We've always been enamored with delightfully unique vintage handbags of all eras from the 19th century onward.
With the popularity of tv shows such as HBO's The Gilded Age and Netflix's Bridgerton, along with the 2022 Met Gala Theme referencing the sartorial inclinations of New Yorkers between 1870 to 1890, we're sensing an interest for 19th century fashion in the air.
Women's handbags came into style in France in the late 18th century when more form fitting dresses came into style, which caused dress designs of the era to omit pockets. During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, handmade needlework bags were in vogue – these depicted flowers, landscapes and mythological scenes. These intricate purses often featured a kiss lock closure – named for the two interlocking beads set on top of the frame – which continued to be popular through the mid-20th century. Our Marie Turnor curated selection of vintage handbags includes the Antique French Tapestry Bag which features a delicate needlepoint body with a metal frame embellished with a beautiful enamel inlay and marcasite inlaid bow kiss lock. One handbag from the mid-20th century that also uses a kiss lock closure is our Vintage Navy Leather Clutch, which has a Bakelite frame and patchwork leather body.
Paired with the growing prevalence of beaded adornments for dresses and other accessories, beaded handbags appeared on fashionable women in the late 19th century and remained popular through the 1930s. These glittering, intricately designed bags were eye-catching and could demonstrate a woman's skill for handiwork to other women and potential husbands.
The popularity of beaded handbags soared during the Roaring Twenties, and designs featured floral, geometric, or abstract patterns in a spectrum of colors. Many of these handbags also had a signature beaded fringe that played with the light and dazzled admirers. The Hand-Beaded Evening Bag in our Marie Turnor vintage collection is one such example. This unique bag is clear with intricate beadwork in a floral motif with a beaded handle.
As handbags for women became more ubiquitous during the 20th century, they signified a new era of independence for women, who needed to carry more of their personal belongings with them. Today handbags are symbols of status and style, an accessory with a world unto its own.