Men and women have used bags and handbags for centuries. No matter your social status, you still needed a bag to travel with and care for your most valuable belongings.
The evolution of the humble handbag has followed closely with women’s place in society. As women’s voices became louder and more accepted in a world full of men, their bags became smaller. As women’s roles in the workforce became more extensive, so did their handbags.
There are handbags of every shape, style, material, color, pattern, and use in this modern world. Most women have several handbags to suit everything from their wardrobe to their work life.
But the modern handbag would not be what it is today without the changes in our history that affected fashion and design.
The most fashionable woman will make an entrance with any bag that has been thoughtfully paired to fulfill her needs during that moment. Whether it is a stylish clutch to accent her evening wear and a night on the town, a sleek satchel for everyday use, or a durable leather tote bag, you can’t go wrong with the handbags we’ve covered in this post.
Previous to the 20th-century, women’s clothing was much bulkier and included a lot of layers. It was easy to sew in a few pockets for a woman to carry the items they might need, like a handkerchief or a small sack of coins.
However, once the WWI rolled around, women’s wardrobes became less encumbered with fabric, bustles, and corsets. The ability to hide pockets into the sleek designs of the early 1900s became increasingly more difficult.
Enter The Clutch
The clutch was a simple solution to the quickly changing wardrobe of women. Without the ability to have built-in pockets, women needed a way to access anything they might need while out and about.
The arrival of easy travel via boat, train, or car meant that women were on the move and needed luggage to suit this travel. Some of the first clutches were merely small travel bags.
Still, as women stepped further away from being homemakers and stepped into the glamour of a new age of fashion, music, and society — they needed their bags to go along with them.
But these bags weren’t just utilitarian, and they quickly became a fashion statement or reflection of social status. Designers saw a need for these bags, and well-renowned bag designers such as Chanel (founded in 1901), Prada (1913), Gucci (1921), and Fendi (1925) began popping up and creating some of the world’s first designer handbags.
By the 1920s, clutches were in full swing. Women were enjoying their lives outside the home, were fighting for their right to vote, and using the minimalism of clutches accented this newfound freedom and fashion.
These days the clutch plays a similar role. The modern-day clutch is fashionable eye-candy used to add a teeny tiny bit of functionality while acting as a statement piece during the evening and formal attire.
This can widely be seen on the Hollywood red carpet as a must-have, one of a kind, designer accessory. And while clutches don’t hold much revere as a daily wear handbag, they are still widely sought as a next-level expression to the glamorous occasion.
The Satchel, Shoulder, Or Messenger Bag
As we move towards the 1940s in fashion history, we see a rise in larger bags used in a woman’s daily rotation as small bags became too impractical and were not functional enough for the wartime woman.
Accessories became larger, personal makeup was on the rise, and women carried more of it, but bags also needed to have a more practical use and be able to carry more than makeup if needed.
Like most fashion during this time, handbag design was directly inspired by WWII military uniforms, especially the messenger bag.
It was not uncommon for a woman to carry a bag with deep pockets and a long strap that could be carried over the shoulder. This was a first for the modern-day woman. It hadn’t been practical for a woman to carry the likes of larger bags for daily travel since the 15th century and especially not a larger designer handbag.
Some of these bags were even being designed to be able to hold a gas mask, as impending atomic warfare was a significant fear and even a real possibility during the time.
With materials like metal and cow leather reserved for the war effort, there was a huge rise in new materials being incorporated in women’s fashion and specifically in handbag design.
New leathers like pig, snake, and alligator became more regularly used. Women also began crafting their handbags at home with crocheted and hand-sewn versions becoming popular in an assist and support of the war effort.
Evening bags took on a similar design to the messenger bag, except they were smaller and more compact but still include the longer shoulder strap for ease of wear.
By the late 1940s, we see a rush of synthetics and colorful plastics being used in handbag design. New materials were introduced during wartime, and traditional materials were still scarce from wartime use. We also see the handbag become smaller and get further away from the messenger bag.
We see the rise of the minimalist handbag once again as we head towards the 1950s, and the whole country begins to refocus on women in the home and fashionable homemaking.
The Crossbody Or Tote Bag
The 21st century has brought us leaps and bounds as far as technology goes. In less than 100 years, we went from telegraph machines to home telephones, to public payphones, to mobile phones built into cars, to everyone carrying their own tiny personal cellular computer.
Fashion follows the same timeline, and as we’ve seen repeatedly throughout history, fashion adapts to the new technologies and available resources.
