The History of Handbags

We see them everywhere. Handbags. Ladies fill their closets with them. We have a different one for day and evening and change them to match our outfits. Men are also getting more accustomed to these and sporting murses. But did you ever stop to think about the history of handbags?

14th Century

Bags were mainly carried by men and were attached to girdles on their waists. These bags were often embroidered and used to show status.

16th Century

Handbags became more practical and more commonly used by men and women. Travelers would carry large cloth bags.

17th Century

Young women were taught embroidery as a skill to make them marriageable and because of that, handbags became adorned with beautiful stitching.

18th Century

Neo-classical clothing became popular. Wearing a purse would ruin the look of the clothing, so women wore smaller handbags and used them to complement their outfits. Women also had different bags for every occasion.

20th Century

This is when the term handbag was coined. It first referred to hand-held luggage bags carried mainly by men. Inspiration was drawn from this and bags were made for women that had fasteners, internal compartments and locks. (Yes, purses you could actually fit your life into! Because of course… that’s necessary.)


Fashion saw a revolution and bags no longer needed to match the outfit perfectly. There was much more of a variety in colors, designs and materials.


Handbags were being made with the war effort in mind. Metals and leathers were in short supply so manufacturers resorted to wood and plastics instead.


Many important designer houses were on the rise, including Chanel and Louis Vuitton, which are still huge today.

Today you can find a handbag in just about any style or design you want. They are made from many different materials, such as leather, space age synthetics and faux reptile skins. Designers are constantly coming out with new designs and handbag consumers are constantly consuming more. Handbags have come a long way since the 14th century and we definitely use them for both fashion and function. As we continue to evolve in the fashion realm, who knows what will happen for handbags next? What do you think?

For more on this history of handbags, be sure to check out our detailed timeline at


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