Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Author - Charlene Raddon

My special guest today is Western Historical Romance Author Charlene Raddon. Please read her very interesting post about the history of handbags! One lucky commenter will win a ebook copy of her book To Have and to Hold and a $5 Amazon gift card! Please be sure to leave your contact email in your comment!


Purses, pouches, or bags have been used since humans first found a need to carry precious items with them. Egyptian hieroglyphs show men wearing purses around the waist, and the Bible specifically identifies Judas Iscariot as a purse carrier.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, bags were attached to the most vital feature of medieval garb: the girdle, along with rosaries, Book of Hours, pomanders (scented oranges), chatelaines (a clasp or chain to suspend keys, etc.), even daggers. Women favored ornate drawstring purses known as “hamondeys” or “tasques”. Men used purses known as “chaneries” for gaming or for holding food for falcons.
During the Elizabethan era, women’s skirts expanded to enormous proportions and small medieval girdle purses became lost among huge amounts of fabric. Rather than wear girdle pouches outside on a belt, women chose to wear them under their skirts. Men wore leather pockets (called “bagges”) inside their breeches. Large satchel-like leather or cloth bags were sometimes worn by peasants or travelers, diagonally across the body.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the more visible bags were rejected and long embroidered drawstring purses were hidden under skirts and breeches instead, while some people wanted them to be conspicuous, for use as decorative containers for gifts, money, perfume, or jewels. Toward the end of the 17th century, purses became increasingly sophisticated, changing from simple drawstring designs to more complex shapes and materials.
Following the French Revolution, narrow, high-waisted dresses became popular, leaving no room beneath for pockets. Consequently, purses, in the form of “reticules” or “indispensables” as the English called them, came into use, showing that women had become dependent upon handbags. The French parodied the women who carried the delicate bags that resembled previously hidden pockets as “ridicules”.
Victorian era developments in science and industry provided a vast array of styles and fabrics women could coordinate with their outfits. Though pockets returned in the 1840s, women continued to carry purses and spend an enormous amount of time embroidering them to show off for potential husbands, often including the date and their own initials in the designs. Chatelaines attached to the waist belt with a decorated clasp remained popular.
The railroad brought about a revolution in the use of bags. As more people traveled by train professional luggage makers turned the skills of horse travel into those for train travel, and soon the term “handbag” emerged to describe these new hand-held luggage bags. Many of the top names of today's handbags started as luggage makers (whereas, previously made purses and pouches were made by dressmakers). Hermes bags were founded in 1837, a harness and saddle maker. Loius Vuitton was a luggage packer for the Parisian rich. Modern handbag designs still allude to luggage with pockets, fastenings, frames, locks, and keys.
Early in the 20th century handbags became much more than just hand-held luggage. Women could choose from small reticules, Dorothy bags (now called dotty or marriage bags) with matching robes, muffs, and fitted leather bags with attached telescopic opera glasses and folding fans. Working women used larger handbags, such as the Boulevard bag, leather shopping bags, and even briefcases worn around the shoulder.
After WWI, the long constricting layers and rigid corseting women wore disappeared. Perhaps the most important development during this period was the “pochette,” a type of handle-less clutch, often decorated with dazzling geometric and jazz motifs, worn tucked under arms to give an air of nonchalant youth. Rules for color coordination grew lax and novelty bags, such as doll bags (dressed exactly like the wearer), became popular. The discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1923 inspired purses reflecting exotic motifs.
Today, purse designs continue to fluctuate, and always will. What sort of purses do you remember using when you were young? In the 1950s I had a pink and white, square plastic purse I loved. I wonder whatever became of it. If I owned that purse now, it would probably be worth a pretty penny.

About Charlene:

Charlene first serious writing attempt came in 1980 when she awoke one morning from an unusually vivid and compelling dream. Deciding that dream needed to be made into a book, she dug out an old portable typewriter and went to work. That book never sold, but her second one, Tender Touch, became a Golden Heart finalist and earned her an agent. Soon after, she signed a three book contract with Kensington Books. Five of Charlene's western historical romances were published between 1994 and 1999: Taming Jenna, Tender Touch (1994 Golden Heart Finalist under the title Brianna), Forever Mine (1996 Romantic Times Magazine Reviewer's Choice Award Nominee and Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist), To Have and To Hold Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist); and writing as Rachel Summers, The Scent of Roses. Forever Mine and Tender Touch are available as e-books and after January 24, To Have and To Hold will be as well.
When not writing, Charlene loves to travel, crochet, needlepoint, research genealogy, scrapbook, and dye Ukrainian eggs.

You can purchase To Have and to Hold on Amazon.


  1. Interesting post Charlene. This is a great example of how much research goes into something as simple as a character's handbag. Congrats on the book!

  2. Very interesting post. I liked the fact that men carried purses back in the Egyptian era and I love the one with the roses with the black background. I have one with a similar design.
    I have read and enjoyed your books. Looking forward to more.

    1. Thanks, Shirl. Men actually used purses through most of history until, I think, sometime in the nineteenth century. I appreciate your loyalty so much.