Since earliest times both men and women carried their personal belongings in bags. They wore these bags hanging from their belts or girdles. Men’s bags were generally made from leather which was sometimes embroidered, and some had ornamental metal clasps. They used them to carry coins and personal effects such as letters and documents. Over the course of the 17th century the men’s bag went out of use with the introduction of inner pockets in men’s clothing.
Women also wore their bags and purses hanging from their girdles. The more refined purses were made of cloth or leather and were often beaded or embroidered. The fancy ones were worked with gold and silver thread.
During this period bags and purses could have other uses as well. There were bridal purses, sweet bags, gaming purses, document cases and alms bags. Alms bags came in leather or textile, the more precious pieces were made of silk, velvet, damask, enamel, glass beads or embroidered in gold or silver thread.
Sometimes bags were nothing more than luxury gift wrappings. Examples of these special bags in the collection of the former Museum of Bags and Purses are the so-called ‘sweetbags’. They were filled with money or fragrant flowers and often offered to the king.