Write a essay about the evolution of pockets and handbags

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Project #1 The Dress- Systems and Society and Fashion product

Gender and the Handbag

Description: Beginning with an examination of the handbag and its gender role in this

quote from the Judith Leiber Exhibit at The Museum of Art and Design in 2017 consider

this quote and research its implications for the dress:

“Gender: Who Carries the Handbag:

Handbags have long been entangled in the gendered struggles for money, power, and

autonomy. After the introduction of trousers in the late sixteenth century, men slowly

moved away from using purses to hold their money and personal items. In the eighteenth

century, the popularity of the neoclassical, empire-wasted gown led to the slimming of

women’s silhouettes and the inability to carry personal items in concealed pockets. The

reticule, a pouch carried by a chain or cord, became the first handbag.

As women’s independence expanded, handbags became practical necessities for carrying

essentials for extended periods in the public sphere. Seen by some as a means of

liberation from men, who would previously have carried women’s possessions, handbags

were viewed by others as burdens. As early as 1914, feminist writer Charlotte Perkins

Gilman argued for the right to wear pockets in her short story “If I Were a Man” and

utopian novel Herland (1915). Handbags become almost necessary as women’s clothing

became more formfitting- in accordance with standards of femininity and beauty- while

men’s clothing remained utilitarian. Women are frequently expected to have items such

as gum, lip balm, ibuprofen, tissues, pens, cough drops, or water on hand for use by non-

handbag carriers, mainly men and children. As a result, men continue to move

unencumbered while women have become de facto carriers- physical extensions of the

gendered expectation of caretaking.”

Based on this quote and the student’s research of pockets and handbags as they relate to

gender roles, the student will explore the role of the pocket and handbag in society. Then

a fashion product will be designed either incorporated into a dress or as a separate

accessory to make a statement about the use of the handbags and pockets about their

impact in terms of gender roles.

Method: Students will deeply research and write a paper including images about the topic

“Gender: Who Carries the Handbag”. Using their knowledge of construction techniques

of the dress components and pockets, they will create an accessory that makes a personal

statement about this fashion system.


Students will research the evolution of pockets and handbags and write a 2-3 page paper

based on their findings. The paper should also include images of these objects or

garments with these features. Their research should include a conclusion that identifies

an aspect of gender that will guide their project with consideration for creating an

accessory or dress with accessory.

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