The origin of the history of the handbag occurred so far in the past that no one will know when the first person placed their precious personal items into a pouch for carrying. The term handbag was coined in the 1840s when bags especially for railroad travel were introduced. The availability of carrying bags flowered in the twentieth century. With all the designers and manufacturing methods to draw upon, the variety of bags has grown tremendously.
People have been using pouches to carry useful items as far back as ancient Egypt, when men were depicted in hieroglyphs with a pouch attached to their waist. The Iceman, a mummified prehistoric European man from around 3200 BC, who was found in the Alps, carried a pouch for his personal items.
In recorded historical records the first citation about purses came in the fourteenth century. In those days, men and women wore pouches at the waist on their girdle, which was a sort of belt. Before pockets came into use, with voluminous skirts in style, women developed the habit of tying a drawstring purse inside their skirt on a girdle while the men used bagges, or small leather pouches, worn inside their clothes.
Through the next centuries, as styles changed, carrying bags emerged from under ones clothes to be carried once again. Young women would cover their purses with elaborate embroidery to appeal to potential suitors. At this stage, the practice of coordinating different purses with their outfits became more common, so that fashionable women began to acquire more purses, also called reticules, to match their ensembles.
It was in the mid nineteenth century with the dawn of railroad travel, when luggage manufacturers began to make hand held bags for travelers to carry their things, that the term handbag came into use. Some modern handbag designers first became involved in their design during this period.
It was in the twentieth century that the handbag industry really took off. Coordinated bags for matching clothes, different cloth or leather materials, decorative designs and new styles, such as handleless clutches were first introduced. Larger shoulder bags came back into style, marriage bags, reticules and doll bags, which looked like little dolls clutching purses and dressed like the woman were popular.
During the 1930s, most of the handbag styles known today were in existence. Many new or synthetic materials and styles, some decorated with zippers, buckles and other fasteners were added to the possibilities. All the previous styles and new variations like smaller clutch bags or shoulder bags were fashionable items. As designer bags appeared, so did fabulous fakes.
The variety of handbags is too great to go into detail, but some types from the history of the handbag along with newer styles are on the market. Bags come in all shapes and sizes and the materials used are whatever can be imagined. The choices have expanded to include work bags, tote bags, laptop computer bags and messenger bags. And as a sign of the changing times, even the manbag, or purse for a man, is achieving acceptance.