Janet's Vintage Finds

Vintage Purse Guide: Evening Bags and Clutches

Vintage pillow purse

Clutches, evening bags, box purses and more!

Before World War I, most women didn’t carry any sort of handbag or purse. However, as the century progressed, fashion evolved to suit their changing habits and lifestyles. Young women were getting away from wearing the long, full, ample-pocketed skirts and dresses that their mothers and grandmothers wore, and turning toward styles more suitable for working in offices or socializing in the evenings. People were also starting to travel more.

For all those reasons and others, women needed something to carry around their everyday essentials like vintage handbags 1950s purseskeys, vanity cases, and cigarette holders. And they wanted that something to look good with their newly fashionable outfits.

It all started with the reticule, which I cover in another post. Those gave way to evening bags in the 1940s, which remain very popular today. According to one blogger on Fabrics.net, “it was said that the woman of means could indulge her fancy in its wildest flight, so beautiful, extravagant, precious and costly were some of the bags.” Bags were often elaborately designed with embroidery, beading or tapestry. The relatively strong economic times of the 1950s strengthened this trend. Designers catered to women’s fascination with glamour and luxury.

Following are some popular variations on the standard evening bag, starting with the clutch purse. Photos are from vintage Etsy shops (including mine) and various other vintage purse and collectors’ sites, as noted:

Clutch Purses are the more modern and glamorous cousin of the reticule. Popular in the 1920s and 30s, they remain a favorite vintage style today. According to Fashionista, the handheld structured bags are the preferred accessory for stars and socialites at special events.

Unlike shoulder bags or larger purses, clutches compliment an outfit without detracting from its effect with handles or straps. As women began to carry more in their purses, the clutch purse became more of an accessory than a practical carryall. Women would carry a larger shoulder bag during the day and reserve a collection of dainty clutches for evenings out.

Judith Leiber minaudiere
This Elephant minaudière is listed at $4,995 at Judith Leiber Couture

Today, designers hire artists to handcraft specialty clutch purses, says Fashionista. The price reflects that special care, with top label clutches priced in the thousands of dollars. One of the most famous modern designers is Judith Leiber, who is known for the minaudière (from the French meaning ‘to be charming’). One of her best-known bags is shaped like a red tomato covered with hand-set red and green crystals.

 

Vintage Clutch - Black Evening Bag - Clutch Purse - Designer Clutch
A 1930s vintage beaded clutch by Durmar (from my Etsy shop).

 

Ultra Rare, Vintage 1981 JUDITH LEIBER, Chinese Hand Warmer Purse, with Swarovski Crystals Minaudiere HandBag
A Judith Lieber minaudière (from IncogneetoVintage on Etsy).

Lucite box purses.These plastic purses started as a fad but have become coveted by collectors. (Lucite should not be confused with Bakelite, a hard plastic that was often used to make jewelry in the ‘20s and ‘30s).

lucite box purse
A1950s lucite box purse (Image from Collectors Weekly)

 

Vintage 1950s 50s Lucite Purse Rhinestones Evening Bag
A 1950s Lucite Purse (from littlestarsvintage on Etsy).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clear Plastic Purses. A variation on the Lucite box purse, these bags seem to contradict the notion that women liked to keep the contents of their purses private. However, the novelty and appeal of the design inspired workarounds—women would wrap their belongings in colorful silk scarfs, which in themselves would become part of their fashion statement. Besides the private aspect, the strategy allowed women buy one purse and change its look to match different outfits. So you could say that it was actually a cost-saving measure!

Vintage 40s INGBER Petite Clear Purse with Rhinestones
A 1940s clear plastic purse with rhinestone detail (from Vintageables on Etsy)

Compacts and cigarette cases. Many Lucite purses included matching compacts or cigarette cases mounted ontotheir lids, says  Collectors Weekly .

 

Vintage Compact Mirror - Purse Accessory - Elgin American
This 1950s Elgin compact includes the original “fashion guide.”
Vintage Stratton Cigarette Case - Business Card Case - Purse Accessories
Vintage gold-toned cigarette case by Stratton. (JanetsVintageFinds on Etsy)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pochette is a handle-less clutch carried under the arm that may feature elaborate geometric and jazz motifs.

original MISSONI pochette / Vintage envelope handbag / italian designer purse / chevron gold blue bag
A Missoni vintage pochette (Skomoroki on Etsy).

