The history of the pocket bag

For many ages women wore their ‘handbags’ hidden under their skirts. Today these ‘pocket bags’ are en vogue and revealed as a visible accessory.

Time for a little bit of history. Various designers lately experiment with large strapped on ‘pocket bags’ and these remind me of times long gone by, when women’s clothes didn’t have internal pockets sewn into garments. Instead, pockets were attached to a strap and tied around the waist as a separate garment. Invisible worn under hoops and petticoats they were accessed through openings in the side seams. These thigh pockets – usually worn in pairs, one hanging from each hip – served a similar purpose as a handbag does today and held a wide variety of objects including letters,

money, handkerchiefs, sewing kits, mirrors and keys. Some were made to match a skirt, others were made from left over textiles.
During the 1700s, this makeshift pocket became a favorite accessory to decorate, with women hand-sewing embellishments and embroidery.
In the 1790s women’s fashions changed dramatically and full petticoats went out of style. The silhouette of popular dresses slimmed down and left no room for the strapped on pockets. As a solution, women began to use reticules, decorative bags designed be carried over the arm. The handbag was born.
Detachable pocket-bags remained an essential item of dress for girls, working-class women and regional costumes during the 19th century. Be inspired!

Top: Céline f/w 2016 — William Nutter, after William Redmore Bigg, ‘The Penny Lost’, England (1803), collection Victoria and Albert Museum —
middle: Marni s/s 2017 —

bottom: Cotton pockets, regional dress from  Zuid-Beveland, the Netherlands (c.1900), collection Zeeuws Museum — Embroidered pocket, regional dress from Voldendam, the Netherlands (>1942),  collection Nederlands Openluchtmuseum, source image: Geheugen van Nederland —


Top: Joseph pre-fall 2017 — Costume plate (1793), LACMA Collections — Henrik Vibskov Copenhagen f/w 2017 — middle: Double pocket from the United States (c.1750-1775), collection Winterthur Museum —

bottom: Drawstring bag by Simone Rocha via — Drawstring purse with tassels (c. 1798 – 1810), collection Rijksmuseum


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