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The History Of The Handbag

Aug 17, 2007
Whether you're checking out the newest Louis Vuitton creation or more than happy with the tiny backpack that was so popular in the 90's, you're part of a long tradition that goes back to the Egyptians. Every woman has had the experience of knowing that she's carrying exactly what she needs in her bag and being able to produce it with a flourish, but you may not have known that the experience goes back so far!

5000 years ago, during what is normally termed the Neolithic era, people had primitive pouches that in which to carry their worldly belongings. One of the oldest bodies ever discovered, that of Otzi, the Iceman, was found with a belt pouch around his waist. In ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, men are seen with pouches tied to their belts as well.

The first mention of handbags in written literature shows up during the 14th century in Europe, when men can be seen wearing fabric or leather bags that hung from girdles, which were a kind of fabric sash. Much like today, you could tell quite a bit about a person from the type of bag that they wore. People who could afford it would have their bags embroidered or set with jewels.

By the 16th century, there was a rise of bags that were carried using straps rather than tied to the belt. A variety of materials like leather and cloth were used and a variety of methods were found to decorate them. Less than a hundred years after that, men and women were carrying smaller bags with more complex shapes to them. These accessories could be fashion statements in and of themselves as young girls learned to embroider and personalize them.

During the 19th century, when women disliked the look of the handbag that was carried over the shoulder, handbags shrank again, were carried in the hand and were called reticules. The reticule served to transport things like rouge, visiting cards, and lemon water for scent; it was the 19th century equivalent of carrying some lipstick, a PDA and some perfume!

By 1900s, the term "handbag" came into circulation, but it usually referred to more masculine, hand-held luggage bags. These bulky items were shrunken and then decorated within an inch of their life by women's fashion designers. The handbags become even more feminized with the addition of specialized internal compartments, decorative fasteners and locks.

The 1920's saw the birth of the flapper, and to match the breezier, more carefree look, handbags became more artistic, with a focus on beading and elegant silver clasps. When King Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered, it resulted in many purses with an Egyptian motif. By the 1950s, many familiar names like Chanel, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton were making an appearance.

Today, handbags come in all manner of shapes and sizes, and there's no telling what exciting new changes the next generation will bring!
About the Author
C&H Fabrics online at http://www.candh.co.uk/ offer a great variety of textile products including fashion handbags, cushions and curtains.
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