Bamboo handled bags. Gucci artisans in Japan used bamboo as an alternative to more expensive materials during wartime. The bamboo was bent after heating and shaped into a handle.

Straw Handbag - Summer Handbag - Capelli Purse
Vintage straw purse with bamboo handles by Capelli. (JanetsVintageFinds, Etsy)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drawstring bag. These small bags, often homemade, emerged during the 1940s when expensive materials like leather were scarce.

1940s beaded purse - Corde'-Bead bag - 1940s purse - reversible drawstring handbag - 1940s beaded purse - 1940s vintage handbag
Vintage 1940s drawstring bag (SplendoreBoutique on Etsy)

Shoulder clutches. Popular in the 1960s, these were dainty bags with long chains or straps.

Vintage Evening Clutch Bag - By Franchi
A vintage shoulder clutch with long chain handle by Franchi.

 

Metal Bags. The Chatelaine (a predecessor to the minaudière) was the first metal bag, made by Judith Leiber in the 1970s. They were popular in the “glam rock” era and featured lots of buckles, sippers, and rhinestones. 

Vintage Pillow Purse - Metal Clutch - Brass Purse - Copper Purse
A vintage metal pillow purse from the 1970s (JanetsVintageFinds on Etsy)

The IT bag. The Fendi Baguette became the first IT bag in 1997. It was designed to be carried under the arm like a loaf of bread

Fendi Baguette bag
A Fendi Baguette bag (photo via BragMyBag)

Vintage Reproductions

A few designers have revived some of the popular styles from the past. These are not cheap knockoffs, notes Vintage Dancer, but beautifully crafted recreations. Two designers stand out in this regard, according to a post on 1920s bags:

Whiting and Davis has have revived some of the original metal mesh bags that they first produced in the late 1800s.

Mary Frances  makes elegant, artful small beaded bags inspired by 1920s techniques. I checked out her web site and these bags are truly whimsical and unique. The “before midnight” bag, for example, is shaped and decorated like the magical carriage that took Cinderella to the ball (a powerful motif, as I cover in a previous post inspired by my wedding dress) . A few bags depict animals while another is in the shape of a vintage typewriter.

Collectible Lucite purses are made by Llewelyn, Gilli Originals, Rialto, and Wilardy Originals.

Vanity purses laminated with colored or gold glitter, such as these examples from Wilardy, were popular throughout the 1950s.
Vanity Purses made by Willardy. (photo Collectors Weekly)

 

Llewellyn was known for its carved Lucite bags, as well as ones like this one made from shell, a hard plastic material composed of cellulose acetate.
A carved Lucite bag by Llewellyn. (photo Collectors Weekly)

 

 

 

A Vintage Purse Shopping Guide

vintage handbags 1950s purses

Tips for Finding the Perfect Vintage Purse

There’s nothing like a vintage handbag to complement the right outfit. Whether it’s a dressy night out or a special occasion like a wedding or anniversary, a vintage bag can be the perfect accent. In Europe, some women are embarrassed to carry shiny new bags, writes Tina Craig of Bag Snob, in an article she penned for Harper’s Bazaar. Why? Simple: a vintage accessory sets you apart from the trend-followers. It marks you as someone who recognizes and appreciates classic styles.

If you don’t like the idea of buying standard off-the-rack purses from department stores, vintage bags may be the answer. They provide that special touch that separates you from the crowd.

But where do you find these perfect accessories? Ideally, you would have a stylish grandmother with a penchant for designer bags that she saved for future-you in a dust-free cedar trunk or closet. You could then browse through a selection of vintage classics with full confidence in the authenticity of each bag.

Alas, few if any of us have such fashionable and forward-thinking relatives. In reality, it isn’t always easy to tell whether a bag is old or just made to look that way. Classic bags from decades past by top designers like Chanel or Gucci are rare and expensive. You can usually identify those bags by their price tags—if the price doesn’t shock you, it probably isn’t the real deal. However, many attractive vintage bags made by lesser-known designers are quite affordable. And many genuinely vintage bags have no label but are of perfectly good quality and design. It comes down to how much you care about labels.

