History of Fashion

by Janae Redgrave, Galt Community Program Coordinator

It is fascinating to ponder the history of everyday items. Most people, particularly women, would consider a handbag a wardrobe essential, both functional and fashionable. Throughout history, both men and women have used leather or cloth bags to store the personal belongings they might need for the day. As clothing had no pockets until the seventeenth century, a small pouch was attached to a leather strap around the waist, and was used to carry tools, weapons, food, coins, and other valuables.

With the appearance of pockets in men’s clothing in the early seventeenth century, the handbag fell into disuse among men, except for larger bags or briefcases for larger items such as books, documents and letters. From the sixteenth century, women commonly used a chatelaine, a decorative clasp attached at the waist by a series of chains, from which a coin purse and accessories like sewing tools were hung. The chatelaines of wealthy women were crafted from precious metals and considered to be jewelry and status symbols.

Wearing a chatelaine would ruin the look of this clothing so fashionable ladies started carrying their handbags. These small bags had drawstrings and were known as reticules in France and indispensables in England. Pockets returned to women’s clothing in the 1840s; however, most women continued to carry small handbags, often spending enormous time embroidering them. By the mid-1800s train travel was popular and the term “handbag” emerged to describe the new bags developed for train travel. The clutch, a small handbag without handles, became popular in the 1920s. In the twentieth century, the sizes, materials and types of handbags grew tremendously to match the popular fashions and needs of the time.

Join us at the Galt Museum & Archives from 7–9 pm on Thu MAY 04 to try the technique of wet felting and make a felted clutch. Adults & seniors. Admission fees apply.