Whether you were a cowboy or an Indian, the saddlebag was an indispensable item out on the plains, something in which to carry, food, medicines and tools.
A Native American rawhide saddlebag was flat, like an envelope, and was decorated with vivid patterns and long fringes; a cowboy’s was typically plainer and more utilitarian, with a straightforward buckle flap.
Most saddlebags come in pairs, hanging at the back of the saddle, although smaller, single bags were sometimes carried at the pommel and cantle as well.
The classic pouch-like saddlebag is a good-example of form meeting function. Its narrow, almost semicircular body fits neatly against the horse’s flanks – any longer and it would risk impeding the horse’s movement – and the leather has to be thick and sturdy enough to withstand the constant scuffing and chafing.
Surprisingly perhaps, despite its strong silhouette and iconic status in the history of the American West, the saddlebag has had only minimal influence on the fashion bag.
One exception was John Galliano’s witty interpretation of the bag for Christian Dior in 2001, which turned the fashion house’s classic ‘D’ logo into stirrups.