Plastic Fantastic

At first, plastics were used to imitate expensive tortoiseshell and ivory bag frames. They appeared in around 1919 and remained in fashion until about 1930. These semicircular plastic bag frames were flat or decorated with historical, romantic, oriental or Egyptian motifs. Initially they were only made from celluloid and casein, but from 1927 onwards they were also made from cellulose acetate.

At the beginning of the thirties, handbags and clutches appeared that were completely made of plastic. Plastic was no longer used in imitation of tortoiseshell and ivory but valued for its contemporary smooth appearance. These plastic bags stayed popular until the war. A beautiful example is the set of celluloid pochettes from 1937 in pastel shades of pink, blue and green.

In the thirties, many new plastics were invented which had many more possible applications. In the forties and fifties, they were so popular that bags were made from plastic beads, telephone wires and small tiles. In the United States in the fifties, plastic handbags dominated the fashion scene for more than a decade. These bags are box-shaped and made from hard plastic. Transparent as glass, made from Lucite (Perspex or Plexiglas) or in intense colours and decorated with strass, they were expensive bags at first. But they quickly became so popular that cheaper, lower quality versions were sold everywhere. With the arrival of softer plastics like vinyl, heavy and hard plastic handbags lost their popularity.