(from Evening bags actually got their start as a coin purse hung from a girdle around the waist. The thing that differentiates the evening bag from a regular handbag is that evening bags have always had a certain status appeal and do not take into consideration practicality.

In the 13th and 14th century, evening bags were pieced together from beautiful and elaborate wall hangings, rich with embroidery, and also vestments from religious clothing. Another influence for the evening bag was a small pouch wore at the waist of a rich lady where she would keep alms for the poor. This bag marked her as a high status person who was “showing off” by carrying around money for those less fortunate than herself. The more elaborate the bag, the wealthier the lady.

During the time of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603), evening bags were crocheted into the shapes of clusters of grapes and animals such as frogs.

During the 17th century, gaming bags became popular for both men and women. These bags had symbols involving thrift and sayings of the day. The gaming bags were used to carry winnings from games the well-to-do played with each other.

As women started to carry around more for the evening (fans, perfumes, and calling cards), bags needed to get bigger and silk knotted bags were used. This trend, however, did not last long and smaller (and more feminine) bag once again became de rigeur for the elegant lady.

The origins of the evening bag would not be complete with mentioning the reticule bag that was first carried by the empress Josephine and soon taken up by ladies of the court and then the countryside.

The history of purses in general dates back to the Babylonian era. Purses were generally used in religious ceremonies then, and the modern wit might quip that they still have a holy significance to a woman. People figured out that they were useful for carrying money and valuables and purses became popular, worn on belts by men and women.

In the early 1800s, women began carrying reticules, the forerunner of the modern handbag, looking very much as some styles of the clutch purse look today. A lady of quality carried her handkerchief and smelling salts in her reticule, along with, perhaps, a packet of rice papers to dull a shiny spot on the face. The clutch purse has been popular ever since.

An early form of bag or wallet was designed in the form of a draw string.  Later purses in the Victorian era (Antebellum) were crocheted, knitted or Berlin work purses.  Purses were ornate, designed with tassels, beads, embroidering, gold, silver, porcelain, etc.

19th Century

Miser Purses or Long Purses

(from Around 1815 there was a shift away from bags as women preferred to carry small money pouches in the bosoms of their dresses. By 1830 men were carrying a small bag purse, usually of leather or knitted silk with steel beads, tasseled ends and drawstring.

Most beaded bags during the mid-Victorian period [1850-60] originated in Czechoslovakia with France and Italy running a close second. Bags were made of brocade and other stunning fabrics with beads crocheted or knitted right into the fabric as it was formed, each bead being sewed into the bag individually and thus adding thousands and thousands of tiny stitches to the original creation.  The range of beads was stunning, from glass of every conceivable color to steel to seed pearls to rainbow-colored abalone shells to turquoise crystals to ivory to amber to coral and even scarlet beans. Each radiated special effects and were given names such as

macaroni, luster, vaseline , frosty cups or jobs tears. Indeed, the study of bead making is a book in itself.

From the 16th century there were also ‘sweet’ bags for the ladies, which were like lavender bags, made of a variety of available herbs to scent their handkerchiefs, and to disguise foul smelling odours from privy and street. A variant was the metal pomander. Men might carry letter-cases, which were large wallets for important documents, and gaming purses, for counters (and winnings), often with a coat of arms, crest or initials in evidence. They also had tobacco pouches, from the 17th century. For long and extended journeys luggage travelled in large trunks, but the more precious and intimate items were carried about the person.

steel frame with two loops for a handle which is now missing, black velvet decorated with steel beads, lower edge trimmed with steel beaded fringe, approximate length excluding fringe 170mm, approximate width of steel frame 80mm, c1850-1860 Hampshire museum

rame 80mm, c1850-1860

Knitted/crocheted miser purse 1850

Hampshire museum

Leather hunting bag 1810

royal bag with coat of arms, leather and gold 1850s