For many of us, the name brand really isn’t that important when it comes to vintage handbags. What matters more is how a bag looks and feels and whether it suits the occasion or outfit you have in mind. So how do you tell if a bag is vintage when the label is either obscure or missing altogether? You may never be absolutely sure but it helps to make a careful assessment before you buy. Here are a few tips for making a smart selection:

Trust your instincts. If buying in a store, carefully consider the quality of the materials and craftsmanship. If it feels light, cheap, or synthetic, it probably isn’t vintage. When purchasing online, look closely at the photos. Conscientious sellers post clear pictures of bags from multiple angles, along with close-ups of the labels, when present.

Ed Robinson Petit Point Purse | Robinson Petit Point Handbag | Petit Point Evening Bag | Vintage Purse | Needlepoint Clutch
Petit Point Purse listed by CarolinesKitchen. $249.

 

Black Clutch - Clutch Bag - Evening Bag
A 1950s vintage clutch on Etsy.

Read Reviews. Check up on sellers’ reputations and read reviews from previous customers. Look for trends. There can be legitimate reasons for one bad review but several customers expressing dissatisfaction should raise red flags.

 Feel the bag in your hand. If buying in a store, pick up the bag and hold it. If a bag feels light and insubstantial, it might not be vintage. Even if you’re buying online, check the description to see if it’s lined. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most Etsy sellers, myself included, love to receive queries and comments from buyers and we usually answer very quickly. One nice thing about Etsy versus a massive retailer like Amazon is dealing with individual shop owners who offer personal customer service.

Vintage Clutch - Black Beaded Clutch - Clutch Purse - Vintage evening bag
Fine beadwork elevates this 1940s clutch (Etsy).

Notice Details. Genuine vintage bags are carefully crafted. Look for quality workmanship in the stitching. Note whether the hardware looks cheap. Beads should be attached securely. Interiors should be fully lined.

Be alert to fake leather. Real leather is made from animal skin, which, like human skin, is full of natural imperfections. If the surface of a purse is perfectly uniform or smooth, it’s probably not genuine leather. It should also feel supple and flexible, not stiff or hard, and will regain its shape after being wrinkled.

Caterini Bidini of Bidini’s Fine Leather Handbags offers some useful tips on how to use your senses to make an educated assessment:

Vintage Leather Shoulder Bag - Vintage Purse - Vintage handbag - Vintage Bag
Vintage Italian leather shoulder bag on Etsy.
  • Real leather scratches. If you run your nails over the surface and nothing happens, it’s probably not leather.
  • Real leather has a “leathery” scent whereas fake leather might smell like glue or plastic.
  • Although you probably won’t want to spit on a bag in a store, it can be another way to eliminate fakes. Leather absorbs saliva whereas synthetic material will not.

 

Happy Searching!

 

 

 

Here are a few more great vintage bags listed by some of my fellow vintage sellers on Etsy:

1960s animal print handbag, leather clutch
1960s animal print purse from 86Vintage86

 

 

Le Regale Beaded Shell Clutch
La Regale beaded shell clutch from IsabellasVintage.

 

1960s Gold Lame Clutch Ornate Clasp Formal Cocktail Handbag
1960s Gold Lame Clutch from TrendRevival.

 

vintage purse lizard print leather brown handbag tote clutch 1960s 1970s retro
Vintage Lizard Print purse from MoiVintage.

 

  • Stay Tuned for my next post on vintage purse styles, starting with the reticule. Want to receive these posts in your inbox? Sign up here.

Home Design Round-up: 5 Inspiring Decorating Ideas

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I’ve been reading lots of home design sites and finding some great design ideas and inspirations. These are a few that caught my eye.

  1. Copper Pot Display. I can’t imagine actually possessing this many copper pots and pans, nor keeping them this clean and shiny all the time. However, it makes for a beautiful display, especially in a rustic or farm kitchen. I also really like the glass-paneled cabinets showing vintage tins and canisters. (photo from Copper Pans | Kitchen Design Ideas (houseandgarden.co.uk).

copper pots hanging in a chateau kitchen- design ideas

 

2. Horseshoes. The wedding blog DeerPearlFlowers posted some creative ways to incorporate horseshoes into your western wedding. As a symbol of good luck, the horseshoe is a perfect design element for this happy event. Check out how nicely they complement these floral displays.  (Also love the wood crate).
Design Ideas: rustic-succulent-wooden-box-and-horseshoe-wedding-centerpiece

Design Ideas: Rustic-Red-Barn-Horseshoe-Winter-Wedding-Centerpiece

3. Retro Kitchens. Country Living Magazine recently published “11 Retro Diner Decor Ideas for your Kitchen.” This was one of my favorites. The white cabinets accented by pops of green and red make this kitchen so bright and colorful. Along with the pretty yellow flowers, it makes me think of starting the day on a beautiful spring morning.

