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A Little History of the Handbag

Posted on June 07 2013

We’ve had the hots for Hermes’s  Birkin bag, Chanel’s  classic 2.55 style  and the Alexa from Mulberry, but where did this long standing love affair with the handbag come from? In the sixteenth century, wealthy individuals carried their money in pouches that dangled from a belt or girdle. These pouches were so easily stolen that soon the trend for pockets in clothing arose, which allowed a man or woman to hide his or her possessions on the body and out of thieves’ reach.  However in the 1790s women's fashions changed quite dramatically. Dresses with a high waistline, with skirts that fell close to the body and legs came into fashion. The contents held in the pockets of a garment would ruin the smooth line of the dress and were widely abandoned. As a resolution, women began to use reticules, decorative bags designed be carried over the arm in the manner of the modern handbag. However, reticules were very small and had barely enough room from much more than a hanky and a coin. The term ‘handbag’ was first used at the beginning of the 19th century, before that time it was often simply referred to as a pouch or coin purse -  mainly because pre 1900 it was rarely used for anything else other than for carrying coins! H.J. Cave & Sons is seen as perhaps the first company to produce a luxury handbag. The company is known for having created the’ Osilite’ trunk, which was used on the 1933 Everest Expedition and on several other expeditions. In 1841 the industrialist and confectionary kingpin Samuel Parkinson ordered a set of complete travel bags for his family from H.J. Cave, but also ordered a small matching leather bag for his wife’s "particulars" and thus the now ubiquitous ‘handbag’ was  created. It was sturdier and more robust than the then used carpet travel bags and could (obviously) carry much more than a simple coin purse. Up until 1865 H.J. Cave & Sons pursued creating the handbag as a new business venture, however negative reactions from the time resulted I virtually no sales and production was halted.  In 2010 the company have resumed production of their own collection of handbags. Although Louis Vuitton and Gucci are powerful fashion houses with a long history of producing leather goods, the introduction of handbags to their repertoire is in fact a relatively recent occurrence. And it would seem that no one loves luxury handbags as much as Britons, who account for 422 searches per 1000 internet users of most searched-for handbag brands, with Mulberry being the brand of choice. However, if a luxury handbag isn’t within the realms of possibility just yet (it ain’t for most of the people we know anyway) then fear not, check out our selection here for some quality leather and reasonably priced vintage alternatives.   1857 reticule advertisement 1857 reticule advertisement resized alexa The Alexa by Mulberry resized h j cave H. J. Cave & Sons advertisement resized reticule england Reticule from England