Beaded Handbags

Women have been carrying purses or small handbags since the Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500). Though the first purses were simple leather pouches covered with a flap, women soon developed purses and handbags into decorative accessories that could be matched to their outfits and adorned with all manner of ornament. From 1900 to 1918 one of the more popular styles was the beaded handbag. This small bag, about the size of a grapefruit or smaller, was made of fabric that was covered in small beads.

A woman displaying a beaded handbag. Reproduced by permission of © .
The opening was secured either with a metal clasp or a snap. The handbag might have a long chain or cord, but many had no strap at all and were simply held in the hand.

The real artistry in a beaded handbag came in the design of the beadwork. Designs could be very simple, with opalescent beads of a single color or just slightly contrasting colors, or they could be very complex, with many different colors arranged into dramatic patterns. Beaded handbags remain a popular accessory to this day.


Grafton, Carol Belanger. Shoes, Hats, and Fashion Accessories: A Pictorial Archive, 1850–1940. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1998.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

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