An evening bag is a woman’s secret hiding place, full of mysteries and wonder. However, it had a humble beginning, made from a few skins and bone to carry your possessions, and has now transformed into a portable boudoir of vanity.
Evening clutches, which are a red carpet staple, were once a muse for the monarchs. Beaded or leather, boxy or soft, there is no better evening companion besides your date.
The journey of evening clutches from a coin purse hung from a ceinture around the waist to a coveted couture has been quite exquisite. What differentiates a clutch from a regular handbag is that clutches have always had a certain status appeal.
The story of an evening bag will forever be incomplete without a mention of the reticule bag. This enchantress was first carried by Empress Josephine and was soon taken up by ladies of the court, gently diffusing into fashion of the then countryside.
Transition of evening clutches
13th Century – 16th Century:
In the 13th and 14th century, evening bags were marked as a symbol of identity and status. The more elaborate the bag, the wealthier was the lady perceived to be. These bags were stitched together with beautiful and elaborate sequences inspired from tapestries and wall decorations in alignment with their place of origin, flaunting rich embroidery work. During the era of Queen Elizabeth, (15th and 16th century), evening bags were crocheted into the shapes of clusters of grapes and country staples such as frogs.
In the 1900s, ladies often carried dangling bags from their wrists. Handbags for women became a popular accessory, as well as an avenue for them to showcase their needlework skills. This was a time where women began to use bags as custom accessories for their outfits. Some went a step ahead and had bags custom made for different occasions – such as shopping, parties and other social events. These bags transcended the traditional personal handbag, since they were designed for the new lifestyle. What set them apart was personalisation, the owner’s mark, through hand-painted names or initials on the surface.
Art Deco clutches and beaded fringe bags were in vogue for flappers out on the town. The princesses and ladies preferred to customize their fashionable evening handbags to match their opera binoculars and folding fans.
Women carried ‘pochettes’ thus inviting it into the mainstream, a clutch featuring geometric motifs, which they carried casually under their arms. Bags in the 1920s reflected the Art Deco movement, which emphasized abstraction and new industrial materials, such as plastic and zippers.
The Great Depression of the 1930s meant a period of frugality which reflected in the style of bags. Many people reworked their old ones over making a luxury purchase. Women also grew fond of the jeweler box, a small treasure box studded with gold and silver jewelry, called ‘Minaudière’ – an evening bag or clutch with a hard case and often covered in beads or crystals. These jeweled clutches were the new favorite of socialites and movie stars. Years later, an Italian handcrafted leather handbags designer known as Bottega Veneta replaced its gold and silver jewelry with elaborate leather work and created the luxurious Knot Clutch.
During the Second World War, the atmosphere was austere owing to heavy military movement and conscription in the armed forces. During these years of material shortage – a classic, elegant and a charming small bag was created. In 1947, Gucci craftsmen bent Japanese bamboo after heating it; lending it the identity of a semicircle handle. After the war, this bamboo handle handbag was well loved.
Christian Dior in Paris spearheaded the ‘The New Look’ era in 1950s. It was the golden era – underlined by glamorous travel, the international jet set and Hollywood movie goddesses. The designs were exquisite and well made even with overwhelming industry trends of mass production. The first hot wave of designer handbags of different sizes had commenced. Chanel was originally in knitted fabrics, but they quickly switched to leather handbags – much to everyone’s delight.
With the rise of swing girl of rock and jazz flappers, youthful bag styles become popular – such as the long, narrow clutch and the dainty shoulder bag with long chains or straps. The British punk culture was gaining strength, with a lively colorful rebellion.
The 1970s belonged to Glam Rock, this was a time of excess and glitz and the ‘Queen of Clutch’ was Judith Leiber. She scattered rhinestones across the base of the bag as her first model came back imperfect from the factory and thus was the creation of her first metal bag, the ‘Chatelaine’, the predecessor to her infamous evening bag, the Minaudière. Leiber’s bags are fun, fabulous and eternal – loved to this day by socialites, homemakers and beautifully eccentric pop stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
Women wore suits, short skirts and high heels – and therefore handbags became more sparkle and logocentric. Miuccia Prada designed a black nylon knapsack that became the first well-known unisex bag. Its emergence and popularity, made the fashion industry notice the environmental consciousness and ushered in a wave of minimalist fashion, while further consolidating its position as the leader in designer handbags – although it was a nylon bag, its elegance lived in its heritage.
Fendi revolutionized everything in 1997 by launching the first ever ‘IT Bag’ – the Fendi Baguette. Designed to be carried under the arm like a French loaf, the Fendi Baguette become a star handbag around the world, despite the hefty price tag. Hermes bags with enormous H or Chanel handbags with double C logo were quite a rage too, with an emphasis on both style and functionality.
Present Day Evening Bags:
Stylish women seem to adore the cheeky party favors. Reese Witherspoon wields an Edie Parker that says ‘Lil Spoon’. Across occasions, from office holiday parties and club nights to fancy luncheons and weddings – an appropriate choice of bag not only levels up the way you look but also makes you feel comfortable.
A Minaudière, which dresses up well for formal events, just cannot be carried to a nightclub. Instead, a wristlet will work better for such glitz-struck nighttime affairs. Going from work to a night out – women are packing their bags with flashy headphones, smartphones, wallets, sunglasses, selfie sticks, lipstick, keys and even healthy snacks to get them through.
Everyone craves a sensual evening bag that transforms you into a goddess for the night and forever. These small bags represent inverse snobbery. They are not about how much you can carry but how little – probably just a lipstick and a cash card on the inside and all the beaded and embellished opulence on the outside.