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The handbag as historical staple

Handbag contents, via geishabot on FlickrLast year, the oldest handbag in history was displayed in London; unearthed in the city of Mosul, in Northern Iraq, the handbag, which would nowadays be described as a clutch, is estimated to have been crafted in 1300, giving new meaning to the word vintage.

Though it wouldn't get the name until the 19th century, handbags in all shapes and sizes have been a consistent part of global culture, the gorgeous design of the world’s oldest handbag, which is adorned with intricate scenes of courtly life, demonstrates that then, as now, the outward appearance of a handbag holds significant weight in symbolising status. Handbags are more than just receptacles to store chewing gum, and it’s perhaps for this reason that they have been so culturally enduring.

Prospect of mystery

What women keep in their handbags is mystery to most, and while more often than not you’ll usually just find a purse and house keys, until the contents of a handbag are fully revealed, it is a subject of intrigue. The rise of the handbag dog in the early 2000s is an example of how handbags can be used to store literally anything.

There is a joy in discovering what your fashion idol carries in their handbag, as it offers a sense of comradery over shared interests, it also helps normalise people; handbags not only serve as a symbol of how you wish to present yourself to the world, their content demonstrates similarities that are common throughout the entire world, and if that’s not truly magical, we don’t know what is!

A symbol of status and personality

Before the introduction of handbags as a fashion accessory, there were pouches and coin purses, which were used primarily to store precious items, so even from the very beginning, bags have been associated with wealth – by needing a receptacle to hold and carry items, you are announcing to the world that you have items worth coveting.

Between the fourteenth and sixteenth century, small bags were attached to the girdle or around the waist and filled with scented items – thus we see bags being used as accessories, used to complement the wearer, and their outfit.

The handbag as we know it today actually came about thanks to the introduction of the railway in the 19thcentury, when people, women in particular, became more mobile, and needed a way to easily carry around their goods. However, these bags much more closely resembled handheld luggage bags than the fashion accessories we know and love today; in fact, many current handbag designs use attachments that allude to luggage bags, like fastenings and locks with keys.

Nowadays, the design of a handbag is just as important as what you plan on putting inside it. Not only do you need to decide what aspect of your personality you want your handbag to encapsulate, it also has to be suitable for any event or engagement you might attend. Handbags have evolved from practical, to demonstrators of elegance, to a mix of both that makes them an essential companion piece.

Throughout history we have always found a use for handbags, regardless of what form they took; handbags have endured almost the entirety of human history because we have always had a need for them, and whenever you walk down the street with your bag, you’ll be carrying a piece of history with you.

At Fiore, we have a selection of breathtaking handbags to choose from, ranging from clutches to grab bags, there’s something to suit everybody’s preferred tastes and needs. You can also pop into our store in Abergavenny to see a wider range of products, and we can be contacted by phone or online if you have any enquiries.

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