The Interesting History of Victorian Purses

The Victorian era was known as the era with classic monarchial elegance and fashion. Whether it is their plumpy gowns, or their purses and accessories, victorian style undoubtedly inherited Queen Victoria’s fashion taste. Although the elegant gowns and dresses – fitted with a corset and plumped by crinoline cages, were already a giveaway for Victorian looks, its fashion wouldn’t be complete without purses.

With lots of craft materials popular back then such as beads, laces, ribbons, and embroidery, there’s a lot to use for designing and crafting their own purses, especially that these are the specialty of women in this era – Embroidery and Sewing, a skill that they mastered as a hobby and necessity. So, if you are trying to get that Victorian look for a masquerade party, you surely have to take a look at these purses that were created, and famous back in the Victorian Era.

Popular Purses in the Victorian Era


A separate garment pocket of the Victorians

While pockets were not considered as purses for it was an undergarment, it serves the purpose of the bag for carrying small things such as coins, a small piece of paper, or even keys.

Early pockets of the 17th Century were not like the pockets we have now in the 21st Century. Pockets in the previous eras have initially been a separate garment tied to the waist under a woman’s layered skirts. So, imagine the difficulty of reaching your pockets amidst the side cuts of the layered skirts.

Although pockets under the voluminous skirts hide the bulk of women’s pockets, the popularity of high-waisted gowns makes pockets somewhat out of style as fashionable small bags or purses came up.


A Reticule with a drawstring closureAlthough the early emergence of purses as an alternative for pockets caused controversy for the early Victorians –seeing an undergarment became outerwear, the Reticule (from the Latin word meaning “net”) or Indispensables, still made its way and came upon the women’s fashion line. These fashionable bags that resembled a small drawstring bag were made out of silk, satin, or velvet, decorated in various designs.

These Reticule bags somehow became the solution when pockets became way too small for women’s fans, perfume vials, handkerchief, letter, and calling cards.

Since embroidery, sewing, and knitting were the hobbies of most of the women in the 18th Century, it is no wonder how they came upon their styles of purses. Influenced by the Queen’s fashionable styles -laces, beads, ribbons and frills, handbags, and purse that were made by women’s creativity had adopted the use of those designs to match the style of their excellent and exquisite gowns.


A Chatelaine from Victorian EraIn the year of 1860 up to 1900, when the purse snatching crimes became a problem, the Chatelaine seemingly reduced the number of snatching crimes in the cities.

Chatelaine chain is used for carrying things like a small clock, tweezers, scissors, purse, or keys where items were attached at the end of the chains. This ornament that was usually attached to a belt on the waist became very practical and useful for women as it allows the lady to freely move her hands –not being tied on holding the bag’s straps all the time, yet still, keep things near the owner.

These also have become a status symbol and jewelry for women as it was usually used by women in a higher rank, such as the wealthy and the woman of the household.


Basket as storageThe early version of baskets that were used was more rounder and had an open lid. In the early 18th Century, shopping bags don’t yet exist, so women in the working class and the wealthy people’s servants went to the market using baskets for the storage of goods they’d bought. Sometimes, when a wealthy person went to market themselves, they were using baskets decorated by ribbons, laces, brooch, or even embroidery, which set the difference between the upper and the lower class.

Gladstone Bag (Travel Bag)

A leather Gladstone bagGladstone Bag is a type of small luggage usually used when traveling. It was made of leather and came with two sizes –Medium and Large. This bag, which was the symbol of Victorian Britain, was named after William Ewart Gladstone, the former prime minister who served from 1868 up to 1894 in the Victorian era.

What’s inside their Purse?

Purses, although it is solely used for the storage of things, had played various roles for the Victorian women in the early centuries. Aside from shopping, the portrayal of creativity in handicraft and Interaction has been the initial reason why victorian women required a purse.

They needed a bag when going out where they can store their calling cards, for carrying letters, handkerchief, perfume vials, and even a pencil. These all would not be able to take by a single pocket, so it is just right to have a purse for those things.