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The History of Handbags: From Purses to Power Accessories

Introduction to Handbags

Travel back in time to the world of fashion history and discover how purses evolved to become handbag’s symbol of power! Trace the history and unique features of handbags that have advanced over centuries of development and find out how they’ve been developing and have influenced people today. Join us to turn page of The History of Handbags: From Purses to Power Accessories!

The Evolution of Purses and Bags

From simple pouches slings worn through the strap by ancient Egyptians, purses and bags have developed a complicated trajectory.

Medieval small drawstring bags (caddies) became popular with men and women, for use in carrying coins and personal effects. Then, as now, style and function mirrored one another.

More invention came with the advent of mass production during the Industrial Revolution, especially in the 19th century with the production of the reticule.

Handbags didn’t just evolve as utilitarian accessories; they changed into fashion accessories by the beginning of the 20th century. Snapshots of women in their daily lives and from opera houses from this time period show how wealthy women used handbags for both practical and fashionable purposes. The utilisation and design of handbags was changing through the combined forces of fashion designers like Coco Chanel. Newer and more luxurious materials coupled with novel shapes marked the dawn of new handbags as status symbols.

Up to this point, handbags had evolved over time to fit the needs of the moment, but they were not yet an inherent part of what we wear to make a statement about who we are. Today, while handbags remain essential to an entire range of daily needs, they continue to expand and evolve into new things as we shift our habits to keep up with changing technologies and fashion trends.

The Rise of Designer Handbags

The phenomenon of the designer handbag in fashion is nothing but exceptional. Brand names such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci have broken the dream of every fashion addict.

Designer handbags can be seen not only as handbags, but also as a manifestation of personality, taste and social status. Compared with their mass-produced alternative, they are marked not only by their complex patterns and their masters’ use of luxurious, high-grade material, but also by the superior quality and craftsmanship of their production.

Designer handbags have become popular globally due in part to fashion influencers promoting them through red carpet appearances and posting about them on Instagram and Twitter. In this essay I will explore the experiences of women in their 20s, 30s and 40s as clients of handbag designers, and examine strategies to make high-quality products more accessible.

In recent decades, celebrities and influencers have gained power to make fashion statements and promote appearances. Examples include Courtney Love wearing a corset on stage in 1993, Sinead O’Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope in 1992, and Marilyn Monroe famously standing over a subway grate in 1955.

Brand names and logos produced by famous fashion designers allow consumers to express their status by wearing or carrying branded bags that include logos. The 2000 films Notting Hill and the Devil Wears Prada show how people in position of power influence trends of fashion and brand logos in the wider society. Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 film Suspiria demonstrates the continuation of this process.

The use of logos on clothing has also spread from Italians, Japanese and Americans to countries like Nigeria, Thailand and India, and may eventually become a global language. As the relentless logic of undercutting continues to reduce prices and profits, companies find themselves lacking the resources to present strong messages.

So while some people will always prefer the classic Chanel flap, others for instance will go for the Dior Saddle bag [currently the trendy alternative to the Chanel flap]. They’ll have the handbag to make them look and feel classy and exclusive on the streets.

A designer-label handbag is more than a fashion accessory: it embodies the value of considered taste, superior craftsmanship and long-lasting design that transcends momentary whims.

Handbags as Status Symbols

If a handbag signals anything above and beyond convenience, it signals status – status which is represented by producing and selling handbags that people view as valuable because they symbolise wealth, taste and social standing. So a Birkin bag, or a Chanel flap bag, can be regarded as an absolute status good because women aspire to purchase and use it.

Holding a luxury, covetable and exclusive handbag suggests high status with a clear message about bohemian or business chic. Its outrageous and fabulous price tag elevates the status of the person who chooses to wear it, garnishing notions of beauty, style and prosperity.

These accessories then are catapulted into global cult status, celebrities and influencers wearing them on the red carpet and across social media.

The history of the handbag as we know it shows just how much luxury goods commodify and then fetishise our desire to show off and impress.

The Influence of Pop Culture on Handbag Trends

Purses in fashion have always been designed using pop culture references; from prominent movie characters wearing statement purses to celebrities carrying creative designer mini-bags to award shows, its influences are undeniable.

Remember Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw and her forever quest for Manolo Blahnik heels and a Fendi Baguette? It triggered the current fashion for luxury handbags. In the same way, when Princess Diana was photographed with her ‘Pandora’ Lady Dior bag, it became a time-honoured classic.

It-bags are also now touted by influencers and celebrities on Instagram, which has become a hotbed of product placement. Viral posts on social media can make a little-known brand big overnight.

As pop-culture trends pass by in our digital age at a parabolic pace, the only thing we can bank on is – guess what – the dopest sling of ‘em all.

Sustainability in the Handbag Industry

It is becoming an important issue for many brands and consumers in the handbag industry. With the growing concern of many people paying more attention to environmental problems, such as climate change, and wanting to protect the planet for the next generation, more people are looking to purchase eco-friendly options when it comes to fashion essentials.

More nowadays are made with sustainable materials, such as organic cotton, recycled plastics or upcycled leather, and they use less packaging than ever which helps to reduce waste and cut down on their carbon footprint.

Beyond materials, a growing number of companies are endeavouring to ensure ethical production, that is, responsible treatment of artisans, including adequate pay and safe working conditions. If they can exert social responsibility, increasingly aware consumers are more likely to put their dollars behind them.

With sustainability in the forefront of the conscious consumer’s mind, we can expect to see more innovations in the design and production of handbags that promote eco-friendly ideals.

Future of Handbags: Technology and Innovation

The future of handbags is one of technological innovation and functionality. Smart handbags with integrated tracking devices or biometric security will be used as both a fashionable accessory and source of functionality. A handbag with a tracker to help locate your luggage at the airport, or that charges your phone or can be changed to any colour at the click of an app could be on the horizon.

 As we shift towards more sustainable approaches in fashion production, we are likely to see materials that are more eco-friendly used in handbags. This could include upcycled fabrics or bio-based leathers that leave a smaller footprint, yet maintain the luxury feel of this essential style accessory.

Virtual reality simulations of the store might allow us to see what different styles of handbags might look like on our bodies in the comfort of our own homes. Increasingly sophisticated augmented reality apps could also allow us to use our smartphones to know all about any bag we browse in the store, at a glance.

Indeed, the future of the handbag looks bright as, driven by technology, this fashion item evolves into intelligent hitched items, innovative tech accessories, or wearable tech and power pads that enrich your life – rather than just your wardrobe.


It is evident that handbags have transformed themselves from useful accessories to become fashionable items that come with both functional and symbolic meanings. The journey of the handbag reveals how it evolved from the simple purse to the current luxury designer handbag that represents the wearer’s status and style.

Going forward, we can envision handbags continuing to evolve with technology and innovation to allow for a more eco-friendly industry. Handbags will continue to be a fashion staple for anyone who wants to express their personal style and make a statement.

And so, the next time you wear or clutch your favourite handbag, you might remember its lineage, how a vessel used by the poor to store and transport bread became a purse for noblewomen and later grew into a must-have accessory, capable of adding gravitas to any outfit.