From the historical times of African priests carrying bags that were beaded to the modern times of the 'haute couture' for today's woman who values leisure, handbags have since time immemorial been a place for keeping secrets and the symbols of status, power, and class. As a place where daily equipment is kept, the design and style of handbags have been greatly influenced by changes in technology and society over time. These changes include the development of cash, pieces of jewelry, ornaments, cosmetics, and the role of women in society among others. The handbag is interpreted differently by different people. What a handbag carries has been seen to represent a part of a woman's unconscious and the carrier itself as something as private and precious as the female genitalia (Price et al. 2016, p246). Historic, symbolic and something a woman cannot do without; the handbag has been viewed as an ever-changing object that is a representation of time and its wearer's needs. Handbags are referred to as one of the most meaningful accessories for women. A woman without her handbag is like a lost sheep in the desert. The research paper looks at how the handbag has evolved and the changes it has gone through concerning fabric, style, function, design, and wearer.
The history of the handbag is ancient in date, symbolic in purpose, and classic in design. The first handbag in time was designed according to the function it was going to play. That carries food and supplies as revealed in the cultural activities of Ancient Egypt and New Guinea. The origin of the handbag is in Ancient Egypt, back in 1800 B.C. where men from Egypt wearing pouches around their waists are seen in a picture or symbolic sign applied in hieroglyphic writing (Quan et al. 2017, p.12). In Papua, New Guinea, the first pouch was a sign of what place a person had in society, and it gave them a sense of recognition. Both male and female used bulky knit bilium bags with a net-like look whose decoration had been done with feathers, seashells, and other ornaments. The number of shells used on the bags was a representation of the number of people who lived at the seashore as most people resided in the mountains and away from the shore (Price et al. 2016, p.246). The creation of this status promoted social relationships within different cultures.
In the year 1200, the bag was still made with the role it played in mind. Europeans started using it as a wallet or a drawstring pouch made of leather where they put their coins (Quan et al. 2017, p.12). The bag, which they attached to their belts, was also used as a place to hide daggers with they used to protect themselves against robbers.
In 1400, rich men and women would carry bags whose ornamentation was done with lace, an ornament more expensive than gold. With the coming up of Italian Renaissance all through Europe, the design was the basis for not only production of material and invention, but also origin, emotion, and idea. Production of handbags was on a large scale in Europe which made the rich Europeans, who wanted to set themselves apart, to have their family names embroidered or painted on their bags(Quan et al. 2017, p.13). With the enlightenment of the Renaissance, individuals moved to the cities in large numbers, and the new thing became the sweet bag. The sweet bag was a bag that was made out of the herbs available to the Europeans at the time to give a good smell to a handkerchief and disguise bad odors from the crowded places.
In 1570, Mary, Queen of Scots was serving her time in the Tower of London prison. While in prison, she embroidered handbags and ornamented them for the people who had held her captive. While the act did not persuade her captures to free her, her efforts are something worth recognizing (Quan et al. 2017, p.13). As time went by and with innovations kicked out the old, the idea and role of the bag changed. Men and women who considered themselves fashionable carried small purses whose shapes were more complex and of a different variety with a design of art and culture. In the 16th century, one could tell a person's status in society from the bag they used. Aristocrats carried small bags while bulky bags were common among peasants who had just completed their day's work.
In 1670, males changed their perspective on not only fashion but their role in society as well. In the world of fashion, pants with pockets that were built-in became the new thing (Quan et al. 2017, p.14). With the creation of the modern suit, med did away with their bags but kept using a purse made of the net in which they kept money and put in their pockets.
At the beginning of the 18th century, a new way of clothing came up which meant less underclothing for women. Before this time, women would attach the purse to their waists, but the new delicate and light clothing forced them to carry handbags, referred to as reticules which looked like strings or bags made of mesh (Quan et al. 2017, p.16). Men made a joke out of the bag and called it 'ridicule' which was not only a joke on the bag but women as well. Women were free to carry their handbags, and this made them begin to buy bags for every occasion. As fashion magazines reported, only a proper woman classily carried her handbag.
In the early 19th century, the miser's purse was the new fashion trend. It was a bag with a small opening in the middle that was used by both men and women. The small opening was used to keep petty cash meant to be retrieved slowly(Quan et al. 2017, p.15). While men attached the purse to their belts, women put it in a bigger bag which created the first appearance of the purse used for change. In 1830, bags that were flat, square and circular became the material for a wide range designs used to decorate beads and ribbon work. Ladies' magazines published the patterns and ideas making it a big innovation in the fashion world.
