Vintage Throwback: Timeless 1950s Handbag Styles
The 1950s witnessed a significant revolution in the world of handbags and purses, as well in the history of the whole world. Exhausted by World War II, the world longed for more elegance and beauty. As we celebrate vintage fashion, let us remember the remarkable 1950s handbag styles that added a touch of glamour to the decade.
During this era, designers stepped into uncharted territory to create distinct feminine styles that would leave a lasting impact, as it turned out.
Today, it is almost expected for a woman to have a purse by her side, as it's functional accessory. However, during the 1950s, not every woman carried one. While it was considered a fashionable accessory, many women did not feel the need to have a handbag like they do today. Examining countless photographs from the era reveals that in approximately 90% of the pictures, women are seen without handbags or purses.
Vogue 1955 cover: 1950s handbag styles
Nevertheless, the handbag designs were undeniably astonishing then. Both 1950s actresses and average women favored short-strapped handbags that clung closely to their bodies, providing a sleek and stylish appearance. Although duffel bags were not unheard of, they did not offer the desired slim silhouette that women sought after the "New Look" from Christian Dior became a popular trend in the 1950s women's clothing. One popular handbag style of the era was the gold lame handbag, exuding glamour and sophistication.
The materials used to create purses in the 1950s vary to a great extent than what is commonly seen today. In the early '50s, purses were often made from exotic skins such as crocodile, alligator, turtle, or snake. However, as the decade progressed, some fashion designers pushed the boundaries by crafting lucite boxes that doubled as purses, showcasing an intriguing and unique vintage aesthetic.
In addition to these materials, women purchased wicker purses, leather purses, and an array of other types. Renowned high fashion designers during this era included Gucci, Chanel (known for her iconic Black Quilted 2.55 Handbag introduced in 1955), Dior, Hermes, Wilardy, and many more.
The handbags and purses of the 1950s stand as a testament to the innovative and daring spirit of the designers of that time, leaving behind a legacy of remarkable and timeless fashion.
Fashion Brands and Their Signature Handbags Born in the 1950s
The 1950s saw the rise of designer brands and their staples that they're known for today.
Legendary names like Gucci, Chanel, and Dior introduced iconic designs that remain revered to this day.
For example, Chanel's Black Quilted 2.55 Handbag, introduced in 1955, became a symbol of luxury and elegance.
In the 1950, the Hermes renamed their Sac A Depeches bag to Hermes Kelly, as we know it today, so this decade is officially the decade Hermes Kelly was born. In addition, Hermes Constance, the third of the triplet holy grail of women's handbags from Hermes, was introduced in 1958.
These items have left an indelible mark on handbag fashion.
Exploring the 1950s Handbags History: Main Trends
Let's explore the main trends of the handbags from the '50s. We'll take a deep dive into the materials, silhouettes and shapes used in that era.
In the 50s, it was impossible to encounter a woman with a slouchy bulky bag. Only handbags were seen at that time. Small purses complimented the femininity of the outfit, besides, large bags were not needed as women didn't have to carry much stuff.
The structured handbag silhouettes were popular in the 1950s for several reasons. Firstly, the post-war economic boom during that time sparked a revolution in fashion, with Christian Dior's New Look leading the way. This new silhouette featured nipped waists and full skirts, creating a more feminine and hourglass shape for women. To complement this new silhouette, smaller and more structured handbags became popular to balance out the volume of the skirts.
Another reason for the popularity of structured handbag silhouettes in the 1950s was the emphasis on elegance and sophistication in fashion. The structured shape of the handbags conveyed a sense of refinement and polish. The materials used for these handbags, such as crocodile, alligator, turtle, snake skin, and even gold lame, added to their luxurious appeal. The handbags were often adorned with stylish embellishments and had a timeless and classic aesthetic.
Furthermore, the 1950s saw a return to more traditional and conservative values in society, with women expected to maintain the image of the perfect housewife. The structured handbags reflected this more refined and domesticated lifestyle, aligning with the prevailing cultural norms and expectations.
Fashionable Travel Luggage
If you needed a larger bag, you needed to purchase a travel item. Those were in abundance, including the items offered by the top luxury handbag brands we love today. For example, here's a travel Birkin 40 HAC bag made by Hermes in 1957:
Crocodile & Alligator bags
During the 1950s, crocodile bags were quite popular for several reasons. First and foremost, crocodile leather was seen as a luxurious and prestigious material. The exotic nature of crocodile skin added a touch of elegance and sophistication to handbags, making them desirable fashion accessories.
Additionally, the post-World War II era was a period of economic growth and prosperity, and luxury items such as crocodile bags became more accessible to a larger audience. The 1950s was a time of increased consumerism and an emphasis on fashion and style, and crocodile bags were seen as coveted items that symbolized status and refinement.
Furthermore, advancements in tanning and manufacturing techniques made it easier to produce high-quality crocodile bags, resulting in an increased availability of these items in the market. During this time, designers embraced the versatility and durability of crocodile skin, leading to a surge in the production and popularity of crocodile bags.
Overall, the abundance of crocodile bags in the 1950s can be attributed to their association with luxury and status, the growing demand for fashionable accessories, and advancements in production techniques that made them more accessible to a wider audience.
1952 Hermes fashion advert
One significant trend was the preference for shorter strapped handbags that stayed close to the body. These bags provided a sleek and svelte look that complemented the fashionable silhouette of the era.
Coordinated accessories were also a prominent trend in the 1950s. It became increasingly fashionable to match a handbag to a hat or other accessories, creating a sophisticated and polished look.
A lot of handbags in the 1950s relied on rectangular or square silhouettes. An obvious example would be a Chanel 2.55 bag. Hermes Kelly was such a breakthrough because they managed to use another silhouette that relied on the trapezoid shape.
The 1950s witnessed a notable evolution in handbag designs. While the early years focused on structured and tailored looks, the latter half of the decade showcased more playful and whimsical designs. Novelty handbags adorned with intricate patterns, animal shapes, or bold prints gained popularity, adding a touch of unique charm to any ensemble.
1950s Vintage Purse Brands List
Here are top 5 bag brands that were popular in the 1950s. How many of them do you know?
Louis Vuitton: Known for its iconic monogram canvas designs, Louis Vuitton is a timeless brand that has been producing luxury handbags since the 19th century. In the 1950s, they were already producing three of their signature silhouettes - Speedy, Alma and Noe.
Chanel: Founded by Coco Chanel, Chanel is renowned for its elegant and sophisticated handbags, such as the classic Chanel 2.55, introduced in 1955.
Hermès: Renowned for its craftsmanship and quality, Hermès is famous for its Kelly bag, which have become symbols of luxury. These 1950s Hermes adverts showcase the most popular silhouettes of the iconic handbags. Note
Gucci: With signature designs and the famous GG logo, Gucci has been manufacturing fashionable handbags since the 1920s. In the 1950s, their handbags with bamboo handles were still all the rage.
Rendl: Rendl, a 1950s luxury bag brand, produced handbags in the 1950s and 1960s. Their most popular leather used to be crocodile skin, and you can still find these secondhand purses today on the leading online auctions.
The handbags of the 1950s encapsulated an era of grace, femininity, and innovative design. They epitomized the attention to detail and refined craftsmanship of the time, leaving an enduring legacy in the world of fashion.
Despite much time has passed, the allure of 1950s handbags still captivates our sense of beauty. Their timeless elegance and craftsmanship make them prized collector's items and sought-after vintage pieces. Whether it's in the hands of a modern fashion enthusiast or displayed in a curated exhibition, these handbags continue to mesmerize and inspire.