The best-known names of 20th-century handbag design were well established by the 1970s, but within a decade the trend for designer names had become an obsession. Names such as Chanel, Gucci, Fendi, and Hermès were must-haves on any stylish woman’s arm. The obsession with such designer names continues to this day.

At the same time, the desire to stand out from the crowd with a novelty bag – first seen in the 1940s and 1950s – continued, with Dallas Handbags’ telephone bags as well as other quirky forms, such as animals and magazine covers.

Floral suitcase-style handbag decorated with daisies. 1970s

Velvet bucket bag with Lucite handle and brass button detail. 1970s

Brocade bag by La Jeunesse with faux gems set in gold metal, gold foil, and beaded chain strap set with multi-colored diamanté. 1970s


It’s almost impossible to speak of 20th-century fashion without mentioning Coco Chanel (1883–1971).

Chanel clutch bag: black patent leather with printed cartoon design
of Coco Chanel. Also has original box. 2003

Her first shop opened in Paris in 1914, and by the 1920s she was one of the leading designers, producing everything from the little black dress to costume jewelry. The clean lines of her suits and the timeless style of her accessories earned her the devotion of women enjoying the new freedoms of the 1920s.

Clutch handbag by Chanel: cocoa-colored, pleated lambskin with lizard skin trim and retractable chain strap. 1970s

It was not until 1955 that she released her famous handbag, known as the “2.55.” Chanel believed modern women should not be encumbered by a hand-held bag, so the 2.55 was designed to be like a French soldier’s shoulder bag. It was diagonally hand-stitched to give it a quilted appearance. The house of Chanel still makes updated versions today.

A 1970s black leather shoulderbag by Chanel with signature quilting, chain straps and CC medallion

Chanel enjoyed a revival from 1983, when Karl Lagerfeld took charge. He introduced a wide variety of new designs, including the printed clutch bag shown here.


Fendi brown leather purse with faux tortoiseshell closure and removable leather strap; also has change purse.

In the 1980s craze for glitz, glamor, and designer labels, fashion house Fendi was a runaway success. Newly power-suited women could enjoy their inflated pay checks by buying handbags with large price tags, such as those emblazoned with Fendi’s “FF” logo.

The company first started to enjoy major acclaim, however, long before the 1980s. Fendi was established in Rome in 1925, as a small family leather and fur business, by Edoardo and Adele Fendi. By the end of the 1960s, it had become a respected name in Italian fashion, employing Karl Lagerfeld as designer. Its fur and leather goods were soon on sale in Bloomingdale’s, New York.



Vintage Fendi Top Handle Bag in signature zucca fabric

Fendi suede messenger with stitching black vintage shoulder Bag

In recent years, the “baguette” bag, introduced by the founder’s grand-daughter Silvia Venturini Fendi in 1997, has been hugely successful. Produced in a number of finishes and limited-edition variations, it has proved irresistible to many women – as has the spin-off, and much smaller, “croissant” bag.


The 1980s saw an explosion in sports wear as street fashion. During the 1970s, female underwear had become less rigid and supportive, and the now ideal slim figure could only be achieved with rigorous exercise.

Black crocodile-skin backpack, possibly by Ralph Lauren, with white metal clasp. 1980s

At the same time, activities such as jogging and skateboarding came into fashion and sports stars became highly paid role models for young people worldwide. As a result, sports wear and accessories moved out of the gym and onto the catwalk.

Vintage Adidas Holdall

People craved designer labels. This trend led heavily branded sports clothing manufacturers, such as Nike, Puma, and Adidas, to become global giants, producing a huge variety of bags. Other companies, such as Le Sportsac, concentrated solely on making bags, with outstanding results. Fashion designers, such as Ralph Lauren and Prada, were also influenced by the craze and introduced their own sporty bags.


Modeled to resemble folded magazines, these bags are actually made from rigid plastic with a clear plastic sleeve encasing a replica magazine front cover. They are usually closed using a leather or plastic strap and press stud, and have a fabric lining. The clutch bags were manufactured in China and the US.

Retro magazine clutch bag

A great variety of magazine covers were used, from fashion titles (like the example shown on these pages) to travel guides. A chic fashion accessory in their day, magazine clutch bags are now a “must-have” among vintage handbags.

LUTCI ‘Parisian Magazine’ Clutch Bag Signed By Anna Silvey

Clutch bag modeled as ’19’ magazine, with hard plastic body and clear plastic strap fastening

The value of a bag depends on the condition of the plastic shell and the fastening, and on the condition and the subject of the paper insert.

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