A bag for a woman is like a permanent tattoo: once we do it, we carry it with us no matter what. Every time I hear the word „bag”, I immediately associate it with women. When it’s something about bags, it is for sure something about women, also. It’s just mandatory to keep them together, forever. Any forbidden break up between bags and women is an unwritten rule and not just in these days.
Going back in history, I read that the first style of bags was a worn around the waist and during that time (14th century) women used to wear it anytime, anywhere. Besides fashionable, it was very useful for carrying money. The same thing was happening during the WWII, in the early 1940s. Even if fashion meant war and the basic materials for designing bags such as zippers and leathers were changed, for women a bag was still unfailing. The only fact was that they needed to adapt to drastic living conditions.
Fashion was made by what war offered: austerity, censors, violence, poverty and new rules. The designers’ were controlled by what they could or couldn’t do in their designs. The new laws prohibited the designers to embellish bags or clothes in order to sell them. They were not allowed to put how many buttons they want on a jacket, to use fancy trimmings or extra pleats and stitching.
Because of the situation, the materials were restricted and the designers had to use restrictive ideas as well. They had to come up with new materials other than the ones needed in the war, such as wood, plastic, rayon and some other synthetic materials. How could fashion, actually, survived under such politics domination? Well, fashion is strong, adaptable and changeable. Even if the whole war situation sounds depressing, for fashion it wasn’t bad, at least not that bad. The fashion designers didn’t stop thinking, to invent and finally, to create according to laws, what women loved and love so much: clothes and bags.
The shape and sizes of a bag were changed. Due to the fact that women entered in the workforce, shoulder squarer and practical bags became popular because of the need to carry in more stuff and also, there was a new thing that you should never left it home: gas mask.
On the left, is an authentic Mark VII gas mask bag ( known also as MKVII) made in 1942. It is a bag made from canvas with the purpose to keep heavy things. The bag was manufactured and issued to British people, especially for Londoners, for carrying their gas mask everywhere. During that time, they were worried that Hitler’s attack could contain poisonous gas .
America was less affected by the war and restriction using some materials was less harsh than in Europe. Here women could have had large squared bags, usually black, made from alligator, crocodile skin or suede. (See below)
A teenage girl participating at war in US wearing black alligator skin bag
In 1945, when the war ended, the fashion crisis was like a bird with the door from the cage opened. The designers’ ideas and products started to feed the fashion-starved women from Europe. Their items were not seen anymore as simple, mandatory needs as used to be during the war, its became a way to show the success, social status and importance. People could be classified in social ranks just by the clothing and accessories they wore.
In the middle of 1940, fashion designers wanted to extend the market to which they were addressed. They knew that not every woman could look fabulous in a couture tight long dress, but every woman could definitely wear a bag that makes her fabulous. So, the attention was focused on the bags and the designers brought on the market some eccentric and inspirational ensembles. Shapes like birdcages, lips, flowers and picnic baskets, very popular in the late 30s, became designed again in the middle of 40s and continued up to the 50s. Many designers were able to find and use crochet pattern. Hiawatha was one of the well-known and frequent patterns used mostly for handbags and hats. (See Below)
Many bags were beaded to have a unique geometric shape. In this way, women could have different bags for different uses and styles. Jack Frost designed in 1945, various crocheted bags with fan shapes that pointed out the idea of „difference and practicability”. We can name them the leitmotifs of the middle of 40s. (See below)
For 1940s the bags’ evolutionary continued to rise. In the late of the decade, the „New Look” collection of Christian Dior influenced the period and is still a big source of influence for contemporary fashion designers. He brought in his designs more femininity, elegance, opulence and wealth contrasting the wartime outline. He marked the moment when the military look was completely outdated. Dior was inspired by the Belle Epoque (Beautiful Era), the period before World War I.
“We were emerging from a period of war, of uniforms, of women- soldiers built like boxers. I drew women-flowers”. (Christian Dior about his New Look collection). The bags weren’t far from the clothing collection. They were meant to show feminine mystery and confident in showing the own style.
(Dior- New Look, 1947)
The 1940s decade is by far one of the more influenced and important decade for today’s fashion industry. Back then was New Look collection, now we have New Lock collection. However, fashion will be there no matter how harsh the living condition will be. Fashion industry is the one which teaches people how to adapt and struggle for better times. Talking about women, a bag will make her day just being on her arm and holding her expected needs.