The Evolution of Handbags
Although handbags have always been wardrobe staples due to their practicality, the aesthetic element has played an equal, if not greater, role in their continued popularity. Throughout the decades, different shapes, designers, and styles have emerged, constantly reinforcing the widespread demand.
1920s - 1930s: A Style Hybrid
During this era of emerging decadence and extravagance, many handbags lost practicality and adopted greater aesthetic value. Handheld clutch bags surged in popularity as they held the idea of a handbag without compromising clothing shapes and silhouettes.
An example of a bag that lost practicality is the minaudière, a type of handbag that is more reminiscent of a stunning piece of jewellery. Although the general style and idea was considered in the 20s, the minaudière was officially introduced in 1933 by luxury jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels. Its hybrid nature proved a success, with the iconic accessory making a bold statement, despite its small scale. Later, in the 2000s, Chanel became a key player in the modern popularisation of minaudières, as Karl Lagerfeld developed and modernised the accessory, once again catapulting it into success.
1940s - 1950s: Coordination & Chanel
Following the end of the Second World War, fashion started to regain some of the charm it had lost throughout the struggle, and therefore new handbag styles were introduced. Following Christian Dior’s revolutionary 1947 collection, ‘New Look’, the sizes and shapes of handbags were adapted to complement the more severe silhouettes. The trend for smaller, more structured bags powerfully took off. An important development in handbag history also took place in 1947, as Gucci introduced a bold bamboo-handled bag.
Throughout the 50s, the co-ordinated styles meant that it became increasingly popular to match a handbag to a hat, creating an extremely sophisticated and polished look. The 50s introduced numerous unforgettable bags including the Gucci Horsebit. In 1955, arguably the most iconic handbag was introduced. The 2.55 by Chanel was the first handbag to feature a shoulder strap, opening the door to a new hands-free lifestyle. The classic style and versatility of the Chanel 2.55 sealed its fate as one of the most sought-after designer handbags to this day.
1960s - 1970s: Gucci, Pucci, and Chainmail
The 1960s experienced some rather revolutionary changes in fashion, as styles encouraged greater freedom and expression. Handbags were no longer entirely necessary as a practical item due to more clothing with useful pockets, but they were flaunted as iconic fashion statements. One of the most memorable handbag moments was Jackie Kennedy’s Gucci bag. Later named ‘The Jackie 1961’, it shot into the public eye when showcased by Jackie Kennedy in paparazzi photographs.
Another notable handbag trend introduced in the 60s was Paco Rabanne’s chainmail purses that took influence from the Space Age style of the decade, and still hold popularity today. Emilio Pucci also created clutch bags with his signature psychedelic designs, popularising more daring, statement pieces.
Throughout the 70s, interesting and unique handbag designs were popular due to the focus on individualism and less conventional design features.
1980s - 1990s: “it’s a baguette”
Handbags of the 1980s featured the maximalist influence of the decade with bold, eye-catching designs and prints. The classic Chanel bag was adapted to feature the iconic ‘CC’ lettering, and legendary handbags such as the Hermès Birkin were introduced.
The 90s was one of the most influential decades in the history of handbags, as many of the styles are still extremely popular and heavily recreated. The famous 1997 Fendi Baguette was developed by Silvia Venturini Fendi and was inspired by the idea of French women holding a baguette in their arms, hence the shape and name. The Baguette was popularised through the iconic feature of a purple sequin version in ‘Sex and the City’, with its return featured recently in the reboot series, ‘And Just Like That …’.
“it’s a baguette” – Carrie Bradshaw
From the Chanel 2.55 to the Fendi Baguette, the legacies of iconic handbags have withstood time, as current trends continuously feature revivals from the past. Classic, timeless handbags have seemed to maintain popularity due to their versatility, elegance, and simplicity.
WRITTEN BY HANNAH MAE WEBSTER