A handbag, or purse in American English
American English
American English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world's native speakers of English live in the United States....

, is a handle
Handle (grip)
A handle is a part of, or attachment to, an object that can be moved or used by hand. The design of each type of handle involves substantial ergonomic issues, even where these are dealt with intuitively or by following tradition...

d medium-to-large bag
- Types of flexible containers :* Antistatic bag, used for shipping electronic components* Bag-In-Box* Bin bag, garbage bag, or trash bag* Book bag* Bulk bag, a name for a flexible intermediate bulk container* Burn bag* Diplomatic bag* Duffel bag...

 that is often fashionably designed
Fashion design
Fashion design is the art of the application of design and aesthetics or natural beauty to clothing and accessories. Fashion design is influenced by cultural and social latitudes, and has varied over time and place. Fashion designers work in a number of ways in designing clothing and accessories....

, typically used by women, to hold personal items such as wallet
A wallet, or billfold, is a small, flat case that is used to carry personal items such as cash, credit cards, identification documents , photographs, business cards and other paper or laminated cards...

A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

s, keys
Key (lock)
A key is an instrument that is used to operate a lock. A typical key consists of two parts: the blade, which slides into the keyway of the lock and distinguishes between different keys, and the bow, which is left protruding so that torque can be applied by the user. The blade is usually intended to...

, cosmetics
Cosmetics are substances used to enhance the appearance or odor of the human body. Cosmetics include skin-care creams, lotions, powders, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail and toe nail polish, eye and facial makeup, towelettes, permanent waves, colored contact lenses, hair colors, hair sprays and...

, a hairbrush
A hairbrush is a stick brush with rigid or soft bristles used in hair care for smoothing, styling, and detangling human hair, or for grooming an animal's fur.-Human use:...

, pepper spray
Pepper spray
Pepper spray, also known as OC spray , OC gas, and capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent that is used in riot control, crowd control and personal self-defense, including defense against dogs and bears...

, cigarette
A cigarette is a small roll of finely cut tobacco leaves wrapped in a cylinder of thin paper for smoking. The cigarette is ignited at one end and allowed to smoulder; its smoke is inhaled from the other end, which is held in or to the mouth and in some cases a cigarette holder may be used as well...

s, mobile phone
Mobile phone
A mobile phone is a device which can make and receive telephone calls over a radio link whilst moving around a wide geographic area. It does so by connecting to a cellular network provided by a mobile network operator...


"Purse" or "Handbag"?

The term "purse" originally referred to a small bag for holding coins. In British English, it is still used to refer to a small coin bag. A "handbag" is a larger accessory, that holds items beyond currency, such as cosmetics, keys, a hairbrush, feminine products and so on. American English typically uses the terms "purse" and "handbag" interchangeably. The term "handbag" began appearing in the early 1900s. Initially, it was most often used to refer to men's hand-luggage. Women's accessory bags grew larger and more complex during that period, and the term was attached to the women's accessory.

Modern origin

Early modern Europeans wore purses for one purpose, to carry coins. Purses were made of soft fabric or leather, and were worn by men as often as ladies. By the late 18th century, fashions in Europe were moving towards a slender shape, inspired by the silhouettes of Ancient Greece and Rome. Women wanted purses that would not be bulky or untidy in appearance, so reticules were designed. Reticules were made of fine fabrics like silk and velvet, with wrist straps. Originally popular in France, they crossed over into Britain, where they became known as "indispensables". Men, however, did not adopt the trend. They used purses and pockets, which became popular in men's trousers.

The modern purse or handbag came about in England during the Industrial Revoluion and the increase in travel by railway. In 1841 the industrialist and confectionery entrepreneur Samuel Parkinson of butterscotch fame
Butterscotch is a type of confectionery whose primary ingredients are brown sugar and butter, although other ingredients such as corn syrup, cream, vanilla, and salt are part of some recipes...

 ordered a set of travelling cases and trunks and insisted on a travelling case or bag for his wife's particulars. Parkinson had noticed his wife's purse was too small and made from material that would not withstand the journey. He stipulated that he wanted various hand bags for his wife, varying in size for occasions and for them to be made from the same leather as being used for his cases and trunks. H. J. Cave (London) obliged and produced the first modern set of handbags, as we would recognise them including a clutch and a tote (named as 'ladies travelling case'). These are now on display in the handbag museum in Amsterdam. H. J. Cave did continue to sell and advertise the handbags but many critics said that women did not need them and a bags of such size and heavy material would 'break the backs of ladies'. H. J. Cave ceased to advertise the bags from 1865 and concentrated on trunks, though they still make the odd handbag for Royalty. However, his design lives on and the use of leather has not been found to break many ladies backs.

20th century

During the 1940s, the rationing of textiles for World War II led to the manufacturing of handbags made of materials like raffia, or crocheted from yarn. Some women crocheted their own small handbags from commercial patterns during the 1940s.

Men's bags

Men once carried coin purses, and the oldest known purse dates back more than 5000 years, and was worn by a man, Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman , Similaun Man, and Man from Hauslabjoch are modern names for a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived about 5,300 years ago. The mummy was found in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps, near Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. The nickname comes from the...

