Symbolism of the Handbag

by - February 12, 2019

Symbolism of the Handbag

Fashion is a form of expressing ones’ individual identity through the means of aesthetics; it’s not essentially about utility. Arguably, it wasn’t about utility until recently, where pockets can not only be seen in ready-to-wear dresses but also couture gowns (thank you Raf Simmons). However, before form, function and practicality aligned with fashion, handbags served those purposes since their inception. An early modern origin of handbags came from the 17th century as purses and coin purses, which then evolved into handbags. But we aren’t here to give you a historical lesson about fashion’s favourite accessory products, we would simply like to briefly explore the handbag as a symbolic gesture. 

Let’s agree on the fact that handbags now come in endless shapes, sizes, styles and functions. Most are practical, some are pretty, and others are iconographic to a brand. There are boundless handbags. Although it’s sensible to go for handbags that compliment your style and express your individuality. Style is very personal, fashion isn’t. How you dress is a depiction of your character, your lifestyle, your aspirations and even your personality. The handbag acts as a support to one’s personal style and needs. Naturally, the functionality and size carry more priority to most people, but the style, design and even price tag define your taste and economic prosperity. 

During the early feminists’ movement, handbags symbolised independence and status; women carried their own wallet with their own bank cards, car & house keys and work-related materials. The handbag embodied progression in gender equality. From independence to economic prosperity, women showcased their expensive taste and lifestyle through the investment of designer handbags. Every super brand has its own iconic handbag; Lady Dior, Chanel 2.55, Louis Vuitton Capucine and Hermes Birkin; and every woman wanting to display success would have one. The Birkin remains to be the icing on the cake when it comes to signifying career success, but more so financial success. If you’ve watched Sex and The City TV series, then you may remember Samantha Jones eagerly cutting corners to get her hands on a Birkin, during the early stages of her career in PR. In the films of Sex and The City, Miss Jones already owns numerous Birkin handbags, epitomising her career & financial successes. 

Lately, however, handbags are made smaller in size. Social allegory of the handbag size changed into smaller handbags equating to more success and wealth. Meaning, women can afford personal assistance to carry their work load, so there’s no need to carry large handbags. They only need their phone, cardholder and perhaps cosmetics for touch up. Anyone with a large handbag was briefly seen as aspiring, working their way up and still carrying their own stuff. The symbolism of the handbag is ever changing, not only with time but also with different cultures and societies. However, society dictates trends but doesn’t set them. The handbag is a utilitarian piece that still celebrates individuality, independence and personal identity. Our advice; go for the handbag you love and express your identity.     

All Photography by Zinah Nur Sharif


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