Tag Archives: handbag

1960s Clutch Wallet with a Strap

I’m hoping that my somewhat vague title brought forth a distinct memory in any Baby Boomer readers.  That’s because this post is a bit of a memory check for me.  When I was a young teen, or maybe even a preteen in the late 1960s, the little bag shown above was carried by every girl in my town.  I don’t know how fads get started, but I do know how quickly they can spread.  By the time this one died out, all my peers had one.  Mine was black “patent leather”.

I remember getting it for Christmas, but I just can’t come up with a year.  I’m guessing it was sometime between fifth and eight grade, which would mean from 1966 to 1969.  Growing up in a small town in North Carolina, girls were always lamenting that we were at least two years behind the times.  That was true in some cases, but looking back I can see that for the most part the clothes we wore were pretty much in keeping with the styles of the day, if a bit more conservative.

After finding the little clutch bag above in a local antique mall, I spent a good afternoon doing “research” in my stash of 1960s Seventeen magazines.  I thought that would be the place to start, as this was a fashion I associated with the young.  In spite of the overwhelming practical nature of this type bag, the only people I remember carrying them were girls and teens.  It didn’t seem to appeal to our mothers.

But I was not able to find a single photo in Seventeen, so I turned to that great American selling place of the past – the Sears, Roebuck catalog.  I have several editions, dating from 1964 through 1970, and so another afternoon was pleasantly passed.  Unfortunately, I was again unsuccessful in my quest.

So, I’ve decided to turn to you.  Do you remember this type bag, and if so, what years do you associate with it?  Did you have one in the 1960s?  Were they a fad at your school?  Do you remember what it was called?

Here’s a look inside.  There is a snap purse with a clear vinyl separator.  The sides are lined with a cotton print that looks a bit dated even for 1965, but the magazines and catalogs for that year are surprisingly full of dresses made of this type print.  There is no label of any sort.

Each side has a pocket for cash and papers.  The strap is attached to the purse in the center of the bag.

Considering how popular these were, I’ve run across only two in the past fifteen years or so.  I didn’t buy the first one I found so many years ago, mainly because I thought there must be thousands of these just waiting to be found.  When that turned out not to be true, I put this style on my shopping list.  It made me happy that the one I finally did find was such a bright, cheery color.

So what has happened to all these little bags?  It could be that my experience with them is not usual, and there are literally millions of them in thrift stores across the country.  Or it could be that when the fad had run its course, these went into the donate for charity pile.  They were cheaply made, and no longer in style.  I can almost guarantee that is what happened to mine.


Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

Ad Campaign – Koret, 1942

Start a new year on the campus… with a new fashion in your hand! Sophisticated, practical bags, as versatile as a jeep, as flexible as 2-way stretch.

There is one for every hour of the day.  Designed by Koret who knows what you want almost before you do yourself.  Pack all your essentials in these style-wise, price-wise bags by Koret.

I’m not sure that these little clutches caught on.  I don’t recall seeing other ads from the early 1940s with them, and in spite of what the ad is trying to say, a hand-held bag is just not practical.   In many photos I’ve seen of young women and students during the war years, the women are using the much more practical shoulder bag.  You can’t blame Koret for trying, though.

Koret was established in 1929 by Richard Koret.  By the 1940s the company was a leader in the handbag industry.  In 1965 Richard Koret was killed in a plane crash, and the company was eventually acquired by Michael Gordon, who ran it until the late 1990s.  The Koret name was bought by a company in 2009, and Koret was relaunched in 2012.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing the story of an extraordinary woman who placed a small part in the history of Koret.


Filed under Advertisements

Whiting and Davis Bags and More

After finding a Whiting & Davis bag at a thrift store recently, I went on a reading binge to learn more about the company.  I’m happy to report that this old American company is still in business and is still making their products in Massachusetts.

Whiting & Davis actually started in 1876 as Wade, Davis and Company as a maker of jewelry.  In 1880, a 16 year old Charles Whiting was hired as an errand boy, but he rose up through the company to management by 1890, and in 1892 he made the first mesh handbag for the company.  During the early years of production, the bags were made by hand by women who made them in their homes by linking together the tiny metal rings that made up the mesh.

In 1896 Whiting became a partner in the company, and the name was changed to Whiting & Davis.  In 1907 he became the sole owner of the company.  By this time the cottage industry workers were barely keeping up with the demand for the purses, and Whiting must have realized that in order to grow he would have to mechanize.  In 1912 they developed an automated mesh making machine, and the industry was changed, and Mr. Whitings fortune was made.

Over the next few years improvements were made to the machine, and other types of mesh were developed, including the product most associated with Whiting and Davis, spider mesh, or armor mesh.  The nice thing about spider mesh was that it was easier to paint designs on than was the older, Dresden mesh of just the interlocking rings.  In the early days of production, most Whiting & Davis bags were made of sterling silver, but the faster production of the machines allowed them to experiment with other, cheaper metals.

