The purse is one accessory that can make or break an outfit. It evolved from a simple bag to an elaborate alter ego as a container that holds all of the necessities of life for the carrier and his or her lifestyle. Changes in gender roles, social standards, and technology have influenced the complexity of the handbag throughout the ages. Women were not the sole owners of purses and handbags, as men also found their version of the convenient tool for toting around life’s necessities. In fact, men used purses more than women in the early years of the purse. The purse was used to show and at the same time hide a person’s personality and interests. Handbag, purse, satchel, clutch, carryall, or pocket book – whatever you call it, this item has had a place in someone’s hand throughout the ages.
During the 1900s, women started going out more and became independent by not relying on a male escort to carry their belongings. Women were also given more financial responsibility and were often seen carrying a reticule, purse, or billfold. These were small and held only basic necessities such as coins, bank notes, calling cards, handkerchiefs, and a few additional items. As men focused their time on going to work, women set off for the markets and stores with the responsibility of purchasing food and fabric for clothing and accessory items.
The clutch handbag provided little practicality, as it was small and designed to hold few necessities. Many of the bags were designed with straps, which helped keep women mobile while keeping their purses close. In addition, the purse acted as a complimentary accessory to the female outfit. Other popular bags from the period were beaded mesh bags patterned in unique styles that were often enameled or jeweled. The bags accented the beaded dance dresses that symbolized the flappers of the Roaring Twenties. Since bags were still small, only basic essentials such as a compact, lipstick, cigarettes, and a lighter were carried.
In July 1943, the Army established basic training centers where Army nurses received four weeks of basic military training to prepare them for their new duties. The training was composed of 144 hours and included military courtesy and customs, care of clothing and equipment, dismounted drill, physical training, defense against air, chemical, and mechanized attack, administration, organization, military sanitation, and ward and clinic nursing. Following the training, the nurses were directly assigned to duty. They worked at various hospital installations in the United States and overseas. Many often worked on hospital ships, trains or planes. The different types of duty performed by nurses included general duty, administration, fever therapy, operating room work, and anesthesia.
The purses we carry today convey a variety of cultural meanings that have developed throughout the ages. How we carry our purses has been molded to convey a perception of ourselves. Those perceptions include showing a sense of responsibility; the person carrying the purse wishes to be organized and prepared for any obstacles the day has in store. Another perception is security; the owner has everything needed to survive the day right at his or her fingertips, such as medicine to ward off illness or change for the parking meter. Finally, the purse conveys independence and originality. The purse reflects the owner’s style and independence to carry his or her own belongings.