Design Ideas: retro kitchens
Love the green chairs.

4. Textile Accents. I love the little touches in this apartment decorated by San Francisco interior designer Soledad Alzaga. Note the fluffy rugs and pillow coverings and the round mirror above the mantle. (Photos from Desire to Inspire).

Design Ideas: Textile accents in redecorated apartment      Design Ideas: textured pillows fluffy rugs

5. Contrasting Colors. Love the dark cabinets with the wood floors, stainless steel oven, and white counter. Such a clean look. Note the lights hanging over the sink and pots hung conveniently by the cooking area. (From Industry Standard Design; Photo source: www.thekitchn.com).

 . Design Ideas: contrasting colors and materials in kitchen

Have you seen designs that inspire you lately? Would love to see your ideas in comments.

Audrey Hepburn: Painful Childhood Influenced Her Work on Screen and Off

Audrey cover
Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn: “Princess of all our fairy tales,” says People Magazine (Winter 1993)

I came across a 1993 issue of People magazine recently. A Special Collector’s Issue devoted to the life of Audrey Hepburn that came out just after Audrey’s death at age 63, from colon cancer.   I remember saving it and pouring over the pictures. She’s always been my favorite Hollywood star (see my previous post on the style of Audrey and Grace Kelly).

I started reading the articles and was reminded of the difficulties she overcame before rising to stardom. We came to think of her as living among the beautiful and privileged but she first endured a harsh childhood spent partly in Nazi-occupied Holland. Born Edda Hepburn-Ruston on May 4, 1929, in Brussels, Audrey’s first great sorrow was the divorce of her parents when she was just 6. She adored her father and lived with him for a while in London but he mostly ignored her. She later returned to live with her mother–who was of part-Jewish ancestry–in Holland, just before it was invaded by Germany. Over the next few years, her uncle and a cousin were executed by the Nazis.

Audrey Hepburn childhood
Audrey was shy and awkward as a child

Audrey’s mother survived by posing as a pro-German aristocrat but still had her home, property and bank accounts confiscated by the Germans. Audrey’s half-brother was sent to a labor camp after he refused to join a Nazi youth group. The Germans forced the family to evacuate in 1944 and Audrey found herself living in a crowded house in a neighboring village. One day, she was snatched off the streets by German soldiers to work in their military kitchens but escaped to a deserted cellar. There, she nearly died from malnutrition before being rescued by Allied troops in 1945,

The images of war always haunted her and I think this is part of her power on the screen. There are many beautiful movie actresses but, to me, Audrey rose above the pack. She had such a kind face and eyes that could simultaneously express joy and sadness. Think of the scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s when she’s sitting on the fire escape outside her apartment singing “Moon River.”

Roman Holiday
Audrey and Gregory Peck in “Roman Holiday”

Audrey started off in show business in Holland but her first Hollywood hit was “Roman Holiday,” in 1953, for which she won an Oscar. Soon after came Holly Golightly in “Breakfast,” the part she became most famous for. Here’s how People describes that role’s impact on style and attitudes at the time:

“Holly was the wanton gadfly of the Kennedy generation, with “Moon River” its love song. Young men fell hopelessly in love with Hepburn when she and George Peppard dropped their cat and dog masks and kissed in front of their elevator; young women descended on American’s major cities wearing beehive hairdos and extravagant dark glasses. Daring to be different, defying the world with her wistful exuberance, Holly in 1961 was the pre-dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”

Breakfast at Tiffanys
In Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Breakfast at Tiffanys
With “Breakfast” co-star George Peppard

Her beauty was a mixture of girl-next-door and royal princess. Here’s how the New York Times described her in its obituary:

“Descriptions of her beauty and appeal inevitably included the word “gamine.” She was boyishly slender, with an aristocratic bearing, the trace of a European accent and a hint of mischief. ‘A Wild-Eyed Doe’.”

