Who Invented Purses? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Purses have become integral parts of a lady’s fashion statement. Initially, the term “purse” referred to a small bag to hold pieces of jewelry or money. The modern-day purse is a chic and elegant bag with straps. Ladies love to use it for carrying personal items, devices, self-care kits, and many more. A lady will surely smile brightly at the sight of a beautiful purse. Purses have always been symbols of class, wealth, and status. Different fashion houses and luxury brands continue to produce high-end purses for both men and women. Ladies clamor over the latest purses that match their personalities. And let’s admit it, an OOTD won’t be complete without a pretty purse.

The concept of purses has been around since ancient times. However, purses weren’t always convenient, elegant, and fashionable. This article will tell the history of purses and how their designs, shapes, and sizes changed alongside the evolution of fashion.

Who invented the first purses?

The oldest known purse dates back to more than 5,000 years. However, the modern-day purse was envisioned by Samuel Parkinson in 1841. 

The purses’ key contributors (and evolution)

  • Ancient People
    Mummy’s Purse

    The oldest known purse dates back to 5,000 years ago. Europe’s oldest mummy, Otzi the Iceman, was unearthed with a purse next to him. There are also purses depicted in several Egyptian hieroglyphs. 

  • Medieval People
    It’s a Man Thing

    Men mainly used purses during the medieval period. They were also symbols of status, wealth, and power. Their purses were made with pieces of leather and string. They used to wear their purses around their waists like belts.

  • People in the Renaissance
    Change in Style

    At the end of the Middle Ages, purses made of triangular metal frames and leather became popular. However, as fashion changed at the beginning of the Renaissance Period and wide dresses became more trendy, ladies started to wear their purses inside their dresses. In contrast, men’s usage of purses lessened after the invention of pockets in 1670.

  • Samuel Parkinson
    For the Loving Wife

    Samuel Parkinson envisioned the first modern-day purse. Parkinson noticed that his wife’s purse was too small to carry anything and was made from non-durable materials. So he made a deal with H.J. Cave to make different bags for his wife using more durable leather and fabrics. This romantic gesture led to the birth of the first luxury purse line.

  • Fashion Houses
    Modern Day Purses

    Luxury brands and fashion houses like Chanel and Louis Vuitton made different versions of purses. Nowadays, we enjoy various styles of purses like handbags, clutches, and satchels.

When were purses invented?

The oldest purse was found in Germany in 2012. The purse dated back to 2,500 BC and was reported to contain dog teeth. However, the modern purse was envisioned by Samuel Parkinson in 1841.

A brief history of purses

The concept of purses as small bags to carry valuables has been in the fashion industry for thousands of years. Many instances prove even the ancient people carry purses around. For example, Otzi the Iceman, Europe’s oldest mummy, was discovered in 1991 with a handbag buried next to him. A purse from Germany dating back to 2,500 BC was filled with dog teeth. Other examples are the portraits of ancient Egyptians of men carrying purses around their waists. Even Judas Iscariot from the Bible was portrayed as someone who used purses. So, from these examples, we can see the importance of purses in humans since ancient times.

During the beginning of the middle ages, men and women used scraps of leather and drawstrings to make purses. They tie their purses around their belts or girdles. These purses were tiny (more like a size of a modern-day coin purse) and could hold only a few valuables and coins. After several years, the design evolved from a shapeless scrap of leather to a triangular metal frame and fitted leather. The elites loved this new purse design. They secured the opening using a string or metal clasp.

The beginning of the Renaissance also affected the structure and design of purses. The fashion of women became more extravagant. Wide dresses with loads of excess fabrics became a trend. The problem was that women could no longer tie their purses around their waists because of their wide dresses. So, instead, they put hooks or buttons inside their dresses where they hang their purses. Men, on the other hand, lessened the use of purses when pockets were invented in 1670. 

During the Industrial Revolution, purses were reinvented once more. Thick and wide dresses became out of style, and sleek and slender dresses became trendy. This change in trend made it difficult for ladies to hang their purses inside their thick dresses. Therefore, women began wearing thin purses around their wrists with a strap. They called this version “reticules.”

The modern purse was conceptualized by an entrepreneur named Samuel Parkinson. His wife was having a hard time packing her things because her purse was too small and fragile for her belongings. He then contacted H.J. Cave and asked them to design and create beautiful handbags for her wife. He made sure they used high-quality leather to make his wife’s purses. This sweet and romantic gesture led to the first luxury purse line.

