John Ptak explores the history of the handbag after seeing a photo of 1920 woman, who couldn’t seem to put one down." /> John Ptak explores the history of the handbag after seeing a photo of 1920 woman, who couldn’t seem to put one down." />
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Alexandra Lange

Bag Ladies


Tony Vaccaro, LIFE, 1966

Bobulate:

John Ptak explores the history of the handbag after seeing a photo of 1920 woman, who couldn’t seem to put one down:

The pocketbook that we think of today came into being in the mid/late 19th century ... and that article of necessity hasn’t looked back since. It seems to me that the pocketbook of the 19th century might’ve been an advertising platform too for marketing marriagability — the bags were often finely decorated/embroidered, which would show in effect a particular domesticity skill. And then of course the bags just held stuff, too. It would be interesting to see a collection of the preserved contents of handbooks by the decade for 150 years or so — just the contents spilled into a bag and preserved, a version of “the Things They Carried With Them”.

I carry diligently, and often forget, even in while carrying, the significance of the handbag… To me, questioning one about a handbag — or “bag” — is as if we’ve asked one to make your life story interesting or to give one a field guide to a life. Fair enough, but perhaps an impossible feat in a passing sidewalk moment.

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Today’s post from Bobulate reminded me of one of National Design Lifetime Achievement Award-winner Jane Thompson’s reminiscences in our book, Design Research: The Store that Brought Modern Living to American Homes (available in just one month), about the Mari-sisterhood:

Dropping my Mari-labeled bag onto store counters, or on office desks, I hear amazing life stories volunteered breathlessly. These encounters have not only continued over decades but have increased as Marimekko products have been seen less often in this country. Over decades the power of connectivity has built what I perceive is a Mari-Sisterhood, joined by some special awareness common to members of the ’hood. Today’s members include seniors, 1960s veterans, and initiates enjoying the American upsurge of Marimekko shops in which all of us feel like members of a special alumnae association. (In large number, it is an alumnae association, but male fans can be fanatics too.)

What is the core of Mari-connectedness? It may be discovering visual values and pleasures for the first time; it may be stimulating personal abilities and self-confidence at a formative age. In the 1960s, each woman wearing a Marimekko garment was proud to signal boldness of spirit, audacious cool: something original had touched an inner button, beaming a defining message of independence as clearly as waving a flag of freedom.



Posted in: Design History, Fashion

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Alexandra Lange Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.

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