Today our purses carry everything we could possibly need for a busy day. In the 1920’s however the purse or handbag was a thing of beauty and only a little practicality. Since most daily items were purchased at neighborhood shops with credit accounts under a father’s or husband’s name there was no need to carry money other then some pocket change for the movies or a soda pop. Instead women’s 1920’s purses carried only the hot new necessaries of the day- Make Up!
Face powder, lipstick, and sometimes rouge were carried in small decorative compacts that were as pretty as the bags that carried them. Some varieties of bags even had the compacts built right into the bag handle. Inconspicuously hidden the compacts were always close by for a quick touch up job. A refined lady would powder her nose in the ladies room but those new liberated flappers would apply make up right at the dinner table. Gasp!
Such beautiful ladies required caring equally beautiful purses. There was an art to making metal woven “mesh” handbags as well as beaded fabric bags. Hand tooled leather clutches with intricate art deco designs or snake skin puchettes made day wear slightly less formal. Puchettes which had carved metal frames and clasp closure or fold over envelope flaps were also elaborately decorated for evening formal dress. Glass beads, seed beads, and round faceted beads were hand woven at home using mail order kits. Metal mesh bags were mass produced in a variety of designs, shapes and coloring techniques. Talking about the variations of mesh handbags in worthy of an entirely separate post (and will be discussed in the 1920’s Style Guide book.)
The key styles of 1920’s purses were that they were small with thin strap(s) or clutch varieties. Some were small boxes with handles. Whenever possible purses complimented the wearer’s dress. Beaded bags with beaded dresses, leather with fur, etc.
Vintage 1920’s purses are very collectible today. The age of the beads and metals makes them extremely fragile as well. If you want to wear one to your next 1920’s party I would recommend you purchase one of the many reproduction purses available today. I have put together a page of 1920’s Style purses for sale from several online shops: