Handbags may have served both women and men as a functional fashion accessories since as early as the Stone Age, when prehistoric hunter-gatherers — some 20,000 years BC — likely carried tools and wild edibles from place to place in crude leaf satchels or simple leather slings.
Egyptian hieroglyphs, several thousand years BC, depict the use of purse-like waist pouches. Later, in Europe between the 12th and 16th Century AD, men also wore small purses strapped about the waist, while women typically carried valuables in pocket-pouches sewed beneath their skirts. It was not until the 1800s that a wider variety of purse styles came into vogue in Europe (particularly as dresses became more shapely, leaving less room for bulky hidden pockets). Elsewhere in the world, culturally-themed handbags, clutches, and shoulder bags have served as essential fashion accessories for many many thousands of years; each culture featuring its own history of use and style.
In the West, the past 100 years of fashion has featured a seemingly endless parade of increasingly diverse handbag styles, ranging from the utterly vainglorious to the elegantly sublime. Today, handbag fashions remain as capricious as they are numerous. Currently, just about anything goes, from trendy Kate Spade and Prada-style purses to culturally-themed handbags and clutches handmade by little-known designers around the world.
Fortunately for fashionistas today, the Internet helps support the fashion world’s broad diversity of current styles, bringing a spectacular variety of handbag options to online buyers’ fingertips. With just a few simple key strokes, buyers can find, compare, and purchase just about all of the most famous and most obscure designs today. An incredibly broad selection of handbags, purses, manbags, messenger bags, totes, clutches, pocketbooks, evening bags, unisex satchels, shoulder bags, backpacks, and computer carriers are readily available.
Handmade world-style handbags experienced a major fashion renaissance in the new Millennium, and have continued each successive year to increase in popularity and availability. Many famous designers offer variations on traditional region-based cultural themes, while the original ethnic designs — upon which those designer models are based — are just about as readily available online, often shipping direct from appreciative artisan-designers in remote locals.
When searching for handmade handbags online, be sure to shop with reputable retailers. Styles vary so widely, that the best stylistic recommendation — and the luckiest aspect of the breadth of fashion today — is simply to choose a look that resonates with you. You may find that you are drawn to fashion accessories — including handbags — that reflect your own a cultural heritage or regional fascination. Whatever the reason, be sure to select a handbag that truly appeals to you. We recommend this approach as much more fun and intriguing than purchasing duplicates of handbags that are already widely worn and talked about!
Regional styles vary considerably. Currently, Latin American designers and artisans offer a broad range of stunning and elegant leather handbags. Many artisan-designers in Asia include sustainable reeds and fibers in summery, earth-friendly traditional handbags. Hilltribe artists in Thailand and neighboring nations each produce their own characteristic tribal-themed handbags, many of which are available to purchasers around the world today. Also in Thailand, elaborate handmade sterling silver purses make some of the most exquisite evening bags available on the planet today, often featuring delicate floral details (consider such exceptional works of art for truly special occasions, including black tie dinners and weddings). Master artisans and designers in India likewise create some lovely evening bags, traditionally heavily-beaded and made of cloth.
In Brazil, so many exciting and wild styles define current trends that it is hard to suggest just one or two handbag themes to consider. In Rio, Neide Ambrosio has launched a star-studded handbag phenomenon these past several years with her fabulous collection of unique handmade soda-pop top handbags and matching accessories, all made from recycled soda-pop flip-tops — collected by otherwise unemployed locals who are now helping “clean up” soda flip tops from the breathtaking beaches of Rio.
Novica’s handbags department is a great place to go for an overview of dozens of cultural themes and hundreds of styles, available direct from artisan-designers around the globe. Many other wonderful online retailers likewise provide great options for discovering and purchasing handmade handbags from around the world. We are so fortunate to have so many choices in the world today — in so many aspects of our lives, including fashion. Enjoy the search, and the many exiting options available!
Catherine Gallegos serves as editor-in-chief of Novica.com (part of the National Geographic family), a retail site featuring the handmade creations of artisans worldwide, including handmade handbags