Sunday, October 23, 2011

Personality in the bag

What is it about handbags? I have never been much of a one for collecting different shoes and bags - the one bag goes everywhere until it dies and then gets replaced. But lately as I trawl around markets, thrift shops and auctions - I am becoming more and more fascinated with them, and have starting to buy them. 

Purses and handbags have their origins in early pouches used to carry religious objects, food and medicine. Both sexes carried them. It was not until the late 18th century when women's fashion became more form fitting, and could not accommodate pockets, that fans, dance cards, perfume and face powder had to be carried separately.

With this came a shift of focus from the utilitarian to the fashionable and aesthetic - with invention of small often embroidered silk drawstring purses called 'reticules'. These were a smaller vesrion of what women used to carry needlework.

Reticules could be made of fabric coordinating with a particular gown or ensemble; some had papier mache bases and fabric tops. Toward the end of the Regency, they began using clasps as an alternative to the drawstring. Reticules frequently featured beading or embroidery and could be quite elaborate. The rise of the bag as important fashion accessory had begun. 

By Victorian times, bags shapes changed, and were generally heavily decorated with needlework and beading. Patterns for making these were popular in ladies magazines at the time.


By the early 20th century bags were an indispensable accessory, and while hats were popular for a time, they began to be less popular, but handbags went from strength to strength. Handbags were a sign of adaptation to the times - they held cigarettes and sunglasses rather than seeds and icons. They matched the outfit and the occasion in size, shape and material.

During WWII, the shoulder bag became popular and with the invention of synthetic materials and new fabrication techniques further refinements into developing bags and materials specific to use continued, such as waterproof bags for beach. This variety carried over to influence the woman consumer, who now needed several bags in order to cater fro specific uses.

Today, bags are considered an integral part of the look, and like all things visual, that we wear, they are also an expression of the personality of the wearer.  There is an amusing book called "How to tell a woman by her Handbag" by Kathryn Eisman that suggests the loyalty to specific handbags (that I described at the beginning of this blog) gives an insight into the carrier's personality. After two years of research (really!) Eisman pronounces some of these tell tale categories:

One-strap messenger bag: She's the quiet rebel who will change the world, but she risks exhausting herself by lugging unnecessary angst
Fake designer bag: While she's faking who she is, at least she's got good taste when it comes to choosing whom to imitate. But she's only kidding herself.
Over-stuffed bag: She shows a selfless strength, but martyrdom is so passé
Quilted Chanel bag: She's always perfectly appropriate but sometimes she's also a perfect bore. If people saw the real her, they'd actually really like her.
Gym bag: She knows what she wants and goes after it but occasionally she has to deviate from her routine.

Well, I am not so sure that was time well spent! I guess someone will buy the book? In my research online I came across a plethora of often plain silly articles on the relationship between handbags and personality.  Handbag contents can be used to read personality,  body image can be enhanced by bag shape and size and personality can be even changed apparently with bag choice and an intervention on bag contents!

I feel a new career coming on - Handbag Reading - I am confident, now, that I can conduct a handbag analysis without you even having to email me a picture of your bag and its contents. I guarantee that my reading will show how revealing your bag is about you and your life.

There is a pattern revealing itself to me, now  - those interesting, curious, quirky, decorative, and vintage bags reflect our equally unique, quirky and interesting personalities! Hmmm. Right on.


  1. Best way to receive a history lesson! Fun, lighthearted post! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Really gorgeous finds! I love vintage bags. :)

  3. I love those bags! This makes me wonder how purses could be used in home decor. I'm an interior designer and I also have some antique hand bags . . . wouldn't they be so fun to display?