What Women Carry: Purses Contents Today & Yesteryear

Recently, one of the women on our staff was cleaning out her purse. Earrings, kleenexes, mints, earbuds – lots of stuff had gathered. It took a while to sort the necessary out from the trash. Women of today are busy and their purse contents reflect that reality. While our carpet purse design is definitely geared towards modern life, we take lots of cues from purses of yesteryear. And this got us thinking recently, what did women in the past carry in their purses? And how has it changed from today? So we dug a little deeper and this is what we learned:

What Women Carry in Their Purses Now

We found a great research study done by Cramer-Krasselt  and discovered that our large carpet bags are right on trend, because, yikes! Women of today carry a lot of stuff, some of which would be beyond belief 100 years ago. And according to the study, most women feel their purses have just gotten heavier and heavier.

  1. Tech stuff is high on the list – women today almost universally have smart phones, and often also bring along their e-readers or tablets. This insight was part of the motivation for adding a padded tech pocket to the Kyaoso bags – a feature we’ll probably continue to roll out in new iterations of other purse styles.
  2. Next is all the personal effects –  makeup, hand creams, lip balm, essential oils, sanitary products, etc. And in the age of flu and coronavirus, lots of tissues and sanitizer.
    What modern women carry in their purses
  3. Because you never know what might happen, over half the respondents carry band-aids &/or first-aid kits, while 74% have various types of medications. And in the age of conceal & carry, at least 15% have a handgun or some other personal protection device.
  4. And then there’s the “prepared for anything” items – compasses and underwear changes, toothbrushes and calculators. And for those that also have little children, diapers and bottles and various teething toys get stuffed into purse nooks and crannies!

What Women Carried in Their Purses in the Past

Life was quite different for women over a hundred years ago. Based on which class you were a part of, purses and their contents could change dramatically. Also, because opportunity for outside employment was so limited, many women’s handbags were geared towards functionality for shopping and social visits.

  1. During Medieval and Renaissance periods, most purses were simply pouches that hung off one’s belt. And they had a rather unique purpose – to help the wearer smell better! These are the days when baths were few and far between, so women who didn’t want to stink would fill their belt pouches with flowers and sweet smelling herbs.
  2. Even as more frequent bathing and perfume helped women smell a bit sweeter, those belt purses still reigned supreme. Victorian fanny packs were truly a thing, only they went by the names “Indispensables” and “Reticules”.  Sewing supplies, such as thread and scissors were often carried around. Cash was of course important for the lower classes, while women from the wealthy side of the proverbial tracks were able to shop on credit and thus didn’t carry much in the way of hard, cold money around.
  3. When it came to social gatherings, women would carry rouge and powder, plus fans and visiting cards. Still, purses were most often very, very small and really only the bare necessities for the occasion. 
  4. The advent of the bigger purse started with the advent of the department store. Now women had a place to shop and socialize, and could carry more with them as they stayed out of the house for longer periods of time. Louis Vuitton bags rose to popularity in this period.
  5. Oh, and it must be mentioned that the tote bags of today came from purse-like baskets. When women went to the markets for food and household goods, there weren’t any plastic or paper shopping bags for them to carry their purchases in. So large baskets that could be carried by hanging off the back or could be carried by hand were the tote bags du jour. historical basket shopping tote

What do you carry in your purse? Would you prefer to make do with a reticule? And is your bag too heavy or are you able to pare down to just the basics. Share some of your favorite purse features in the comments below. We’re always looking for ways to improve our carpet bag designs, so we’d love to hear from you!

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