History of Fashion: The Tiny Purse… oh, and Pockets

By Jessica Barr

Although introduced into women’s wear long before Jacquemus first introduced the ‘Le Chiquito’ bag during his Fall Ready-to-Wear collection, the two models adorned with the accessory sparked a tiny purse to become an overwhelming trend.

Practically, the tiny purse doesn’t make much sense. With phones getting bigger, why sport an accessory made for convenience, if it doesn’t serve its purpose? Especially when that “lack-of-function” accessory comes with a hefty price tag. 

1800-1825 Reticule Bag – via Musée McCord Museum

Despite the off-putting facts that the tiny purse has little-to-no functionality, typically high prices and is easy to misplace, the trend took off. By playing with shape and design, higher-end brands created a sense of exclusivity in carrying such a  small purse. Chanel even took the trend one step further in layering two mini bags and hanging them from gold-chained belts on their models. 

This is probably a result of the boundless notion, and maybe even proven fact that history repeats itself, or could it be just fashion’s way of telling us to stop carrying so much stuff and adapt to a minimalist lifestyle! 

Until the 18th century a tiny purse signified elegance and status, for its necessity was to carry just one thing: cash. The accessories were unisex in nature and had more in common with modern wallets than the handbags we’re used to. At the time, roomy pockets were actually conventional in women’s clothing, making a purse something meant for carrying things like gambling winnings.

It wasn’t until the late 1780’s that larger bags were used beyond carrying work-related items. During the French Revolution functional pockets were essentially eradicated in women’s clothing, expanding the duties of the handbag. This meant one thing; we were now meant to carry more in our purses and less in our pockets.

 Paris, F/W 2019: Jacquemus ‘Le Chiquito’ bag 

As it always does, fashion accepted this new challenge. Smaller pockets became stylistic and deliberate in design. Purses became larger, more intricate in design and more useful for the average carrier. Bigger, but still small, decorated “reticules” became an essential accessory. 

So, the history of the mini-purse coincides with the history of pockets. Ironically enough any woman can attest to the frustration of small, futile pockets, making it hard to understand why the modern reduction in purse size didn’t come along with an increase in pocket size.

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