The debut of BeeCee’s Sophistikat at Emerald Square Mall, North Attleboro, MA
The term “purse” originally referred to a small bag for holding coins. In British English, it is still used to refer to a small coin bag. A “handbag” is a larger needed accessory, that holds items beyond currency, such as a woman’s personal items and emergency items to survive on. American English typically uses the terms “purse” and “handbag” interchangeably. The term “handbag” began appearing in the early 1900s. Initially, it was most often used to refer to men’s hand-luggage. Women’s accessory bags grew larger and more complex during that period, and the term was attached to the women’s accessory.
A handbag, also purse or pouch in American English, is a handled medium-to-large bag that is often fashionably designed, typically used by women, to hold personal items such as wallet/coins, keys, cosmetics, a hairbrush, pepper spray, a book, contraceptives, or a mobile phone. In the UK however a ‘purse’ would not refer to a handbag, but an item similar to a man’s wallet, containing small items such as money and credit or debit cards.
A number of European manufacturers have long histories of producing leather goods. Some were made by famous jewellery companies such such as Tiffany & Co.. For some companies, such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, handbags were introduced to their product range relatively recently in their history but for others like H.J. Cave & Sons, they have been around almost as long as the company. Nonetheless, handbags are among their best-known products, and their logos are recognized in many countries today.
The most expensive of the luxury handbags are made by Hermès. Prices start at $6000; handbags are made to order, and the waiting lists are years long. Hermès handbag designs carry the names of actresses, socialites, and other celebrities who were frequently photographed with a particular handbag, most notably the “Birkin” bag named after Jane Birkin, and the “Kelly” bag named after Grace Kelly.
Types of handbags
As a fashion accessory, handbags can be categorized according to the silhouette of the bag, as well as the type of handle. The current popular handbag silhouettes are (as of 2011):
- Baguette: a small, narrow, rectangular shape purse, resembling a French loaf of bread (baguette)
- Barrel: shaped like a barrel or closed tube, usually with shoulder-length straps
- Bowling bag purse: a popular 1990s “retro” style for younger women, modelled after American bags used to carry bowling balls
- Bucket bag: shaped like a bucket, medium-size or large, with shoulder straps and a drawstring closure
- Clutch: a handbag without handles, rectangular in shape, often an evening bag but used during the day as well
- Doctor’s bag: modelled after a Victorian era doctor’s bag for making housecalls
- Drawstring: a purse that closes with a drawstring at the top, may have wrist- or shoulder-length straps, popular as an evening bag style
- Half-moon: shaped as a half-moon
- Hobo: medium-size crescent-shaped bag with a top zipper and often a slouch or dip in the centre; a modern, casual silhouette
- Lighted: a handbag with a lighting system which has been attempted since the 1950s without success until recently when in 2011 the first successful lighted handbag was brought to market.
- Messenger bag: one long strap worn across the body, inspired by bags worn by urban messengers to deliver business mail, a modern silhouette
- Minaudière: a small rectangular evening bag, usually hard-bodied, sometimes held inside a soft fabric bag that serves as a sleeve
- Muff: a winter bag made of real or faux fur, wool or velvet that has zippered compartments and a slip opening for hands
- Pocketbook: small purse, rectangular shape
- Pouch: small bag such as a pocket, teabag, money bag, sporran, etc
- Saddle purse: shaped like a horse saddle, may have equestrian motifs and hardware to emphasize the design
- Satchel: a soft-sided case usually of leather
- Tote: medium to large bag with two straps and an open top
- Trapezoid: shaped as a trapezoid, usually made of stiff material