What is the history of handbags and purses?

What is the histoy of handbags and purses? I have chosen the finest embroidered vintage textile pieces from the Indian state of Rajasthan region of North East India where the main structure has been sewn and masterfully created by the local village people of India.
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What is the history of handbags and purses? The oldest known purse dates back more than 5000 years. Worn by a man, Ötzi the Iceman. Europe’s oldest natural mummy was found in the Alps in 1991. He had a handbag next to him. The bag was made from chamois hide and had a strap attached to it. The history of purses dates back more than 5000 years.

Men once carried coin purses. In Early Modern Europe, women’s fashions moved in the direction of using small ornamental purses. This evolved into handbags. Men’s fashions were moving in another direction.

Who invented the handbag?

Yorkshire entrepreneur Samuel Parkinson is who in 1841. The Industrial Revolution brought steam railways and travel became increasingly popular. Samuel chose to treat his wife to a custom-made set of hand luggage. He had noticed that her purse was too small and not made of sturdy material for traveling.

The Dawn of the Designer Handbag

So he had leather handbags made for her in varying sizes for different occasions. This resulted in luggage makers beginning to create purses for women to use while traveling on trains. Parkinson requested a set of traveling cases and trunks for his travels and also a case for his wife.

A Brief History of Purses and handbags

The original meaning of the word “purse” was a small bag for holding your money. In Britain, this definition of purse still stands. Larger bags that holds many items is referred to as a handbag. In American English, the terms purse and handbag are considered to be the same.

A modern-day purse is a fashionable bag with straps that easily go over the shoulder, used for carrying personal items such as money, make-up, electronic devices and, more. Purses have been mostly designed for and worn by women. However, in the past 30 years or so the man-purse has been making a comeback.

Purses and Handbags in Fashion

Purses have not always convenient fashionable bags worn by women. In fact, the first purses in history were more utilitarian and actually worn by men. The usage of a purse continued this way for a long time before women started using them. The concept of a purse has been around for thousands of years. They have evolved over time in conjunction with fashion and the necessity to carry more personal items.

Purses in Ancient Tmes


Further evidence of ancient purses can be found in Egyptian hieroglyphs. They depict men carrying pouches around their waist. Als, in biblical times where Judas Iscariot was identified as someone that carried purses.

Purses in the Middle Ages

During the early middle ages purses were very common for both men and women. Made with round pieces of leather and a drawstring at the top to seal the purse tight. Instead of carrying the purse over the shoulder, people used to tie the drawstring around their girdle, which was a belt-like feature that they wore on their clothing. These purses were very small and probably only useful for carrying small items like coins.

Nearing the end of the middle ages, a new style of purse became popular amongst the elite class. Made with a triangular metal frame and leather fitted over the metal frame. A small opening at the top with a wide bottom and secured by using a drawstring, or in later versions, a metal clasp. Similar to the earlier purses of the middle ages, these purses would hang from the owner’s girdle, either with the drawstring or by a metal loop at the top of the purse.

Purses during the Renaissance

During the 16th and 17th centuries, fashion changed significantly with women wearing very wide dresses that had a lot of fabric. As a result, women could not wear their purses on the outside of their clothing anymore because it would get tangled in their dress. Instead they wore purses hanging on the inside of their dress. 

Mens fashion also changed and so did the pouches that they carried. With the invention of pockets around 1670, men no longer had to carry a purse strapped to a girdle. They did still carry smaller pouches to hold their money, which later evolved to become wallets.

Purses during the Industrial Revolution

In the 18th century fashion once again began to change with the discovery of the ancient city of Pompeii. This discovery led to a fascination with sleek and slender designs. Women were now wearing slim dresses. Therefore, they were no longer able to hang a pouch under their dress. The purse was re-invented. Women began wearing relicules during this time, which are more slender purses with a wrist strap.

Modern Day Purses

By the 1930s, handbags evolved significantly. As such, many of the designs we see today were invented during this time. Such as the handbag, satchel, and clutch. Companies like Chanel and Louis Vuitton were beginning to make a big name for themselves in marketing high-end purses, which they continue to do today.

During WWII, purses once again changed slightly. Instead of being made with metal frames, they were made out of plastic or wood. This was because metal was in such high demand for the war efforts. This only lasted a few years after which purse designs went back to their pre-war style.

In the 1970’s men once again began carrying handbags which people referred to as a man-purse. They have a more masculine look than the typical purse and allow men to carry more items with them. This especially became more popular in the past 20 years as people started carrying around electronic devices with them and needed the extra carrying capacity.

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