The first handbags were essentially women’s pockets with handles attached to them and because they were worn under a woman’s skirts and close to her skin, they were considered undergarments. So, when bags for women first became popular, many viewed them as vulgar.
The early handbags were also daring, one of the first examples of underwear as outerwear—and thus for many a rather absurd affectation. The idea of a woman parading her personal belongings in a visible pocket was an act akin to lifting up her skirts and publicly revealing her underwear.
Early American feminists, in particular, fought the loss of pockets for women. They believed handbags would never be as practical as pockets and advocated for functional pockets built into women’s garments like pockets were for men. For these women, pockets for men and handbags for women became symbolic of the inequality between the sexes and the struggle for women’s equal rights
Whether one was in favor of or set against the handbag for women, in the absence of functioning pockets, a functional bag would quickly become an inescapable component of a woman’s daily life. Although it would go through many changes over the years; its size, shape, or decoration shifting with each new decade’s sensibilities, by the late-nineteenth century, the handbag was here to stay.
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