Purses

Carryalls—handbags, purses, pouches— have been a daily life necessity ever since man stopped dragging his knuckles on the ground. To free hands from the burden of carrying around essential survival items (rudimentary spears, knives, and hammers) primordial man fashioned “handbags” from the skins of animal carcasses.

 

PASTORAL (TWO-SIDED) TAPESTRY PURSE

PASTORAL (TWO-SIDED) TAPESTRY PURSE WITH JEWELED BRASS FRAME; ONE SIDE SHOWS A MAN AND WOMAN WITH ANIMALS; THE OTHER SIDE SHOWS A BRIDGE WITH A CASTLE-LIKE STRUCTURE; BOTH SIDES EXHIBIT COUNTRYSIDE SETTINGS; 8.5" L EXCLUDING CHAIN.

 

Whereas our essential survival items (cell phones, lipsticks, and wallets) have changed over time, the basic concept of a “handbag” has not.

We can begin to trace purse history through Egyptian hieroglyphs that feature pouches adorned with jewels and carried around the waist.

In the seventeenth century it was fashionable for men to carry small purses—a far cry from the embarrassed-looking man often seen today in malls holding his wife’s purse.

TAFFETA PURSE IN A TIFFANY STERLING FRAME

BLACK TAFFETA PURSE IN A TIFFANY STERLING FRAME WITH LARGE FAUX AMETHYST ACCENT; MARKED "TIFFANY & CO. STERLING" AND THE NAME "MRS. EDWARD D. ROBBINS;" 6" H EXCLUDING CHAIN.

 

In the 1600 and 1700s, young girls applied their embroidery skills to create beautiful and uniquely stitched artwork on handbags.

In the eighteenth century, fashion-conscious women began carrying handbags called reticules—a netlike bag perfect for holding face powder, a fan, and a vinaigrette.

SILK STITCH ENVELOPE PURSE W/VICTORIAN COUPLE

FIGURAL SILK STITCH ENVELOPE PURSE DEPICTING A VICTORIAN COUPLE IN A WOODLAND SETTING WITH A DEER BY THEIR SIDE; DONE IN TONES OF ECRU, BROWN, GREEN, YELLOW, BLUE, BLACK, AND RED; UNMARKED. Width=8.25 Height=6.5

 

Today there are museums dedicated to beautiful purses made of beads, ivory, tortoiseshell, straw, prickly pear, metals, celluloid, Lucite, and other plastics—and, of course, of the many different “skins” such as lizard, alligator, and snake.

Like ancestral man, our need for a purse is great. Thankfully, we have

designers like Schiaparelli, Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Hermès, and  Dolce & Gabbana to add beauty, grace, and style to one of life’s little essentials.

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