In 1870, bags made of carpet and whose embroidery was made with wool became increasingly popular. They were known as a tapestry. In addition to the bag is comfortable and stylish, it was big enough to carry belongings and convenient to carry around. The use of the carpet bag was killed off in the 1930s when the story of Mary Poppins and she ever present carpet bag made headlines (Price et al. 2016, p.249). The term 'handbag' was first used in the 20th century, and it was used to mean the luggage males carried in their hands. Until this time, individual names for bags like reticules, baguettes and so on were used to mean handbags.
The First World War changed not only history and demand but also the expectation of culture and generation. Women left their homes to work American jobs so they could aid the war effort. The modern handbag, therefore, reflected the status of a working woman and style-wise became more utilitarian (Price et al. 2016, p.249). It became a bag that one could easily hang over the shoulder when going to work. Along with the 19th century Amendment and women's right to vote, different hemlines and clothes of lighter fabric reflected the attitude and feeling of the after-war in the 1920s. Bags needed not to match clothes perfectly. Only the people who considered themselves fashion gurus carried a stuffed animal with matching outfit and handbag.
In the 1920s, the Paris Exposition debuted a handbag whose design had been greatly influenced by Africa. There was an explosion of non-native fabrics with new designs in Paris as well as the United States (Quan et al. 2017, p.12). The tomb of King Tut was discovered in 1922 creating interest in cultural exploration and designs. Hermes created the first bag ever to have a zipper in 1923. It was called the Bolide bag.
In the 1930s, the clutch bag was quickly becoming the trend although it was not considered practical. Women would pair the elegant bag whose beading and ornamentation were intricate with evening gowns. At the start of the Second World War, women started being viewed as workers, and this created more jobs for them (Quan et al. 2017, p.15). In 1943, handbag designers had the war effort in mind, but they were short on leather, zipper, and metal and so they used what was available to them to create handbags. They used plastic and wood.
The shoulder bag was common in both world wars. Its strap would hang on the shoulder making the bag to rest on the tip of one side. The bags continued to be carried in this way till 1990 when the strap would hang diagonally across the upper body. Sometime in the 1940s, L.L. Bean created the first boat bag out of leather raising the status of the tote along with its functional features (Price et al. 2016, p.247). There was the emergence of designer houses like Louis Vuitton and Chanel in 1950 which was credited to the growth of class and style. In 1956, Grace Kelly was the cover girl of LIFE magazine in which she used her large Hermes bag to hide her pregnancy from paparazzi. The bag caused such a stir that Hermes later named it the 'Kelly' bag.
The classic ideals and post-war movement could not tame the new ideas and freedoms of the hippie movement. In 1960, the hippie movement fueled a breakdown of old notions of classical designs, creating a rise in youth culture and freedom. The designs of this time were simple, encouraged use of bold colors and textures were subtle (Price et al. 2016, p246). In 1970, what was popular among men were rectangular wallets that would serve to put passports, tickets or tissue paper. Men would attach these wallets to their belts meaning the bags used in the past had influenced them.
The British Prime Minister between 1979 and 1990 was known for her love for handbags. Her style of the debate gave birth to her description and how people recognized her in the United Kingdom (Quan et al. 2017, p.11). She was known to 'handbag' those who opposed her meaning that her conversation caused a symbolic bruise on her opponent as if she had hit them with her handbag.
Today, categorization of handbags is not just by size but also their role and appeal to culture. A coin purse is a tiny bag used to hold money. A clutch is a bag whose size is medium to small that is created to be held by the hand. A tote is a big purse with two handles whose use is to carry items and supplies that are large (Quan et al. 2017, p.13). A pocketbook is a kind of handbag that is used for carrying sheets of paper for proceedings or other functions. A security purse is designed steel strap that is invisible; protection on the zipper to protect is owner from theft while on travel.
In the modern times, handbags are made in different styles and with a variety of materials like canvas that is waterproof, synthetics that are space-age and reptile skins that are faux. Designers keep playing with the paradoxes natural to the handbag and materials that are transparent, so they expose and conceal what is in the handbag (Quan et al. 2017, p.17). Although handbags have almost always been common in women, they are quickly becoming a trend among men. According to surveys, approximately five billion dollars was spent on handbags in the United States in 2004.
In conclusion, the handbag has surpassed the test of time. From incredibly small beginnings, the bag made my hand changed into a piece of art that is filled with captivating decorations. Animal skins, fibers from plants and elements that are artificial are now made into different sizes, shapes, color, and textures. Beads, precious stones, gems and expensive metals are used as embellishments and classy ornaments to design the bags. Women these days have closets just for their handbags.
Price, T. and Collins, C., 2016. Silt, snags and snapping handbags-managing Cabomba caroliniana in the tropics of the Northern Territory. In 20th Australasian Weeds Conference, P...
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