By the time I came to know Audrey’s work, she was already in her 50s, and I admired her even more as she aged. Her second “career” was working as a roving special ambassador for UNICEF, driven by her own experiences with living in a time of wartime suffering. I remember seeing her on TV visiting children in Ethiopia and other countries. Her celebrity status helped bring needed resources to people suffering during civil wars and famines. She was in Somalia in 1992, just a year before her death.

Audrey Hepburn unicef
Audrey’s second career: ambassador for UNICEF

 

The publisher’s letter notes that People magazine had never before devoted an entire issue to a single movie star. When Audrey died, the staff started sifting through all the information and pictures and finally decided that a mere article could not do justice to Hepburn’s extraordinary life. I completely agree. I hope you enjoy seeing some of the pictures from that issue — I don’t think she ever took a bad photo.

Audrey Hepburn broadway early career
“Gigi” was her first big role in Broadway
Audrey hepburn style
Audrey’s style had a big influence on fashion trends

 

 

Audrey hepburn on bike
Audrey was always stylish, never pretentious

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Source: Content based on articles in the Winter, 1993 Special Issue of People magazine. Photos taken from the same issue.

5 Secrets to Audrey Hepburn’s and Grace Kelly’s Vintage Style

grace-kelly-90774_1280

Few of us can be as stylish as 1950s celebrities Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn but we can all add some vintage style to our look. Here are 5 tips to creating your own vintage style.

“Vintage” is sometimes equated with “old” but what it really conveys is lasting quality–that’s what I think of when I see Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly in old movies. Like fine wines, they seemed to acquire more style and grace with age.

Miriam Webster notes “vintage” can be used to describe “something that is not new but that is valued because of its good condition, attractive design, etc.”

They could have placed Hepburn and Kelly’s pictures beside that definition as examples of vintage in human form. These two actresses defined chic sophistication throughout their lives.

How can we mere mortals borrow some of that style? Here are my thoughts:

  1. Embrace shorter hairstyles. Grace Kelly’s swept, back hairstyles appear so soft and natural. While you may not be able to achieve this exact style, there are a few basic takeaways: shoulder length, no bangs, highlights, waves. Audrey’s perfect facial structure allowed her to rock a pixie cut. While you may not want to go that short, you also don’t need to hide behind your hair.
    grace-kelly-90774_1280
    Grace Kelly’s swept back style.

     

Audrey Hepburn for Givenchy
Audrey’s pixie cut. Photo by Carrie Spritzer via Creative Commons.

2. Don’t over-accessorize. Who doesn’t want to look like Audrey Hepburn in the wee hours of the morning gazing through Tiffany’s display window? Besides the perfect black dress, what’s most memorable are her signature hat and sunglasses. She had a masterful way with accessories. Lesson for us: you don’t need a lot of makeup or flashy jewelry to look elegant. Find a couple of stand-out accessories to define your look.

audrey-hepburn-392920_1280
Audrey Hepburn’s classic black hat and sunglasses.

3. Forego the knife. Audrey and Grace didn’t have access to a lot of the cosmetic procedures used by stars today but they were still elegant and attractive as they aged (sadly, Grace only made it into her 50s).

audrey-hepburn-old
A still beautiful older Audrey Hepburn. /photo by JC Pons via Creative Commons

4. Invest in quality.  Grace and Audrey were stylish but never trendy. A few quality, signature pieces defined their look. Think Grace’s Hermes bags or Audrey’s orange, double-breasted coat worn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Lesson: Build your wardrobe around a few quality pieces instead of buying a lot of cheaper items based on passing trends.

Grace Kelly with iconic Hermes bag. (From Marie Claire)
Grace Kelly with iconic Hermes Bag (photo from Marie Claire).

Audrey Hepburn's Orange Coat
Audrey Hepburn’s Orange Coat by Givenchy. Photo by Landahlauts via Creative Commons

 

5. Wear Flats. Although 1950s and early 1960s fashion often conjures up images of form-fitting, cinched waist dresses and sleek stilettos, you can achieve a vintage style in flats, too. Personally, I have never gotten used to walking in high heels so even though I realize they look attractive, I think of stilettos as pure torture. Audrey and Grace often wore flats or 1 or 2-inch heels with both dresses and casual outfits.

Audrey wears low heels with her elegant black dress.
Audrey wears low heels with her elegant black dress.
Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly looking casual. Photo by II Giss/ Creative Commons.

 

 

 

Do you like vintage style? How do you achieve it in your everyday or special occasion wardrobe? I’d love to get your input.

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