. In early Modern Europe, when women's fashions moved in the direction of using small ornamental purses -- which evolved into handbags -- men's fashions were moving in another direction. Men's trousers replaced men's breeches during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, and pockets were incorporated in the loose, heavy material. This enabled men to continue carrying coins, and then paper currency, in small leather wallets. Men's pockets were plentiful in 19th century and 20th century trousers and coats, to carry an ever-increasing number of possessions, such as pipes, matches, pocketknives, and so on, and they were an item frequently mended by their wives. Women, on the other hand, have shown a strong demand for larger handbags that carry more items for everyday use.

The men's purse was revived by designers in the 1970s in Europe.Since the 1990s, designers have marketed a more diverse range of accessory bags for men. The designs are typically variations on backpacks or messenger bags, and have either a masculine or a more unisex appearance, although they are often more streamlined than a backpack, and less bulky than a briefcase. These bags are often called messenger bags or organizer bags. Demand is strong after several years of popularity, possibly supported by the growing range of modern electronic devices men carry with them. Men's designer bags are produced by well-known companies such as Prada
Prada S.p.A. is an Italian fashion label specializing in luxury goods for men and women , founded by Mario Prada.-Foundations:...

 and Bottega Veneta
Bottega Veneta
Bottega Veneta is an Italian luxury goods house best known for its leather goods. Founded in 1966, it was purchased in 2001 by Gucci Group, now a part of the French multinational group PPR. Bottega Veneta is headquartered in Vicenza, in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy.- History :Bottega...

 in a variety of shapes and sizes. The global men's bag and small leather goods trade is a $4 Billion a year industry.

Luxury handbags

A number of European manufacturers have long histories of producing leather goods. For some companies, such as Gucci
The House of Gucci, better known simply as Gucci , is an Italian fashion and leather goods label, part of the Gucci Group, which is owned by French company PPR...

 and Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton Malletier – commonly referred to as Louis Vuitton , or shortened to LV – is a French fashion house founded in 1854 by Louis Vuitton. The label is well known for its LV monogram, which is featured on most products, ranging from luxury trunks and leather goods to ready-to-wear, shoes,...

, handbags were introduced to their product range relatively recently in their history. Nonetheless, handbags are among their best-known products, and their logos are recognized in many countries today. The most expensive of the luxury handbags are made by Hermès
Hermes is the great messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and a guide to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Kyllini in Arcadia. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of the cunning of thieves, of orators and...

. Prices start at $6000; handbags are made to order, and the waiting lists are years long. Hermès handbag designs carry the names of actresses, socialites, and other celebrities who were frequently photographed with a particular handbag, most notably the "Birkin" bag
Birkin Bag
The Birkin bag is a handmade purse by Hermès and named after actress and singer Jane Birkin. The bag is a symbol of wealth due to its high price and elusiveness to the public....

 named after Jane Birkin
Jane Birkin
Jane Mallory Birkin, OBE is an English-born actress and singer who lives in France. In recent years she has written her own album, directed a film and become an outspoken proponent of democracy in Burma.- Early life :...

, and the "Kelly" bag named after Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly
Grace Patricia Kelly was an American actress who, in April 1956, married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, to become Princess consort of Monaco, styled as Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco, and commonly referred to as Princess Grace.After embarking on an acting career in 1950, at the age of...


Other designers have adopted the practise of naming their handbag designs after celebrities, for example Marc Jacobs
Marc Jacobs
Marc Jacobs is an American fashion designer. He is the head designer for Marc Jacobs, as well as Marc by Marc Jacobs, a diffusion line, with more than 200 retail stores in 60 countries. He has been the creative director of the French design house Louis Vuitton since 1997...

, who created the "Stam" purse, named after model Jessica Stam
Jessica Stam
Jessica Stam is a Canadian model. She is considered to be part of the crop of models described as "doll faces" alongside Gemma Ward, Sasha Pivovarova, Vlada Roslyakova, Lily Cole, Caroline Trentini, Devon Aoki, and Heather Marks...


Types of handbags

As a fashion accessory, handbags can be categorized according to the silhouette of the bag, as well as the type of handle. The current popular handbag silhouettes are (as of 2011):
  • Baguette - a small, narrow, rectangular shape purse, resembling a French loaf of bread (baguette)
  • Barrel - shaped like a barrel or closed tube, usually with shoulder-length straps
  • Bowling bag purse - a popular 1990s "retro" style for younger women, modelled after American bags used to carry bowling balls
  • Bucket bag - shaped like a bucket, medium-size or large, with shoulder straps and a drawstring closure
  • Clutch - a handbag without handles, rectangular in shape, often an evening bag but used during the day as well
  • Doctor's bag - modelled after a Victorian era doctor's bag for making housecalls
  • Drawstring - a purse that closes with a drawstring at the top, may have wrist- or shoulder-length straps, popular as an evening bag style
  • Half-moon - shaped as a half-moon
  • Hobo - medium-size crescent-shaped bag with a top zipper and often a slouch or dip in the centre; a modern, casual silhouette
  • Lighted - a handbag with a lighting system which has been attempted since the 1950's without success until recently when in 2011 the first successful lighted handbag was brought to market.
  • Messenger bag - one long strap worn across the body, inspired by bags worn by urban messengers to deliver business mail, a modern silhouette
  • Minaudière
    A minaudière is a women's fashion accessory, generally considered a jewelry piece, intended to substitute for an evening bag. A case with compartments, it allows storage for several items in a small space, such as a makeup compact, lipstick, watch, reading glasses, or keys.The minaudière appeared...

