Fashion and Feminism: The Evolution of the Handbag (The 1920s)

Posted: Mar 22 2017

A new modernity defined the 1920s and represented a new age, the Jazz Age.  Women were now free to vote, work and dance the Tango and Charleston unabashedly.  Free from their previous restraints, women across the country relished their hard-won independence.

Fashion followed in the footsteps of this newfound freedom and reflected a modern woman’s style, most evident in the Flapper look.  Bob hairstyles, cloche hats, plucked eyebrows and rosebud pouts represented the chic, uninhibited style of the Roaring 20s and embodied the spirit of the Jazz Age.  Handbag designs followed suit becoming more modern, as well.  The snap of the clutch announced the end of drawstring reticules.  A simple clutch, often fashioned in an Art Deco design, was the bag of choice for the busy Flapper.  It also held her cosmetics for quick touch-ups before a night out.  As the decade progressed, a small handle was added to the top of the clutch to make it easier to hold on the dance floor.  Thus, the pochette was born.

Women demanded simplicity as much as design in the 1920s and no one understood this better than Coco Chanel.  Her simple, understated collections of mix-and-match jersey fabrics revolutionized women’s clothing.  She also revolutionized the handbag.  Although clutches were in demand at that time, Chanel thought women should have another option.  Therefore, she added a shoulder strap to one of her creations.  This bag would later become Chanel’s 2.55 Flap Bag, the most luxurious handbag in history. 

Fashion and art were inextricably linked during the Jazz Age.  The Whiting and Davis mesh bag reflected society’s obsession with Aestheticism and the Art Deco movement.  Made of “Armor” mesh, the bags were manufactured in various shapes and colors with fringe and beading added to personalize the design.  The Whiting and Davis mesh bags reached the height of their popularity in the 1920s and are still manufactured and sold today. 

The Roaring 20s brought much desired change and freedom to the modern woman.  Flapper style, clutch handbags, and Art Deco designs defined the era as women rightfully claimed their positions in society.  No longer accessories themselves, women were free to pursue life on their own terms, and to have fun with fashion along the way. 

Join us again next week when we explore the cinema’s affect on fashion and feminism in the 1930s.

Flapper Dancing the Charleston


Flapper Girl Style


Chanel and Her Iconic 2.55 Flap Bag


1920s Mesh Bag


Whiting and Davis Iconic Mesh Bag



Image Via:  Vogue US Cover, 1928 - Fashion illustration by Georges Lepape