The History of Clutches

You would be surprised at the complexity of clutches in history of fashion. Yes clutches, the little handbag? What is the pattern to their popularity and what meaning do they carry? 

Closely tied with women’s dress, their popularity directly increases with the size of women’s skirts. When you have a small skirt, there is no place to hid pockets. Without pockets there is no place to hold little things. They were also popular with men when they wore hoes. Attached to the waist, this is the precursor to the fanny pack. 

Not only were they used to hold small items, but at some points in their history, they were made to show status. Made by excellent craftsman from fine materials, precious metals, or stones, these bags can be extremely costly. So when did they begin?


  • Found in the UK, it was attached to a now gone leather pouch which hung from a waistbelt. The incredible artistry tells a story from its culture. 


  • From Mosul, Iraq this brass clutch was inlaid with silver and gold. 


  • As skirts became slimmer there was a need for bags to hold little things that would have gone in pockets.


  • During the 20’s it was very much a status symbol. However, it became more popular due to the slim drop waist skirt made popular by the Flappers. Instead of distracting pockets, they used a clutch which added to the look due to its decorative nature.


  • There were several key looks for the 30s. But due to the Great Depression and women working clutches were less popular. The introduction of plastic bags and treasure boxes (made by Tiffanies) characterized this time. 


  • Everything was centered around the war and there were limited materials for bags. Clutches became more popular as they required less materials. Alternative materials like wood and plastic were used frequently. For those who could find scraps of leather, all that could be made were the small purses. 


  • The 60s brought the invention of new textiles. This began the rise of shiny synthetic clutches which were cheaper than bags with hand beading. During this time they were a symbol of youth and being on trend. 


  • In 1967 Judith Lieber fixed a stain on one of her purses by covering it with jewels. This was the beginning to the huge trend of jewel covered clutches. Judith Lieber bags became such a status symbol that they became a staple to 1st ladies looks. Seen in many films including Sex in the City where Big gives Carrie one. When she responds in horror to the gift, the trend began to fade in the fashion world. A coincidence? I think not.


  • Alexander McQueen’s clutches brought an edgy street style diversifying the look. Most importantly, with the four-ring detail increased straps on the body of clutches.


  • What about today? As with most trend styles today, anything goes. The popularity of clutches has waned as pockets are in everything, including eveningwear. However, they are frequently used as accessories. They are still seen as status symbols, but this is specifically in luxury markets. These trends are as quick as their internet celebrities.

Manhappenin' Magazine is Kansas State University's student-created lifestyle magazine.


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