the first time.

Men, who had long carried a lady's fan or money, were superseded by increasingly practical, wonderfully structured bags, and the handbag has since baffled and ostracized them.

Handbags were a more significant element of women's daily lives as time passed, reflecting both their lifestyles and the culture in which they lived.

Handbags were most innovative during the twentieth century. As women became more integrated into society, designers began to create larger bags to accommodate all of their daily needs.

When Hermes named a bag after Grace Kelly in the 1950s, the it-bag was elevated to a luxury item.

Bags can now be fashioned out of almost any material. Men and women alike carry their bags over their shoulders, in their hands, or under their arms to contain all of their modern-day essentials.