The History of Handbags: From Purses to Totes and Everything in Between


A Symphony of Handbags

Handbags dance through history like leaves in the wind, their tales often left untold. This ballet of bags transcends aesthetics, pirouetting from carrying essentials to performing as symbols of power. Prepare for a journey through the history of handbags, from their humble beginnings to their modern crescendos.


From ancient civilizations, handbags emerged like delicate buds, taking root in the form of pouches and simple bags. Ancient Egyptians cradled their essentials in these small vessels, while the Middle Ages saw bags flourishing as coin carriers. Early bags, like the first whispers of a symphony, were crafted from leather, cloth, and animal skins.

Renaissance Flourish

As the Renaissance unfurled, handbags blossomed into ornate fashion accessories. Women clasped silk, velvet, and brocade pouches, their surfaces embroidered with intricate patterns. These handbags, like jewelled flowers, adorned their waists as “chatelaines.”

Victorian Elegance

The Victorian Era saw handbags grow more pragmatic, with women toting larger bags for gloves, fans, and umbrellas. Leather bags emerged, draped over shoulders or carried by hand. Handbags, like golden crowns, began to symbolize status, with wealthy women flaunting opulent bags crafted from precious metals.

20th Century Evolution

The curtain lifted in the 20th century, revealing handbags’ metamorphosis into functional and practical companions. The automobile’s arrival necessitated larger, easy-to-carry bags. The 1920s flapper era saw handbags shrink and streamline. Iconic designers like Coco Chanel and Hermès unveiled luxurious status symbols, such as the Chanel 2.55 and the Hermès Birkin.

The Modern Menagerie

As the 21st century unfolds, handbags multiply into myriad styles, each with its unique rhythm. From minimalist totes to oversized hobos, handbags cater to every occasion.

Styles in Harmony

Each handbag style sings its own tune, and popular styles include:

The Role of Handbags in Society

Handbags, like notes on a stave, have played significant roles throughout history. They’ve carried essentials and made fashion statements, becoming symbols of power and wealth. Handbags also express individuality and personal style and often represent different cultures and subcultures.

Handbags and Power

Luxury handbags, like the crescendo of a symphony, have come to symbolize power and authority. Coveted designer bags are status symbols for the wealthy, and modern handbags remain synonymous with power and affluence. Handbags also assert authority and control, with women using them to keep belongings safe while projecting confidence.

Handbags pirouette through the annals of history, evolving from ancient pouches to modern-day totes. They’ve played vital roles in society, becoming beloved accessories for many. Whether you fancy a classic leather shoulder bag or a chic crossbody, there’s a handbag style for every occasion and personal preference. So, the next time you clutch your favourite purse, remember the symphony of handbags echoing through time.


What is the oldest known handbag?

The oldest handbag’s melody hails from the 14th century, unearthed in the Austrian town of Hallstatt.

Who orchestrated the first handbag?

No single composer crafted the first handbag. Its evolution, like a symphony, has many contributors across centuries.

What’s the most extravagant handbag in the world?

The Hermès Birkin handbag sings the most lavish tune, some reaching a crescendo of over $500,000.

What’s the most popular handbag style?

The chorus varies, shifting with fashion trends and personal preferences, but tote bags, crossbody bags, and shoulder bags often feature as the lead performers.

How have handbags evolved over time?

Handbags have transformed from simple leather and cloth pouches into ornate fashion accessories, even crafted from gold and silver. In the modern era, luxury designer bags twinkle like stars in the night, symbolizing power and wealth.

A Final Word

Your Handbag Shop does not accept money, gifts, samples or other incentives in exchange for special consideration in preparing our reviews.

However, we do receive a referral fee from online retailers (like Johnny Loves Rosie or Amazon) and from sellers of handbags when readers click over to their websites from ours. This helps cover the cost of operation of our free blog. Thanks for your support.

Tags: History

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