Like shoes, handbags and purses straddle the line between functional and decorative objects. Though many women (and some men) consider them necessary containers for objects such as keys or money, the sheer diversity of available styles demonstrates that handbags are also a design object in their own right. Until about 1800, when menswear became more sedate and less decorative, both men and women carried purses on a regular basis. From this point onward, men typically carried compact wallets or a very small pouch tucked in a sleeve or pocket. Women continued to carry decorative purses, creating an association between handbags and femininity.
Elaborately beaded handbags were popular in the early years of the 20th century. They were typically quite small, often with the type of kiss-lock closure seem in this FIDM Museum example. Beading could be extremely detailed, featuring images drawn from nature such as flowers or butterflies. Also popular were a category of beaded purses that featured nostalgic scenes inspired by stereotypical European castles or landscapes. No matter the appearance, beaded handbags were intended to carry only the bare essentials: lipstick and a bit of money.
Handbags of the 1950s and 1960s often took a whimsical turn, as seen in this woven wicker dog-shaped handbag. Its head tilts forward to reveal the inside of the purse and the strap mimics a leash. Also popular in the 1950s were handbags made of see-through Lucite, which revealed the contents of your purse to all interested parties. Because it is so whimsical, this dog-shaped handbag might have been carried by a teenager or young girl, rather than an adult.
This black and white leather handbag showcases contrasting geometric shapes, which were seen frequently in early 1980s accessories. These shapes echo the angular silhouettes seen in both fashion and hairstyles of the decade. Contrasting color combinations, such as black and white or neon orange and pink, were widely popular.Geometric purse
For the woman who can't be bothered to carry a separate handbag, Moschino created the all-in-one leather jacket seen below. Though not big enough to carry anything beyond the bare essentials, the attached pockets ensure that the wearer would never loose track of her keys, cash or lip balm. It also suggests some of the earliest types of "purses," which were actually interior pockets or pouches worn next to the body.Jacket
2005.5.33 Pocket detail