Here is a lovely little beaded bag from the 1930’s. It was designed to take with you when you went out dancing. It is 5 inches across and 3 inches tall. It was meant to be held in your hand by slipping the back side of your left hand delicately through the little strap on the back of the bag thus enabling the front of the bag to show against the shoulder of the dark suit of your partner as you danced with your left hand resting gently on his left shoulder in ballroom dance partnering position. I don’t suppose the dancing could get too wild and vigorous while holding such a purse! When the dancing got more athletic the purse would probably have had to be relegated to the tabletop! I picture this as a style meant for civilized ladylike dancing at social occasions.
The flowers are done in needlepoint using very tiny stitches with silk thread. They are outlined with marcasite beads against the groundwork of tiny white glass seed beads. Small glass pearl beads were used in the center of each flower. The beading is done on a linen base. The bag is lined in white silk. It is made completely by hand. This one was made in France. Beautiful beaded and embroidered bags like this were hand made in Europe ~ mostly France, Austria, and Belgium ~ by women artisans for women to to use. It was an art form of beautiful objects being made by women for women to own and appreciate and use during special occasions in their lives. Such bags were often given as elegant gifts.
One of the reasons I love these bags so much is that they are fine examples of what my late father called the Feminine Arts ~ these include the arts made by women and the arts worn by women and, simply, the arts of being a woman. At the time these bags were made being elegant and charming and dressing beautifully was considered an art form and women were greatly appreciated for doing so. Putting oneself together in an artistic way was valued and appreciated. My father, who was an English professor, reminisced on this when he viewed my collection of vintage purses a couple of years ago in his 80’s. While viewing them he remarked, ” If a man wanted to be with a beautiful woman in those days he knew he had to support her .” (Shock! What a novel and quaint idea that is nowadays! What happened to that custom?) He continued to say, that, a successful man knew that a woman would bring the very things he lacked, being that he was a man, to his life ~ these things all fell into the category of female attributes that my father called the Feminine Arts ~ and that he, as a man, could not acquire by any means except being with her. These things could not be bought at any price if a man were alone. These “Feminine Arts” included love and companionship of course. It was his firm philosophy that taking care of a man and supervising a household while bringing these elegant and elusive feminine qualities to a man’s life was a full time undertaking and should be supported, respected and rewarded as such by a man. He was acknowledging how much effort success in the Feminine Arts required and that is was also somewhat costly and well worth the price.
Unfortunately modern men often feel just the opposite and condemn women for their interests in these very same areas. They do not realize what richness the Feminine Arts can bring to a man’s life as well.
The World Wars disrupted the purse making and beading crafts, of course. But after WWII the remaining artisans who knew how to do this kind of work went into business again. Demand for beaded evening purses was high during the 1950’s and 60’s. Styles changed with the times of course, but the workmanship was still beautiful. At this time workshops opened in Asia ~ notably Hong Kong ~ in order to meet the demand. Again the bead work and other handiwork was exquisite. Pictured above in an example from my collection of a beaded clutch evening bag made in Hong Kong in the late 1950’s. It is made with iridescent dark blue glass beads with the colors of an oil slick radiating from their centers. It is densely beaded in a swirl design and is spectacular!
Such elegant purses are the perfect compliments to modern, vintage or vintage influenced evening wear and in their small way take us back to the romantic times when ultra feminine women were appreciated by manly caring men! Every time I look at one I am reminded of my late professor father’s philosophizing on the Feminine Arts …. When I carry one I feel like I am in one of the old movies with that type of plot. Incidentally, my father grew up in NYC watching a lot of those old movies. They went to the movie theater every Saturday and watched several features back to back. He would often describe entire scenes, decades later, that had made deep life-lasting impressions on him including the leading ladies fashions. The manners and elegance depicted in the old films really had a strong influence on young people growing up in those days. Even if they were not living in elegance it made them appreciate and aspire to it. The films and film fashions of their youth definitely had lasting impact on both my parents.