Handbags in the 1930s

Written by emily stokes
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Handbags in the 1930s
The typical 1930s handbag was flat and basic, geared more toward classy utilitarian style than over-the-top glamour. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

The 1930s marked a conservative era in fashion in response to the realities of wartime, and contrasted with the previous 1920s decade of high glamour and frivolity. Additionally, women were moving out of the domestic sphere and becoming more active in the public working realm; these two factors lead to several changes in handbag accessory fashion, which aimed to uphold both functionality and simple timeless style. From the night bag or clutch to the shoulder bag, many of these styles largely remain today.

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1930s Handbag Shapes

Perhaps one reason why this era is so notable in handbag fashion regards the fact that the handbag began to take a wide variety of new shapes and sizes. The box-shaped bag was larger and typically had two brass handles, while the envelope clutch was meant to be small and discreet, and was often made of satin or similar material. The pochette was flat and rectangular in shape, and was perhaps one of the more popular trends of the era. The era also boasted bucket bag and shoulder bag designs, all of which were influenced by modern access to industrial materials and art deco style.


Access to new industrial products such as enamel and zippers allowed the handbag to take on new materials and style. Handbag designs in the 1930s abandoned the lavish intricate beading of the 1920s and opted for sleek angular designs, accented only by metal clasps or fasteners. Depending on the wealth of the individual wearer, these metals might be semiprecious, and were also designed to match certain high-end jewellery lines. The fabric used in handbags of the era ranged from silk to leather, the most popular and expensive of which was typically crocodile, calf or snake, as well as pig, ostrich or doe skin -- or imitations of these skins.

Evening Bags

Women almost never wore the same handbags from day to night, which created a distinct classification of "evening bags." These tended to be small and discreet, made of satin or dark leathers and metals. Some evening bags had mirrors installed into them, as the act of applying make-up in public had become very en vogue. The evening bag was only to be large enough to hold lipstick and powder, as it was assumed that gentlemen would take care of any expenses or need for cigarettes.

High Fashion Handbag Designers of the 1930s

Richard Koret was one of the more well-known designers of the time and produced high-quality items for simple elegance. The company's logo was a gazelle, and appeared in Jackie Kennedy's collection of silk clutches. Koret Inc. was also a licensee for both Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy.

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