History of Handbags, 19th to 20th Century

The 1920's were a revolution in fashion with lighter clothing and varying hemlines. Fashion designer Coco Chanel is credited with the invention of the shoulder bag for women. Inspired by the military satchels and frustrated of hands encumbered by her bag, she attached a thin leather strap to her ladylike bags in black and launched them in 1929.

Fashion especially women's in the Forties and Fifties, were influenced by the stars of the screen -Grace Kelly even truly becoming a royal. She had the look of a grown up and glamorous and fashions changed more slowly at that period, evolving rather than leaping. Most handbag designs, developed by famous fashion designers around this time, became true classics that have endured to this day, includes the Hermes Kelly bag and Chanel's 2.55 handbags.

The youth culture of Sixties and Seventies introduced a huge fashion divide between what older women were wearing and the new 'hip' fashions for the young and this divide showed up in handbag fashion trends as well.

The fashion trends of the 1980's persuaded young women to look to grown up styles with the smart suit and power dressing becoming essential for younger people pursuing fast track professional careers. The period emerged from New Romantic era and the fancy dress of punk into a world of suits and shoulder pads, twenty year-olds dressing up as seasoned professionals with smart look and to complement that grown-up handbags made a come back. The practical utilitarian look of the shoulder bag was still with women making their mark in the man's world of the city, but smart women favored the elegance and style of the famed quilted Chanel chain bags and work bags had to be big.

The Nineties started with an economic slump and bags once again became more utilitarian, casual and practical and small back packs became fashionable again. The youth avoided big labels and instead went for messenger bags and rucksacks, and big designers lost out on a large section of the youth market, who were not interested in the big fashion house labels, though older women continued to be loyal to classic handbag styles, like Kellys and Birkins

It is said that our generation wasn't the first to adopt the big bag fashion trend - it had two other major trends in the past century - once at the start of the 20th century, though by McCall's November 1904 issue it was noted that: "the trend is decidedly in the direction of smaller types; the day of the extremely large bag is past. In its place have come models that suggest a partial reversion to pocketbook types of olden times." With new prosperity signaling towards the end of the Fifties, a return to consumerism let, women's handbags grew in size from the more demure handbags of Fifties, until they were almost big enough to carry the kitchen sink!