1912 Handbag and Gloves




This is a bag I bought from an antique shop in Whitby. It was made in 1912 and came with a pair of white leather gloves.

Let’s start with the gloves – they are a pair of white opera gloves similar to the ones on the right made from what I am told is kid leather – the skin of a young goat (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, n.d). They were often worn by the rich as evening dress when first introduced in the 1800s (Opera Glove, n.d), but by the start of the 20th century were widely worn as both daytime and evening wear. It was seen as the correct etiquette for anyone in the upper classes – male or female – of that era to wear gloves so they were extremely common.

This particular pair of gloves are what I believe to be mousqetaire gloves (Gloved Up, 2012) – they have three buttons along the wrist so the woman wearing them could remove her hand from the glove without having to take the whole thing off for eating. This design is a classic and has been repeated in AW 2012 by the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Givenchy.

Opera gloves during the Victorian era were not just an accessory – they would be used to ‘flirt’ with other gentlemen (Opera Glove, n.d). Some of these actions included dropping both gloves (meaning ‘I love you’) or twirling the gloves around the fingers (meaning ‘we are being watched’). I find this fascinating – these days you do not get such meaning behind accessories and clothing or such subtlety in society. It was not seen as the norm for a lady to display her feelings or lust for another gentleman. I think the gloves were used purely because they were the easiest and most discreet way of communicating – I can imagine some women would have got into a lot of bother had they displayed their feelings and urges in a more public way.

The bag, although sharing many characteristics with bags and purses of that era, seems relatively different. Most embellished bags from the early 1910s were much more heavily beaded with chains rather than a string, such as the one from Tiffany & Co pictured left (1912).

The bag I own is made of white silk/satin like material, a common material for fashion of that period. I personally prefer the more subtle detailing on the white bag than the heavy beading on the others at the time. Perhaps a reason for the more demure look would be that beaded bags were very heavy and delicate – this one would be slightly more practical and more lightweight. It also would probably have been cheaper than the more elaborate bags perhaps showing that the original owner wasn’t upper class but did like to keep up with fashion as much as possible.

Technology wasn’t hugely advanced for making accessories such as bags 100 years ago and I know this one was made by hand specifically for the original customer. The natural materials, demure colour and lavish embellishment are typical characteristics for clothing from that period. I love how classy and elegant fashion was in the early 20th century and the neutral colour palette is something I have always wanted to include in my work.

1. DEMODE (n.d) Dressing for Dinner on the Titanic Available from: http://demodecouture.com/titanic-trends/ [Accessed 24/10/2013]

2. GLOVED UP (2012) AW12 Favourites Available from: http://www.glovedup.com/2012_09_01_archive.html [Accessed 24/10/2013]

3. MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY (n.d) Definition of Kid Leather Available from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kid%20leather [Accessed 24/10/2013]

4. NEW YORK TIMES (July 1913) How To-Day’s Styles Ran Their Course 100 Years Ago New York Times  [Accessed 24/10/2013]

5. OPERA GLOVES (n.d) History of the Opera Glove Available from: http://www.operagloves.com/history.html [Accessed 24/10/2013]

6. OPERA GLOVES (n.d) The Etiquette of Opera Gloves Available from: http://www.operagloves.com/etiquette.html [Accessed 24/10/2013]

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