The purse or bag has been historically referred to in writing for centuries. People traveled and carried their belongings with them and needed a type of pouch. Not until the 1500s, however, does more modern day artifacts exist that physically show the utilitarian and decorative aspects of these bags.
Bags and purses were used by both men and women to store and carry money and other pertinent personal items. These included papers, alms, bibles, holy relics and keys. Early on, both men and women carried them on a leather strap around their waist.
From the 17th century on, both men and women kept their letters and valuable papers in leather cases or wallets. They now stored their coins in purses. Pockets appeared in men’s clothing around the late 16c and early 17c and the bag fell into disuse among men with the exception of game bags and briefcases. Bags became the exclusive domain of women in succeeding centuries.
For women, it was the chatelaine, a long chain which hung together on a hook from a belt or skirt waistband and carried their coin purse, papers and keys. The chatelaine changed throughout the centuries and took on many forms and uses. The chain shortened and different items were added depending on your strata. For wealthy women the chatelaines became more decorative and luxurious and hung more
|diverse items such as sewing equipment, smelling boxes, seals for documents and a watch.
The reticule is the forerunner of the present day handbag. It always had a cord or chain with which the bag could be drawn shut and carried. It comes from the Latin word, reticulum, which refers to the small ladies’ net bags from Roman times.
As fashion evolved throughout the centuries, so did the handbag. Clothing played a pertinent role in the numerous iterations of the purse throughout centuries. Some of these transformations have been purses, bags, leather cases, wallets, travel bags or suitcases, chatelaines, hidden tie pockets, reticules, work bags, coin purses and ultimately today’s handbags.
Women and men now celebrate all types of bags. From antiquities, to vintage to the present day “it” bags that we all cherish. Handbags have become empowering items in our society. They are powerful implements that we carry dearly, daily and out of necessity. They are fascinating pieces of history that offer a reflective view of our past, present and future. We’ve traditionally passed down these heirlooms as well as the oral history to our offspring. A handbag poses further exploration in shaping our attitudes and psyches about who we are as individuals and as a society.