By the mid 1920s, a mesh bag was a must-have accessory, and to meet the demand the Whiting & Davis grew to have 500 mesh making machines.  But styles change, and this could have been the end of the Whiting & Davis story, but the mesh proved to be adaptable to other purposes, and the company was willing to switch over from the chain handled bag of the 1920s to the more popular clutch style bag of the 1930s.  In the late 1930s they had an association with designer Elsa Schiaparelli, in which the bags were advertised as being based on Schiaparelli designs.

Click to see the details. Note the different types of mesh that were being produced in 1937.

The company also began producing other products such as mesh safety gloves.  This glove was produced after a mink farm went to them seeking a glove to protect their workers from bites.  The gloves proved to be valuable in other jobs, including that of garment cutters.

During WWII Whiting and Davis helped produce radar equipment, but when the war was over they went back to handbags and other accessories such as wallets and belts.  During the 1950s they also returned to the production of jewelry.  Their next big fashion moment was in the 1970s, when Whiting & Davis made mesh jewelry designed by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany and Co.

In 1979 Whiting & Davis went through a series of ownership changes.  Throughout that time handbags were still produced, but by the 1990s the company was steering away from handbags and jewelry and was developing more industrial safety products.  In 2010 the French owner of the company  decided to close the Massachusetts mesh making factory.

But this story has a happy ending.  The company was bought by plant manager Darrin Cutler who then set about to return the company to its roots as a handbag and jewelry maker.   Today both are made, along with other mesh products such as curtains.  And they will work with companies to develop mesh products to meet their needs.

To see photos of the mesh being made, there is an excellent article from  Boston Magazine.

I was surprised when I realized how many of these pieces I own.  Besides the two 1920s bags I have a belt, probably 1940s, a 1950s wallet and change purse and a 1970s neck piece.

The interior of the black and white bag, where you can better see the mesh construction.

Back and front of belt.


Filed under Collecting, Made in the USA, Vintage Clothing

Antic Red, or Oxblood by Any Other Name

It’s all over the internet – Fall 2012 is the season of oxblood.   It’s kind of a moody alternative to burgundy or maroon, deep red with a touch of something else.  Or maybe it is a chestnut brown with a touch of red.  Either way, it is the color buzzword of the season.

I try not to think too much about high school, but sometimes I come across something that just takes me back to the early 1970s.   Oxblood leather, or more precisely, Etienne Aigner handbags, would be one of those things.  Sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s Aigner bags overtook John Romain as the must-have accessory at my high school.  Logo mania was years in the future, but the little stylized A that marked a handbag as being Aigner was all that was necessary to prove to one’s peers that you were “with it.”

Etienne Aigner began making belts and handbags for the Paris couture after World War II.  In 1950 he went to New York, and for a time designed handbags for an American manufacturer.  After losing his job he began making belts in his apartment.  Because his finances were in such a bad state, he could afford only one color of dye, which he called Antic Red.  He was able to get several high-end department stores to carry his finely crafted belts, and soon he was also making handbags in his signature Antic Red.  By 1959 he was so successful that he was able to open a showroom in New York City.

I didn’t have an Aigner handbag in high school, and I don’t recall wanting one.  They were quite expensive – way beyond what I could afford – and by that time I was making my own bags in art class.  So when I found this one several weeks ago, it was the style that sold me on the bag, not the name.  But I’m really impressed with the quality, so I can say that at least the daddys of those girls who had Aigner handbags were getting their money’s worth.


Filed under Collecting, Designers, Made in the USA

What You Know

One of my favorite types of blog comment is when someone takes the time to reminiscence.  Yesterday reader Susan Grote posted about the trials of wearing crinoline petticoats, and it got me to thinking about how much we can learn from what others know.  Often, they just assume that everyone else knows it too because it just a part of their experience and they forget that maybe others did not have the same experience in their lives.

The embroidered burlap tote bag pictured above might be an example.   These are relatively common.  Right now I counted 52 of them for sale on etsy, but only one listing correctly identified how this bag was made.  Many of the sellers guess that their bag was made in Mexico or Peru and the term ethnic, tribal, or boho  is usually applied.

When I was in high school in the late 1960s and early 70s, these bags were a fad – not so much with the girls at school as with their moms and grannies.  I can remember that the ladies at my church shared the directions for making the bag and that quite a few of them actually made it.  The raw materials consisted of a skein of variegated yarn and a length of burlap buckram.  This type buckram was  used mainly as the stiffening and structure in the top of draperies and is quite similar to the burlap used in the underpinning of upholstered chairs.  Today drapery buckram is made of a high tech synthetic, but cut into a pair of vintage drapes and chances are you’ll find burlap.

The buckram was about two to three inches wide, and the embroidery was done before the tote was stitched together.  After the bag was constructed, it was lined in a cotton fabric.

If you look closely, you can see the stitching line where the strips of buckram were joined.

It would be interesting to know where and how this craft got started.  It was obviously very popular and quite widespread as they seem to be found in every corner of the US, and perhaps beyond.


Filed under Curiosities

1920s Spanish Style Tooled Handbag

This little clutch handbag is a recent addition to my collection.  I’d been looking for this style bag for sometime, and while they are quite common, the condition is usually pretty rough, and prices can be a bit high.

