Bag Affair has made business bags fashionable and practical at the same time focussing on women. There are great handbags out there- beautifully designed, various colours and perfect finishing. But when it comes to business bags the offer is addressed to men, proposing a wide selection and great storage solution- but the look is masculine as well.

And to tell you: this is no surprise! Handbags have been initially made for men! We want to tell you the story of the origin of the handbags, made for men and how finally it became a woman’s accessory.

The first type of handbags

Handbags were historically speaking male accessories. Judas Iscariot for example was the first purse owner as written in the bible that he was wearing a bag with him. Same for priests in Africa, who carried time before women their belongings in beaded purses around. Looking at Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs you can see men with pouches as well.  

Assyrian relief carving from Nimrud, 883–859 B.C. (source Met Museum)

The first handbags carried by men and women have been pouches in the 13th to 15th century- these did complete the outfit and have been worn on the side of the belt or on the girdles. Through the middle age especially men did use small pouches to keep money and valuables together- you have for sure seen this in a movie or series. Smaller bags did imply class and style- if you have been in a high position it was enough for you to carry a small bag with you. When you went to travel or hunt, you did take shoulder bags or bigger formats- these implied hard work.

pockets instead of handbags

In the 16th and 17th century the dresses of women got wider, which allowed them to store belongings in the skirts and in inner pockets- most of the time not sewn to the dress, but as a separate bag, which you could take off. For men the pockets got bigger, which did lead them to store directly in these instead of a separate bag. With these bags which started to complete the outfits, women had no further need any more for men to carry a fan or another belonging for them and they started to appropriate handbags to themselves. Women did win liberty thanks to the bags around their wrist.

In 1790 the first handbag was born in Paris: a pocket to be carried in the hand with a string. The name was “reticules”, coming from the Latin word “reticulum”, meaning small net. But as French like to make fun of new things it was quickly called “ridicules” which means ridiculous.

Handbags to empower women

From 1805 on the women did reshape fashion, wearing underwear as outerwear and becoming more creative towards style- from this time on, handbags have been a must-have accessory for every woman, every day. The accessory was lost to men, who rather had what they need in their pockets. That time the ‘imperial weekly gazette’ wrote “while men have their hands in their pockets so grand, ladies have pockets to wear in their hand”.

From the 1860s on bags have been made of leather and not just linen and cotton, the formats got bigger and the first pieces of luggage to travel have been created. The term “handbag” comes from early 1900s’ and was referred to hand luggage for men.

towards the freedom of women

Nevertheless, was this the last step to full freedom for women- the bags now have been big enough and practical to carry all belongings and there was no need any more to ask you husband to put anything in his pockets for you.

So, why women today do carry handbags with them? Being just feminist, wanting to have the same as men? Did men get weak and are not capable of carrying their belongings anymore? (Let’s be honest we all already carried an item of our boyfriend or husband in our bag as he had none and it was more comfortable for him.) Is our handbag purely a fashion item and as one lady started, we all wanted one?

It looks like a full mix of it in the history of fashion- women looking for style, looking practical solutions and looking for independence through their handbag. And honestly: Who cares! We love to be women and we love our handbags. And while men mostly use bags for work we want to carry our handbags with us day and night. Handbags which are reflecting our personality, which are feminine and beautiful and though adapted to our busy lives.

Todays a woman owns in average 6 handbags and we think we deserve this little treat of independence, don’t you think so?

The history of business bags

Just one part of history need to be written: the story of business bags.

Looking back, you will see that already the bags made to go hunting in the middle age have been kind of working bags, for a different kind of business sure, but still to serve to accomplish something. Business bags are nothing else: bags to carry what is needed to exercise a profession. Most of them masculine as somehow the classical image of working persons are still men.

Handbags in the early 20s

But there have been some moves like in the early 20s when more and more girls started to work in the office as assistant or secretary. They needed and wanted a bag and first women business bags have been some square or envelope bags.

With World War II though came a different approach to the bags- they got bigger and more pragmatic. Women took over the jobs of men who went into war; the women rode bicycles and needed bags with free hands. The bags got broad, wider and often have been made of plastics or canvas. This has been the precursors of many styles of work bags still out there today.

Business Bags in the 80s

In the 80s another move for business bags for women: the need of a system. Bags have been accessories before, but now should carry all for a day at work, going for a drink up to sports. Donna Karen has been one of the first promoting the idea of satellite bags which had smaller bags in a bigger one. 1985 Prada did launch a nylon backpack, able to contain an office on the go (you like the design or not but the idea was born).

In the 90s the business ladies loved messenger styles and to put bags into bags have been a rule since for being able to organize the work days. Ferragano launched in 2001 for example a bag with a lower compartment can be zipped off where you could stock a spare pair of shoes.

But the story did not end here- ever since there have been some trials to launch business bags for women. They should be fashionable but practical and (at least in our opinion) this has never been perfectly accomplished. When Taiseer and Ronja started to search for a bag being practical, yet fashionable in 2015 they could not find what they have been looking for. Most bags have been too small to really fit a laptop, too masculine if they did or not advanced enough in design. This is when Bag Affair was born.

The future of handbags

Business bags which actually are practical and fashionable at the same time with minimalistic design but spacious inner parts with pockets and the possibility to organize all what is needed. Further as both founders had a more sustainable approach the bags got as well ethical: produced only of European materials, made from people who are known, where work conditions are transparent and where the work behind the work bags is done in best fashion.

We went a long way from handbags for men to business bags of today, which want to empower woman at the workplace – let’s not stop here.

Let’s all of us take handbags to a further lever- for men and women at the same time. For all of us the best manner, for every need and for every look – your purchase is a choice and shows what fashion is about!