1900-1950: a Different Bag for Each Time of the Day 

In the 20th century the handbag became a permanent fashion item. Influenced by rapid changes in art, socioeconomic trends, fashion, technology and mobility, but especially by women’s liberation, women’s handbags experienced a mushroom growth. Due to women’s increasing participation in the workforce, more practical and less whimsical bags were in demand. Leather briefcases appeared for work, whereas handy strolling bags and bags for paying visits in leather, mesh, beads or plastic were worn during the day. At night women would carry elegantly shimmering small bags, vanity cases or minaudières. There were even special opera bags with compartments for opera glasses for the theater.

Women never had a greater choice in bags than during this first half of the 20th century. Not only were there bags for each time of the day, there was also a large variety in decoration and materials. Thus, textile bags, sometimes embroidered in minute petit point with no fewer than 421 stitches per square centimeter, bags made in mesh, or from glass or polished steel beads were all the rage. The frames, decoration and materials of bags were in keeping with the styles of the time, such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco and modernism. Influenced by Art Deco’s clean lines, modern materials like aluminum and chrome, geometric forms and bright primary colors were all in vogue in the 1920s.

Along with the handbag the envelope bag or pochette, now called a clutch, was the most popular bag of the1920s and 1930s. Nowadays the clutch is mainly favored as a graceful evening bag.