For years I’d see these and think they were pretty much circa 1900 due to the combined influences of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts.  But then I would see them occasionally in 1920s photos.  Finally, as I was looking through a 1929 Sears catalog, I spotted a whole page of them for sale.

It seems odd that a bag that looks so much of a slightly earlier time could date squarely in the middle of what we think of as the Art Deco period.  It just goes to show that styles don’t always start and stop according to historical timelines.

I’m not sure when the style got started, but it was probably Edwardian in origin.  This particular bag has a frame that has a patent number and date.  The patent number is illegible, but the date the patent was approved was May 15, 1917.  So my bag was made after that date, and most likely in the mid 1920s due to the bit of Art Deco influence on the frame.  Anyone know when they first put that little hand or glove strap on the back of clutches?

The patent is probably for the locking mechanism.  You have to turn the fob to the reverse in order to open the bag.     I was never able to find the patent with just my guessing the keyword and by using the dates.  I’ll keep trying, of course.

The maker of the bag was Justin Leather Works Company.  Could this be the maker of Justin Boots?  I have an email in to the company, and I’m hoping to get a response.   The truth is, some companies are very interested in their history and are eager to share it with collectors, but other frankly do not care about the past and do not respond to inquiries of this sort.  I’ll soon find out which kind of company Justin happens to be.

And finally, I’ve got a selection of similar bags from a 1929 Montgomery Wards catalog.  There is a close up of a bag that has a locking fob.  In their description it is called a turn loc and I have seen examples with turn loc engraved on the back of the fob, though mine does not have it.

As always, I’d appreciate any insights you may have to share.


Filed under Collecting, Vintage Clothing

The 1950s Lucite Handbag

Since I spent the better half of last week going on about 1950s skirts, I thought I might as well expand the theme into another iconic 1950s piece – the Lucite handbag.  I’m not a big handbag person, so I’ve had to rely on the expertise of others.  There is a bibliography at the end of the post.

The Lucite handbag is one of those items that just seems to be a symbol of the time in which it was created.  Lucite had been developed by Dupont in 1931, but it wasn’t until after WWII that the hard plastic was used to make everything from jewelry and handbags to furniture.  It was a new age, and modern materials and design were thought to be the wave of the future.  Lucite handbags were introduced in the late 1940s, and they quickly became the evening bag of choice.

Lucite was in many ways an ideal material for making bags.  It could be made in many colors, it was easily shaped and carved, and objects, such as glitter and rhinestones, could be embedded in it.  On the downside, while the material itself was not expensive to produce, the processes in making the handbags were labor-intensive and costly.  As a result, the handbags were not cheap, a fact that often adds to an object’s desirability!  There was also a great deal of competition within the plastic purse market, which led some companies to develop even more costly additions such as built-in compacts and satin linings.

It was the development of a cheaper process, plastic injection molding, that led to the demise of the Lucite handbag.  With this process, hard plastics could be shaped into handbags at a fraction of the cost of the older methods.  When hard plastics were within the reach of all consumers, they lost a great deal of their appeal.  By the 1960s, hard plastic handbags were passé.  As a little girl in the early 1960s, I can recall one lovely bag sitting on the old dressing table of an aunt who had married in 1958.   She had left at her parents’ home those things she no longer needed, including that beautiful bag on which she had spent quite a bit of her secretary’s salary!

Today, there are many collectors of Lucite handbags.  This is one area of collecting in which condition is most important.  And while Lucite bags are durable and quite sturdy, when stored under poor conditions, they tend to develop cracks, warping and the overall breaking down of the plastic.  Veteran collector Leigh of Cosmiccowgirl Vintage  has ten questions she needs to have answered before investing in a handbag:

1) With the exception of any intentional design-oriented carvings, is the entire surface of the handbag — including the lid and handle — completely smooth?

2) Are there any scratches, cracks, warping, chips, or repairs? If so, where are they and what size are they?

3) Does the bag have an odor, particularly like vinegar, or a chemical smell?

4) Is there any fogging, smearing or smudging of color or transparency anywhere on the bag?

5) How clear is the lid? Is there any “sun shattering” (spider vein type cracks within the Lucite that cannot be felt on the surface?)

6) Are all the hardware and parts functioning as normal (nothing loose/bent/missing)?

7) Are all the metal parts shiny? Are there any signs of corrosion, discoloration or other damage to the metal? Is there any discoloration, buildup, or tarnish on the interior hinge? If so, what color is the discoloration?

8) Does the lid snap tightly on top of the bag and the clasp hold soundly? Are there any spaces between the lid and body of the purse when closed? If so, how big are the spaces?

9) Any other flaws or signs of wear?

10) If the bag is not as described, may I return it for a full refund including shipping?

Johnson, Anna, Handbags: The Power of the Purse.  New York: Workman Publishing, 2002.

Miller, Judith, Handbags.  London: Dorling Kindersley, Ltd., 2006.

Wilcox, Claire, A Century of Bags. Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1997.


Filed under Collecting, Vintage Clothing