Bags of class – why do women love handbags so much?

What sacrifices would you have to make to afford Miu Miu’s gorgeous Coffer bag – all butter-soft leather, ruches and gold hardware, and a hefty £720?

If you ate beans on toast for a month, could you stretch to £895 for Marc Jacobs’s delicious plum metallic Mariah?

The It-Bag is the ultimate 21st- century object of desire, not just for supermodels and celebutantes, but for working women from all walks of life.

These days we’re prepared to spend more on a handbag than a holiday or even a car – and we want the rest of the world to know it.

Clothes on the catwalk regularly take second place to this most covetable of accessories – a trend borne out earlier this year when Kate Moss starred in Longchamp’s bag campaign, lying naked on a beach, except for her Longchamp handbag.

The message was clear: clothes are redundant – it’s all about the It-Bag.

But why do we find bags so desirable? It’s partly because they’ve become a unique outward statement of a woman’s status, fashion savvy and earning power – and the rising popularity of handbags over the past 100 years has followed the increasing social independence of their owners.

Two hundred years ago, a woman’s role was largely domestic and she would keep her belongings in a purse tucked into the folds of her clothes.

But as women started leaving the home, both for leisure and work, bags became a useful way of carrying their possessions.

Rail and sea travel caused an explosion in the popularity of fashionable luggage such as suitcases, dressing cases, hat and shoe boxes – out of which the modern leather handbag developed.

It’s no accident that many of today’s most luxurious handbag design houses, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Hermes, originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as travel became more common. Then, as women gained financial independence, so the handbag industry flourished out of all proportion to its humble origins.

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