Handbags from the 1950s

Handbags of the 1950s had shorter handles than bags popular today.
Handbags of the 1950s had shorter handles than bags popular today. (Image: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Matching accessories were popular throughout the 1950s. A stylish woman would always be neatly dressed, wear gloves, and her shoes often matched her handbag. One common theme in 1950s purses was that they usually had shorter straps, rather than the shoulder straps that became popular in the 1970s. Regardless of strap length, purses of this period were made of a wide variety of materials and in numerous styles.

1950's Handbag Basics

Purses in the 1950s were generally boxy with metal clasps for the close. Many bags were designed for practicality, with side pockets or rings attached that could hold a woman’s gloves. Materials for these bags range from leather, tapestry, embroidery, and suede to straw, Bakelite, and heavily beaded designs.

The Chanel Bag

The ubiquitous quilted Chanel bag with a gold chain strap made its first appearance in February of 1955 and was a mainstay of fashion conscious women. It remains a fashion classic. The bag stepped out of the limelight in the 1970s, but enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1980s when it was often copied, flooding the market with fakes.

The Kelly Bag

Grace Kelly made this type of bag from Hermes famous in 1956 when she used it to cover her pregnancy bump. Originally based on a saddlebag designed in the 1930s, this bag was box-like in design. It was often made of leather, calfskin, ostrich or crocodile skin. A true classic like the Chanel bag, the Kelly bag is still made by Hermes today, and often has a six-month waiting list.

Evening Bags

Evening bags of the 1950s were often small clutch type bags. The small size emphasized the femininity of the carrier. These bags were often heavily decorated, sometimes with various beads or in designs involving mother of pearl. Rarely did an evening bag have a handle, although some did come with long shoulder chains. Other designs had a small wristlet that could be concealed in the bag when not being worn.

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