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The Rise and Shine of the Handbag as a Cult Icon - History of the Handbag part 3

1940s handbag fashionThe concluding part of our series on the history of the handbag - don't forget to read part 1 and part 2.

The turn of the century

It was the turn of the century that really saw the rise in popularity of the handbag as we now know it, and with an increase in mobility and different methods of travel (particularly the advent of the railway) an increase in the production of luggage too. The Hermes brand was founded in 1837, then making saddles and harnesses, and Louis Vuitton was a luggage  packer in Paris.

Between the World Wars

In the 1900's a huge array of handbags emerged, featuring different sizes, designs, materials, embellishments and colours. Towards the 1920's it was common to include Egyptian influence in designs, and embroidery was a personal and popular method of embellishment. During the Second World War materials such as plastic and wood were sometimes used as leather and metal were in shorter supply, but this allowed more modern designs which complemented the forthcoming fashion revolution. Skirt hem lines gradually became shorter over the forthcoming years. The 1930's saw most of the bag designs we see today having been established, and the Art Deco influence such as the iconic fan motif being implemented as decoration.

Handbags in the Fourties

The 1940's brought with it war time austerity and the introduction of a more military look. In line with the war influence, bags became bigger and more practical, and were designed not only to go with an outfit but to accommodate a gas mask. As women began working more, bags with shoulder straps proliferated, but then became less fashionable until a resurgence in the 1970's.

The arrival of the handbag cult

The 1950's saw 'the handbag' achieve cult status, with many major fashion houses producing bags that were high quality, high fashion items. Popular designers included Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Prada and in this post-war era, femininity ruled. High fashion favoured tiny waists, beauty and sophistication.  The 1960's saw the introduction of ethnic influences from countries including India and Afghanistan, and  the freedom and romanticism of 'flower-power' with its vibrant colours. Personal expression was paramount, and achieved often through bold psychedelic patterns and relaxed, more loosely structured styling. The 1960's was remarkable in its break with tradition and rise of youth and popular culture. All sorts of new design inspiration emerged from the need for more casual styles, and there was now, without doubt, a style, a design, a colour and a wide choice for everyone.

The future and beyond

Technological advancements in production methods and the materials available to manufacturers have without doubt moved handbag design forward, and now into 2012, we are able to enjoy a vast array of brands and styles - as you can see by browsing our site!

It has been observed by experts that the size of a woman's handbag changes over her lifetime, along with the styles she prefers. As a girl, a small purse will suffice; a teenager, a small shoulder bag;  a student needs a practical larger bag;  a more formal style of practical proportions for working life, and then perhaps when children come along, a huge bag is necessary! In later life, most ladies carry a far more compact handbag. What's your style?

One thing is for sure, the handbag is a icon in its own right: here to stay, and none of us are letting go of ours. 

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