However, many people did not buy the idea that women should carry big purses around. So, H.J. Cave stopped the mass production of these purses. Their customers were limited to the rich, royalty, celebrities, and elites.

By the end of the Second World War, purses took over the market. And luxury brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton took the opportunity to create an exclusive and elite products. Through the years, purses have become fashion icons and a status symbol for many women (and even men) worldwide.

The purses timeline

  1. Ancient Times
    It’s Old News

    The concept of purses dates back to 5,000 years. Ancient Egyptians depicted men carrying purses around their waists in several of their portraits. While in biblical times, Judas Iscariot was portrayed as someone who used purses.

  2. Middle Ages
    Reinventing Purses

    At the beginning of the middle ages, people used purses made of leather and drawstrings. Then, nearing the end of the middle ages, the design evolved into a classier look. First, the elites used purses with metal frames and fitted leather.

  3. 16th-17th Centuries
    The Renaissance

    Fashion changed drastically during the Renaissance period. Women started wearing wide dresses with lots of fabric, so it became impossible for them to hang their purses around their waists. So, they wore their purses inside their dresses. On the other hand, men stopped carrying purses when pockets were invented in 1670.

  4. 18th-19th Centuries
    The Industrial Revolution

    During the 18th century, ladies were fascinated with sleek designs and began wearing slim dresses. The problem was that they couldn’t wear their purses inside their dresses, and it was not fashionable to wear them around their waist. So, they started wearing reticules or purses with wrist straps.

  5. 1841
    The Modern Purses

    H.J. Cave produced the first luxury purse line under the request of Samuel Parkinson. Samuel ordered different types of leather bags for his wife after noticing that her purse was too small and fragile to hold her valuables.

Where were the first purses invented?

The first modern purse was envisioned by Samuel Parkinson and was made by H.J. Cave fashion house in London.

Importance of the purses

  • A Tote for Tools

    The primary purpose of a purse is to carry stuff. Women used purses to carry their valuables, electronics, make-ups, and money while going about their day.

  • Style Statement

    Purses reflect a lady’s sense of style and fashion. They also give glimpses of their owners’ personalities.

  • Boost One’s Confidence

    A nice purse (it doesn’t need to be an expensive one) can be a girl’s best friend. It can boost your confidence in gatherings, events, meetings, dates, or public places.

  • Emotional Token

    A purse can have sentimental value, specially if it was customed made, personalized, or given as a gift by a loved one.

The purses by the numbers

  • 34.5 The most expensive purse declared by the Guinness World Records is the 1001 Nights Diamond Purse which costs $34.5 million.
  • 3Stylists suggest that a modern woman should have at least three purses – an evening look, a business trip, and a long journey.
  • 11An average American lady owns 11 purses.
  • 10 The regular size of a purse is the size of a standard envelope, about 10 inches long.

Five facts about purses

  • Rumors!

    Rumors have it that luxurious brands like Louis Vuitton burn their unsold purses at the end of the year instead of putting them on sale.

  • First Unisex

    Prada released the first unisex purse in 1985.

  • It was Judas!

    Judas Iscariot was the first written character to be described as someone who owns a purse/bag.

  • After the Railroads

    The construction of railroads sparked the idea that women needed light and spacious carriers they could use for traveling.

  • Originally Made for Men

    Nowadays, ladies are crazy about purses. However, they were initially made for men. African priests were often described with beaded purses, while Egyptians depicted men with pouches.

FAQs about purses   

  • Is a purse a bag?

    Yes. The word purse is just one of the perfect words to describe a bag. 

  • What is a small purse called?

    A small purse is called a wristlet. It is small, thin, and rectangular, which you can only use for cash, credit cards, or a phone. 

  • When can we call a bag a purse?

    A purse is a small and less spacious bag with straps that can be worn around the wrist or over the shoulder.

  • How do you stop purses from peeling?

    You can try applying leather conditioner at least twice a year to prevent wrinkling and flaking. 

  • Is it okay to store purses in plastic storage?

    Unfortunately, no. Storing them in plastic containers can promote the growth of molds and mildew. It is safer to keep them in dust bags.

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