More than any other high-fashion creation, a handbag is a window into the past. Beginning in the 1950s to the 2000s and beyond, the handbag manages to capture the spirit of an era like no other fashion accessory. In honor of Handbag Day, here, Biltmore Loan and Jewelry delves into its history to highlight the styles that defined the decades.
Most Iconic Bags in the Last 70 Years
During the 1950s, the post-war economic growth ignited a revolution in the fashion industry. The New Look — the brainchild of Christian Dior — led the movement. Waists were cinched, and flowing skirts kissed the ankles. Fashion-forward women needed a small, structured handbag to balance the flattering silhouette. Coordination was key to the prim and polished aesthetic of the 1950s. A woman’s purse needed to match her shoes, hat, and any other accessory on her body.
In 1956, Grace Kelly established a handbag’s allure and status when she was pictured holding a large tote from Hermès. The media later revealed that Princess Grace of Monaco was clutching the sizeable bag to conceal her growing baby bump. In 1977, the Sac à Courroies became the coveted Kelly we all know and love today, and its fate as an iconic luxury handbag was sealed.
However, it was Coco Chanel who crafted the most trailblazing accessory of the decade. In 1955, the young, ambitious, designer created a quilted-leather bag that dangled from a long chain. The 2.55 came with a new kind of freedom. Being the first bag to offer women a shoulder strap, it launched an era of hands-free convenience.
The 1960s marked a period of evolving freedom in fashion for women. It influenced younger generations to shun handbags and opt for dresses stitched with functional pockets.
During this time, the handbag became no longer necessary. Still, those who carried them continued to make a statement. Paco Rabanne seized upon this new-found experimental spirit. Deemed as an enfant terrible of the 1960s French fashion world, Paco introduced a collection of now-famous chainmail purses.
Furthermore, Bottega Veneta launched its transformative Intrecciato Weave, which strengthened the Nappa leather for use in butter-soft totes. Louis Vuitton, on the other, crafted a smaller and more practical version of the beloved Speedy at the request of Audrey Hepburn. Italian designer Emilio Pucci also implemented psychedelic prints to luxe silk clutches during the 60s.
In conjunction with the flower power or hippie-influenced apparel of the 1970s, bag designs were notably bohemian. Designers applied suede or soft leather to their bags, attaching long and slender straps that swung with movement to achieve a carefree look.
Mulberry opened its doors in 1971. The fashion house offered soft, suede bags adorned with intricate embroidery and fringing from its workshop in Somerset in South West England.
Meanwhile, the legendary Karl Lagerfeld was fostering the signature bohemian look of Chloé, which features exotic trims and artful details on leather bags. Moreover, the renowned Spanish fashion label Loewe reflected the era’s free spirit with its versatile Amazona bags.
Several words describe fashion in the 80s. Some include maximalist styling, outré designs, and excessive consumerism. The handbag was the fastest way to express your style — especially when cloaked with signature monograms, glistening hardware, and captivating branding.
As the current generation would say, Karl Lagerfeld “canceled” Coco Chanel’s Classic Flap handbag design. During the 1980s, Chanel was a dying brand until Karl Lagerfeld became the creative director in 1983. He is responsible for replacing the Mademoiselle twist lock with an interlocking CC logo — which, as we all know, worked in Chanel’s favor.
At the other end of the fashion spectrum, the house of Dior added a dangling logo charm to their boxy, quilted top-handle tote. The timeless masterpiece was later named Lady Dior in honor of Princess Diana, who adored the bag and had amassed an impressive collection.
Around the same time, the eye-catching FF logo by Fendi — a creation of Lagerfeld’s in the 1960s — had a massive resurgence in popularity. Hermés, on the other, brought to life the now-iconic Birkin.
Last, capitalizing on the high demand for practicality, Miuccia Prada used nylon to design the first bag for the family-run house. Nylon is a fabric formerly reserved for the Italian army. Costing more than many leather bags, Prada’s bold nylon creation caused people to doubt their predisposed ideas of luxury, leading a new age for utilitarian fashion.
The 1990s had several definitive bag moments, but none experienced a pop culture moment as monumental as the Fendi Baguette. Introduced in 1997, the small pochette offered consumers a brand new silhouette. The house of Fendi designed the bag to be slipped under the arm. Like its namesake French loaf, the Baguette may have been petite, but it made a statement with its large FF clasp.
Seen on the arms of supermodel Naomi Campbell and pop sensation Madonna, the Fendi Baguette was, perhaps, the first bag that an entire generation of women was willing to buy, even if it demanded more than their monthly rent. The “It Bag” was born.
Came the year 2000, the Baguette reigned supreme and was still high in demand. However, for the people lucky enough to snag the so-called “It Bag” of the decade, the desire did not stem from practicality.
The Paddington by Chloé weighed over 1kg when empty, and yet all 8000 sold out before hitting the shelves in 2005. In short, women still wanted a bag that could carry their necessities.
Despite it all, the adoration for smaller bags continued to grow. One of the most trendy bags to arise from the 2000s was the Dior Saddle, which Maria Grazia Chiuri resurrected in 2018. John Galliano’s work of art — Dior’s head designer from 1996 to 2011 — came in countless iterations, from utilitarian camouflage to logo-emblazoned prints, and everything in between.
Other sought-after handbags from the 2000s include Louis Vuitton’s collaborations with Takashi Murakami — a famous contemporary artist. Their rainbow-hued monograms swung from the arms of musicians and heiresses, including Beyoncé and Paris Hilton. The Motorcycle bag from Balenciaga caught the eye of supermodel Kate Moss and instantly rose to covetable status in the 2000s. However, Balenciaga almost halted its production after being dismissed as too soft and slouchy. Luckily, Miss Moss saw the beauty in its unique design.
Do You Own Any of These Iconic Handbags?
With the preloved fashion market thriving, now is the time to sell your handbags at competitive prices. Biltmore Loan and Jewelry purchases high-end designer bags for cash. Visit our office in Scottsdale or Chandler, AZ, or complete our form now to get a free market appraisal.