Computers and phones became smaller and melded together to create tiny pocket supercomputers, but they are now standard commodities across socioeconomic lines. On the other hand, in the 1980s, if you had your own personal phone line and a home computer, you were hot stuff and considered upper middle class.
Not only has technology become smaller, but because of it, our lives have become bigger. Our lives are busier. We need constant access to power so our devices can stay charged and so we can stay connected to the world that goes beyond our neighborhoods and towns.
We are now so connected to the world that we need to be connected and available at all times. This means we typically carry more stuff.
It’s not just a compact and some smelling salts these days. A woman needs to be able to take her life with her no matter where she goes, and her bag needs to be able to adapt to her changing daily needs.
Enter the tote bag — the do-all, catch-all, versatile workhorse of the modern-day woman. It is absolutely not uncommon to find a woman carrying a large, sturdy, tote bag with her wherever she goes.
Tote bags have their own conception story. But for every tote that was conceptualized before the modern-day tote, the primary purpose was practicality. Toes were always designed to make it easier for you to carry the things that you need with you via a durable and well-designed bag.
These bags are so versatile they can be used for just about anything.
Here are some of the most common, everyday items you would find in a modern woman’s tote bag:
- A cell phone — She has to be able to keep up with what’s going on out there in the world and be reachable by friends and family at the drop of a hat. How else would she know that Beyoncé just released a new album or that her favorite restaurant has a discount on red wine for the weekend?
- A wallet — There has still been no total replacement for the classic money holder, the wallet. Wallets have become smaller. With more and more card usage, but we all still need a way to store and keep up with our credit, debit, and rewards cards.
- A makeup bag — The need to carry blotting paper and lipstick to touch up throughout the day will never die. Makeup collections have only become more and more extensive over the past few decades, with the rise of self-care and makeup brands designing new pallets to match this season’s runway looks.
- A laptop — More than ever, today, Americans are working from everywhere. We may work from the office some days, home the next, a coffee shop when permissible, and even a park or outdoor space. The world of remote work has been on the rise for nearly a decade but has fast-forwarded sevenfold in 2020 alone, and having a dedicated laptop pocket keeps your computer safe and accessible.
- A flash drive or hard drive — While most information is stored on the cloud these days, creatives still need added space to store their bulky digital art and designs. Freelancers, content creators, designers, and entrepreneurs can often be found with hard drives and flash drives tucked into a corner of their handbag to allow easy access to larger working files.
- Sunglasses or sunscreen — The last time we checked, the sun was still shining super bright, and people still need to protect their eyes and skin from harmful UV rays. These items aren’t just for the beach anymore as we become more and more aware of the hazards and early aging that the sun does to our skin.
- A charger for their cell phone, tablets, and laptop — The need to stay connected means a constant need to power up. It’s not uncommon to find a cord charger, wall block, or even a backup battery in a busy woman’s bag. Not only does she need to be able to keep her devices charged, but she’ll need to be able to keep the devices of any miniature passengers or commuters charged as well.
- Their kids backup stuffed animals — Half of the go-go-go in our lives revolves around our families. Carrying an emergency duplicate of your child’s favorite toy to keep their littles occupied is an incredibly important tool for a modern-day parent. No meltdowns on the way to nursery school, please.
- A bottle of water — Luckily for us, modern healthcare has also advanced, and with that comes the knowledge and desire to be healthier and take better care of our bodies. Americans are drinking more water than they have in decades, and having a stylish and practical water bottle that fits perfectly into the water bottle pocket of your bag is just as hip as having the newest designer bag.
- Hand sanitizer and a backup face mask — 2020 has been a strange one, and people across the world have had to re-educate themselves on the value of cleanliness and to be aware of others. Having disinfectant on hand is now commonplace for anyone who works, shops, travels outside the home. Face masks add an extra layer of protection and are well on their way to becoming a practical fashion statement of their own.
The modern woman DOES it all and CARRIES it all, and her designer bag needs to reflect that.
Make Waves By Using Your Handbag To Accessorize Your Life
In conclusion, the modern woman isn’t weighed down by her bag choice. Instead, she makes an entrance by being herself and by choosing a high-quality bag that accentuates her sense of style and self-expression.
These bags most definitely have to take into account her needs for the day or for the evening.
You are sure to make a splash rocking your designer clutch at a fancy gathering. You’ll turn heads by rocking your leather satchel for an afternoon out with friends. And your durable tote packed with everything you need to conquer your day will have your coworkers wishing they were as organized and put together as you.
Enjoy the fruits of the beg envy around you just by being your fashionable, put-together self.