- Gianfranco Ferre Pelletteria advert dating back to 1991-
Handbags are about our life. They accompany us through the thick and thin of it. Some bags bring happy memories, others bring sad ones and if you’re a collector, they are all prized possessions.
It’s always been a mystery to men, just what we carry around with us in those bags and just why we bother. As one deejay once said over the airwaves, he had asked his girlfriend for a chewing gum and out came the bag, and out of it emerged all sorts of things – much like a magician’s hat. After what seemed like eternity and the emergence of such myriad objects that he was half-expecting a washing machine to be pulled out of the thing next, the chewing gum saw the light and he resolved never to ask for anything of his girlfriend as long as she had a handbag around.
Needless to say, you all know the scenario full well. You’re driving home, chatting with your hubby, partner, boyfriend, or whichever male might be sitting along with you….. and you get carried away chatting and gossiping and being generally pleasant company; and you arrive at destination, emerge from the car, traipse up to the front door and then remember….. the key. Rightly so, whether it’s day or night, the depths of that handbag know no confines. And even if you had a torchlight to use, there’s nothing better than prying, poking fingers to delve deep in the entrails of that bag and feel your way around for those keys…… no that’s the tampon…… oh that’s the wet tissues pack….. ah there’s the lipstick…… is that the pen you thought you’d lost?....... dear me, where are they? Your fingers meet something which chimes like a bunch of keys, and with a self-satisfied smirk you bring the lot out… only to discover those are the other car keys. By now, your hubby, partner, boyfriend, or whoever is glaring down or up at you with sparks in his eyes, bright enough to x-ray through that bag if they only could, is getting nervous. Lucky for him, you’ve got a small bag on today… and you resume your search….. so that’s where the phone bill went……..yuuck, that liquorice sweet has seen one day too many in that bag……mascara….. lip pencil….. coins….. You finally resort to shaking the whole thing in the hope of hearing something chime the way that Donald Duck and Greek souvenir keychains do when they meet… and hey presto…. You dig out the proper bunch from the front pocket. Now that’s where you should have looked in the first place.
And men will always comment on our bags – ‘Is that a boat you’re carrying around?’ or ‘What is that for – to keep the change in?’ Whatever nasty jibe they hit at us and our poor little bags, they typically ask for elbow space in that receptacle you’re carrying, or at least just enough for you to carry their own of keys, fags, mobile phone (and do remember to keep your ears open in case it rings whilst it’s in your safekeeping) etc, etc.
- An 'a.testoni' handbag being used on a Volvo ad dating back to 1991-
I have always loved huge bags and when I had my boys, huge bags were always good things to own ‘cause they kept virtually everything I or they needed – from nappies to sweets to snacks to water bottles to books to toys. I kept lugging those big things around when all the rest of the female contingent was sporting bags which would have preferred being called purses and which could only carry, at most, a mini tampon. And I suddenly realised that the boys weren’t wearing nappies anymore, nor did they get hunger pangs quite so often. And with a huge sense of liberation, I placed my sack of a bag aside and proceeded to choose a tiny clutch of a bag, not much larger than five square inches.
- The original Gucci handbag re-worked for a '90s style -
I felt all excited on the first day I used this – my first real ‘handbag’ for what seemed like eternity. Before I walked out of the house, I felt like a 16-eyar-old again, ready to face to world as long as my own little world was well packed inside that bag. But once I was out on the streets……I felt completely and utterly stark naked and I spent a considerable number of days suffering of withdrawal symptoms, constantly feeling like I’d left an important part of me behind. But slowly I was converted and learnt the art of squeezing into that five square inch most nearly anything, to the extent that I felt ready to face the Guinness Book of Records on that score.
Now handbags have always been women’s allies. They are there to be cosseted, used or abused but generally loved and admired. But today’s bags are a far cry from 16th Century cloth bags which were practical affairs used to keep the odd coin and hanky. By the 17th Century small purses became fashionable and these were bolstered up by unique embroidery designs. 18th Century reticules were fashionable with space enough to carry rouge (yesteryear’s version of a blusher), face powder, a tiny scent bottle, a case holding the fashionable and dainty visiting cards, a fan to hide blushing cheeks and some smelling salts which ladies needed since they seemed to swoon all over the place courtesy of tight blood-restricting corsets.
The handbag only materialised in its modern essence in the 20th Century but incidentally it was not a lady’s accessory but referred to as hand luggage carried by gentlemen. But obviously women fell for these affairs, and producers fancied out new designs which included the kind of complications women fall for, including the odd jewel to embellish them as well as separate compartments to hold all those feminine knick knacks. Today we have mobile phones and snazzy shades. Yesteryear they had opera glasses and English Lavender.
With the Charleston, low hemlines and flimsy clothing, bags came into their own as Art Deco and bakelite doubled up with tassles, flair and fashion came together but only until pre-war and war years when nothing faintly flirty was to be found in the shops and bags of cloth, plastic and wood replaced anything that included metal which was being stacked away for the war effort.
The Fifties boosted the ‘New Look’ with bags that have just recently been revived by vintage lovers, making the selection available today quite extraordinary. If you fancy a leap into the ‘50s, before the Mary Quant bags and or the glitter bags came into fashion, then there are some of old materials to look out for - mesh, lucite, wooden box bags, plastic, raffia…. There were even bags that came with matching brollies or battery operated torch lights inside some models to help the ladies find those darned keys. I guess women always had the same old problem…
I got my inspiration for including this post on handbags after having featured the little brown clutch in my last posting. I draw a lot of 'handbag' lessons from this little book by Anna Johnson, published by Workman in 2002.
And these pictures featured today are gleaned from a vintage edition of MODA ITALIA magazine issue No.90 dated October 1991.
- Gucci handbag in black calf leather and bamboo handle - this is the first Gucci handbag dating back to 1957-