The History of the Bag from Past to Present Part 1

history of the bag

Art, fashion and history. Three concepts that are inseparable, that shape each other. In the evolution of fashion, the history of the bag and the stages it has gone through is actually a good example of how man has shaped both art, fashion and of course history.

In this two-part article, as a designer who has created countless bags since 2000, I wanted to share with you the adventure of the bag that has been in our lives since the Iceman.

One of the best examples of how supply and demand can shape an industry is the development of bags and wallets. This need arises naturally from people wanting to transport their belongings. However, as time goes on, it comes to represent and even define one’s own sense of fashion.

The unique style of a bag is actually a part of history. In other words, when we look at a model, it is possible to see which period that model reflects without needing to say much. Now think about it, when I say Kelly Bag, don’t you think of Grace Kelly and the 50s?

cantanin tarihi kelly bag
Grace Kelly and Kelly Model

Of course, the bag adapts to each generation and the valuables they see fit to carry. WITH CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION continues to modernize itself. The history of the bag is constantly being rewritten as part of this process.

Let’s start our journey through the history of the bag with the oldest bag in the world.

The Tyrolean Iceman is the owner of the oldest surviving bag. This bag of Otzi the Iceman, who is thought to have lived between 3400 and 3100 BC, also shows us how far back the invention of the bag goes. For me, it’s as monumental as the invention of the wheel.

The world's oldest bag The Iceman's bag
The World’s Oldest Bag

I said the history of the bag is evolving. Then it is impossible not to mention Egypt. The ones depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphs are in the pouch model. These pouches, carried especially on the waist and hips, are made of durable leather or precious fabric.

First of all, let me say this. The value of a well-made bag is historically significant in terms of quality as well as aesthetic appeal. Because the bag, born out of a need, has developed itself in parallel with changing demands over the centuries. Some bags were suitable for the working class, such as messenger bags, while others were designed specifically for the elite. More special and customized bags were produced for the aristocratic class. For example, tailor-made models with hidden compartments immediately attracted the attention of the aristocratic class and thus the bag became a symbol of high status.

The History and Development of the Bag in the 14th and 15th Centuries

Until the 17th century, clothes did not have pockets, so both women and men had to carry bags. 14 and 15. In centuries past, bags that carried only coins were called ‘wallets’. These bags were very important because clothes did not yet have pockets. Wallet-like models were attached to the belt with strings and hung from the waist. Also known as “Hamondeys” or “Tasques”, these ornate, drawstring bags were very fashionable. Finally, the drawstring bag hung prominently on a long cord from the belt. Each model varied according to the status and lifestyle of its owner.

cantanin tarihi bele asilan canta
Medieval Bag

As religion gained importance, these purses used as wallets started to be decorated with religious images. It has also become a tool in matters of love, engagement and marriage. Love stories started to be embroidered on them. Thus, bags became not only a necessity but also a status indicator for people.

A bag from the 1500s in the Tassenmuseum in the Netherlands is a wonderful example of this change. With 18 pockets and hidden compartments, this bag has an iron frame and is made of goat leather.

a bag from the Dutch bag museum
French Bag on Display at the Dutch Bag Museum

The History of the Bag in the 16th and 17th Centuries

With the end of the Dark Ages, new trends in fashion began. Instead of wearing the pouches around their waists, women started to wear them under their skirts. But in Elizabethan times, women’s skirts became incredibly wide. However, this time the pouches inevitably got lost in those skirts. Naturally, they wanted to use women’s bags outside these skirts.

Meanwhile, the bag, which had become an important accessory for the aristocratic class, was reshaped according to need and demand, and a new bag model known as the sack was born. These large satchel-like leather or cloth bags were used cross-body, especially by peasants and travelers.

On the other hand, it was also during this period that messenger models emerged that clearly met the needs of the working class. With the need to carry large documents and items, well-designed messenger bags became in demand.

I said that bags were born out of necessity, and the best example is “sweet bagges”. At a time when personal hygiene was almost non-existent, people began to fill these tiny bundles with fragrant spices and herbs and carry them with them to suppress their bad odor. The lavender-scented little pouches that are placed inside the sheets and clothes in our homes today are the result of the evolution of this need into the present.

history of the bag deodorizing pouch

The Bag Fashion in the18th and 19th Centuries

By the 18th century, women’s dresses became simpler and narrower. In parallel with this fashion trend, the number of pockets decreased and handbags, a British staple, began to appear.

cantanin tarihi el cantasi 17yuzyil

In the 19th century, pocket fashion came back, but handbags continued to hold their throne. The history of the bag opened a brand new page with the industrial revolution. Because, with the introduction of the railroad, the traditional suitcase was reshaped to be suitable for travel. Thus, hand-held travel bags such as WEEKENDER TOTE from my Emre NewYork Travel collection became indispensable for every traveler then as they are today.

emre newyork weekender travel bag

In the meantime, two brands that have made their mark in the world of bags and fashion were born. In 1854, Louis Vuitton, a suitcase manufacturer, and Thierry Hermes, a harness and saddle manufacturer, entered the industry.

The birth of these two brands are also the first steps of the bag craze and the realization of the bag as a sign of social status.

Changes in people’s lives, women becoming prominent in social life, and of course 2 great wars that affected the fate of the world….

To be continued….

With love,

Emre Ertürk 300 × 300 px 1

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  1. Dear Emré,
    Thank you for such an amazing information! Your quest for constant learning and teaching others by your example, ever so subtly, and attractively with grace. So lucky to have met you in person! So happy to get to know more and more about you with time.

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