Fashion and Feminism - The Evolution of the Handbag (The 1960s)

Posted: Apr 19 2017


The Sexual Revolution was a fitting title for the 1960s.  After a long decade of silence and conformity, women spoke up and reclaimed their bodies and voices.  The decade began on a hopeful note with FDA approval of the first birth control pill and the election of a young, idealistic president and first lady.  However, it ended much differently.  By the end of the 1960s, chaos and protests plagued the country and women were forced to fight harder and more aggressively for the rights they deserved.

The 1960s had three distinct fashion periods, each reflecting the progression of the Women’s Rights Movement.  The beginning of the decade showed a subtle move away from the restrictive wardrobes of the 1950s.  Women were ready to shed their full skirts and binding dresses for a more comfortable, but equally feminine, look.  No one combined the dignity of the 1950s with the simplicity of the 1960s better than Jackie Kennedy, and she quickly became the fashion icon for this generation.  Her tweed suits, pillbox hats and structured bags were exactly what women needed to start fresh.  Jackie’s strength in times of great sorrow was also the example women needed to move forward during difficult times. 

The mid-1960s brought an abrupt change in tone to fashion.  Short baby doll dresses and shapeless shifts made grown women look more like young girls.  Handbags made of vinyl or plastic were made to match the colorful ensembles.  The term Youthquake was used to label this fashion period and it truly produced a shock throughout the country.  Not since the 1920s had women expressed themselves in such an openly rebellious and sexual way.  Two prominent female figures emerged at the forefront of the Youthquake movement, Twiggy and Edie Sedgwick.  Twiggy is perhaps the most famous model of the 60s.  Seen on every magazine cover wearing bold, baby doll dresses, Mary Janes and impossibly long eyelashes, she was the very definition of “Mod”.  Edie was Andy Warhol’s muse.  Her pixie haircut, promiscuous outfits and general dismissal of anything the establishment defined as “fashionable” made her a poster girl for the Sexual Revolution.  It was a crazy time for fashion.

Several “IT” bags became popular during this tumultuous time.  Louis Vuitton created the Papillon, a small barrel shaped bag with long leather handles.  The shape was unusual and matched the eclectic fashion of the mid-1960s.  LV also created a smaller version of the Speedy at the request of Audrey Hepburn.  It is now known as the Speedy 25.  Gucci introduced their Hobo bag.  Made of leather or canvas, the long, body conforming shape went perfectly with trench coats and bell-bottoms that emerged as the decade progressed.  Jackie carried the bag so often that Gucci officially renamed it the “Jackie” bag.  Pucci also became extremely popular in the mid-60s.  Psychedelic swirls of aqua, fuchsia, orange and lime covered everything they created, including their handbags. 

By the late 1960s, the Women’s Rights Movement had exploded and was more vocal than ever.  Women were pushing for an ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) that would guarantee their equal rights and stop the discriminatory practices that were so prevalent in the country.  Women demanded to be taken seriously and this required a different fashion style.  Baby doll dresses were not helpful to their cause, so they shifted from baby doll to boyish.  Bell-bottom pants, long vests and macramé filled women’s closets, a much more masculine wardrobe for taking on the establishment.   Handbags were purchased in flea markets to rebel against traditional fashion houses.  Women were rejecting what was feminine in favor of what felt natural.  It was also the beginning of the freethinking, hippie movement of the 1970s.  What could possibly happen next?

Join us next week as we explore fashion and feminism in the groovy 1970s.


Jackie Kennedy in mod leopard print



Twiggy's style influence


Edie Sedgwick's rebellious style


Twiggy with a Louis Vuitton Papillon


 Audrey Hepburn with her Louis Vuitton Speedy 25


The Jackie Gucci Hobo 


Late 1960s style



Sources:  Vintage Dancer, Getty Images, Vintage Handbags by Marnie Fogg