     - a small rectangular evening bag, usually hard-bodied, sometimes held inside a soft fabric bag that serves as a sleeve
  • Muff
    Muff may refer to:* Muff , a fashion accessory, usually of fur, for keeping the hands warm** Earmuffs, a device for protecting the ears** Muff, a slang term for female pubic hair, or by extension sometimes the vulva...

     - a winter bag made of real or faux fur, wool or velvet that has zippered compartments and a slip opening for hands
  • Pocketbook - small purse, rectangular shape
  • Saddle purse - shaped like a horse saddle, may have equestrian motifs and hardware to emphasize the design
  • Satchel
    Satchel (bag)
    A satchel is a bag, often with a strap. The strap is often worn so that it diagonally crosses the body, with the bag hanging on the opposite hip, rather than hanging directly down from the shoulder. They are tradionally used for carrying books....

     - a soft-sided case usually of leather, with a top zipper and a wide, flat bottom; has two short handles and often also has a detachable strap
  • Tote
    Tote bag
    A tote bag is large and open bag, with a handle centered atop each side. In the classic cloth version, arched straps form both handles. Straps' ends run down both sides, ending under the second fabric layer there, which shields the lower surfaces...

     - medium to large bag with two straps and an open top
  • Trapezoid - shaped as a trapezoid, usually made of stiff material

Gallery of fashion handbag silhouettes

According to type of handle, handbags are often categorized as:
  • Tote
    Tote bag
    A tote bag is large and open bag, with a handle centered atop each side. In the classic cloth version, arched straps form both handles. Straps' ends run down both sides, ending under the second fabric layer there, which shields the lower surfaces...

     - a medium to large bag with two straps and an open top
  • Cross-body - one long strap that crosses over the body, with the bag resting at the front by the waist
  • Sling bag
    Sling bag
    A sling bag is a type of handbag that is worn over one shoulder with a strap that winds around the chest resting the bag on the lower back. Although it is similar to a messenger bag, a sling bag is often smaller....

     - one long, wide strap that crosses over the body, with the bag resting on the back
  • Shoulder bag - any bag with shoulder-length straps
  • Clutch - handleless

Handbags that are designed for specific utilitarian needs include:
  • Laptop purse - a medium to large bag that contains a padded interior compartment or sleeve for protecting a laptop computer
  • Camera bag - for carrying photography equipment
  • Cosmetic bags - small bags for holding cosmetics, often made of synthetic protective material
  • Duffle bag - a large bag usually used for travel or sports gear, sometimes called a "weekend bag"
  • Security
    Security is the degree of protection against danger, damage, loss, and crime. Security as a form of protection are structures and processes that provide or improve security as a condition. The Institute for Security and Open Methodologies in the OSSTMM 3 defines security as "a form of protection...

     bag - protects the carrier from travel theft and includes an invisible stainless steel strap
    A strap, sometimes also called strop, is an elongated flap or ribbon, usually of fabric or leather.Thin straps are used as part of clothing or baggage, or bedding such as a sleeping bag. See for example spaghetti strap, shoulder strap...

     sewn into the fabric and a protectant on the main zipper.


A distinction can also be made between soft-body handbags or frame handbags, where a metal frame supports the textile or leather of the bag. Frame bags often use a kissing lock closure, with two interlocking metal beads set on the top of the frame. Kissing locks were popular on handbags during the early- to mid-20th century, and remain popular with vintage collectors and in "retro" designs.

- Argentina :* Diamante, Entre Ríos, a municipio in Diamante Department* Diamante Caldera, a volcanic caldera partly in the Province of Mendoza* Diamante River, a river in the Province of Mendoza* Laguna del Diamante, a lake in the Province of Mendoza...

 clasps were in use by the 1930s. In later decades, designers found popular success with zipper enclosures, flaps, and even magnetic clasps hidden in the fabric of handbags.

See also

  • Purse hook
    Purse hook
    A purse hook A purse hook A purse hook (also known as a handbag hook or handbag hanger is a type of hook meant to temporarily secure a purse or handbag to a table, sink or armrest. Such hooks have been available since the 1920s. Queen Elizabeth II is said to employ an S-shaped one to hang her...

  • Purse organizer
    Purse Organizer
    Purse organizers are items used to assist women in finding objects in their handbag, in cases where this might be difficult due to overload. The purse organizer is inserted into the purse, and has several pockets which can be used to group different kinds of items together, making it easier to...

  • Purse party
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