It’s almost Memorial Day and that means…

it’s time to think about your summer handbag.  For the past few years I’ve used a trio of  fabric ones, and I do still love them, but when I spotted the basket bag above in a thrift store last week, I decided I had to add it to the mix.

When I was around 7 or 8, I had my first exposure to the power of the desirable brand name.   This was in the early/mid 1960s, way before the advent of designer jeans and the explosion of designer logos.  Most of the clothes in my family were bought at Sears, mainly because my father had worked there in the early 1950s, and his old friends there still gave him the employee discount.  So to me, clothes were just, well, clothes.

But on the school bus, one learned all kinds of fascinating things from the high school girls.  What I learned one day was that all handbags were not created equal.

One of the girls had gotten a John Romain handbag for her birthday.  All the other girls were so impressed that her bag had a name, but I couldn’t see why she named her bag John, and what the big deal about it was.   As usual, my older cousin Nancy came to my rescue, and explained that John Romain was the brand name, like Chevrolet and Frigidaire and RCA were brand names.  I had no idea!

But I started noticing, and saw that other ladies were carrying John Romain handbags, which I noticed had a little shield symbol.  I also noticed that there were lots of other bags that looked like the John Romain ones, but without the identifying symbol.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that John’s bags were much better than the ones that merely looked like John.

The point was really driven home in junior high, when some of my classmates came to school carrying John Romain bags.  Suddenly, there were two classes of girls – those that had a John Romain bag, and those that did not.  By the time I got to high school in 1970, the bag of choice was Etienne Aigner, which was identified by a little horseshoe-shaped A and the rich dark red color.  It seemed like the goal of many girls was just to own an Aigner handbag!

So there it is, how the It Bag got its start, at least in Canton, North Carolina.

My new bag is not an It Bag, not a John Romain, nor an Aigner.  But a quick web search confirmed that both companies made very similar bags.  Mine is a copy, but ironically, so were the name brands.  These are copies of the Nantucket basket. 

There were many different straw and leather combination handbags made in the 60s, and today they are easy to find in online vintage shops and even in thrift stores.  If you are looking for one, be picky.  Make sure the straw is still in good condition and that the leather straps are strong.  And unless you don’t do leather, don’t settle for a faux leather one, as they usually look pretty cheap.


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Viewpoint

20 responses to “It’s almost Memorial Day and that means…

  1. ooh that’s a nice one! Being from Mass I’m well acquainted with the Nantucket basket, and love the changing of the purse season. C’mon summer!


  2. I am always learning from you! Your link for the John Romaine photos brought to mind a bag in my collection. I just went to look at it and it is a Romaine bag! I kept it not for the name, but for the quality. The leather is beautiful and the bag is completely lined in leather too. Time to trot it out for summer! Thanks, Lizzie!


  3. That’s high praise, coming from you, Ms. Jody! So glad to be of help to you.


  4. Oh my gosh! I have almost the identical bag, but mine has a rattan handle 🙂 I found mine at a thrift store, too!! It’s my favorite purse and I love that it’s sturdy enough to use every day.


  5. KeLLy Ann

    I thought about you this past weekend when The Chook Man and I were in NOLA.
    I saw some very lovely Lucite purses in a case, and wondered what you would think.
    My Mother was a huge EA fan.
    I really do love your bag, it’s very cheery!


    • I love lucite handbags – have 2 of them – but I’m terrified of actually carrying them. I am tough on things!

      EA was really big even into the 1980s. The leather was so nice. I can see why your mother loved it.


  6. Fascinating! I had never heard of either of these brands. Fashion comes and goes…


  7. That’s such a nice thrift store find! I’ve always wanted a Nantucket basket with a scrimshaw, but still haven’t gotten one. Maybe some day… I remember the lure of Etienne Aigner in the 70s & 80s. They made wonderful summer sandals too.


  8. Anne

    I have nearly the identical purse, also from a thrift! Mine has a Mister Ernst Made in Hong Kong tag inside. I also have a Nantucket basket purse, although doesn’t have any scrimshaw. I love these two purses, but find them difficult to carry with the smallish handles, and not much fits inside. I love looking at them in my closet though! 😉


  9. John Romain is new to me, but Aigner was the be-all-and-end-all in early high school.


  10. What a lovely bag to celebrate the beginning of summer. I loved your story about discovering designer labels. I too was in the crowd that did not have such things. I cannot recall how I knew, but I just knew what was what.


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  12. Alice Vinson

    I live in Maggie Valley, NC and I too have a John Romain creel type bag.. a little different from yours, in that mine has the shield as the clasp… my high school art teacher gave it to me nearly 35 years after high school… I think I will use it some this summer… and pass it along to my grand daughter some day…thanks for the article… until I read it I had considered selling it to a vintage shoppe.


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  14. Mary Pfaff

    I had not thought about the John Romaine purses for decades until someone from my hometown in NC mentioned the local high end dress shop that carried them. I cannot find any information about the company. If you have a history of the manufacturer, would you please do an article on the company? I wish I still had mine–tweed with the brass tacks and leather–great quality.


  15. Lynn

    If only I could show you my collection of John Romain items! You can see some of my collection on Pinterest. I’m Lynn_St_Over on that site if you care to look.


  16. Christine N.

    How much is your purse worth? I also found almost the same exact bag, but I would like to know the current price?


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