Today, our purses carry everything we could possibly need for a busy day. However, the 1920s purse or handbag was a thing of beauty with only a little practicality. Since most daily items were purchased at neighborhood shops with credit accounts under a father’s or husband’s name, there was no need to carry money other than some pocket change for the movies or a soda pop. Instead, women’s 1920s purses carried only the hot new necessaries of the day- Make Up!
Face powder, lipstick, and sometimes rouge were carried in small decorative compacts that were as pretty as the bags that carried them. Some varieties of bags even had the compacts built right into the bag handle. Inconspicuously hidden, the compacts were always close by for a quick touch-up. A refined lady would powder her nose in the ladies’ room, but those new liberated flappers would apply make up right at the dinner table. Gasp!
Such beautiful ladies required carrying equally as beautiful 1920s purses. There was an art to making metal woven “mesh” handbags as well as beaded fabric bags. Hand tooled leather clutches with intricate Art Deco designs or snake skin puchettes made daywear slightly less formal. Puchettes, which had carved metal frames and clasp closure or fold over envelope flaps, were also elaborately decorated for evening formal dress. Glass beads, seed beads, and round faceted beads were hand woven at home using mail order kits. Metal mesh bags were mass produced in a variety of designs, shapes and coloring techniques.
Talking about the variations of handbags alone is worthy of an entirely separate history article.
The key styles of 1920s purses were that they were small with thin strap(s) or clutch varieties. Some were small boxes with handles. Whenever possible, purses complimented the wearer’s dress — beaded bags with beaded dresses, leather with fur, etc. Continue reading about purse history with 1930s handbags.
Vintage 1920s purses are very collectible today. The age of the beads and metals makes them extremely fragile as well. If you want to wear one to your next 1920s party, I would recommend you purchase one of the many reproduction purses available today.
I have put together a page of 1920s style purses for sale from several online shops.
New 1920s Handbags and Purses