The handbag really came to the fore as a fashion item in the 1920s, when flappers ventured out into the social world without their mothers or male companions. Little bags became essential. Originally an upper class necessity, the handbag quickly became a symbol of women’s independence. Griselda Pollock reminds us that ‘going out in public and the idea of disgrace were closely allied’ (Vision and Difference , 1988 p. 69). The handbag announced self-sufficiency and mobility and offered some sort of protection from potential disgrace—it symbolically allowed the new woman to be wherever she wanted, unencumbered by chaperones.
Sydney academic and fine, fine blogger Meredith Jones on handbags as containers and billboards, at her excellent newer blog, the carriage held but just ourselves. (She previously blogged at Marrickvillia and Sarsaparilla, and can be found in other places, like this one.) I particularly like, also:
Some of you will have noticed the current fashion for enormous handbags—it seems that the skinnier and more toned the celebrity the bigger and floppier and more elaborate her designer tote will be. Perhaps as she is more and more exposed in the media her bag gets bigger and bigger to show that she retains some secrets.
And there is something taboo about the inside of someone’s bag—you shouldn’t go rummaging about in there if it’s not yours—Farid Chenoune, a curator of handbags at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, says that the similarity between an haute couture tote and a satchel belonging to an African witch is that both bags hold a secret of some sort: ‘what you put in your bag is very important to you. That makes a bag very personal, because in it you have a secret. A secret gives you some sort of power’.
Cross-posted at mulberry road.