Press Release

Essential Style: Vintage and Antique Purses


CONTACT: Charles Schuler
Director of Communications
San Francisco International Airport


Essential Style: Vintage and Antique Purses
New exhibition features a dazzling assortment of antique and vintage bags from the eighteenth to the twentieth century

SAN FRANCISCO -- Purses have a rich and varied history dating to the medieval period. For centuries, bags used to carry personal items served as an essential part of daily life. Rather than remaining utilitarian, purses evolved into a sophisticated decorative art and fashion accessory. Historically, both men and women wore purses attached to their belts or fabric bands that hung from the waist. After interior pockets were introduced to male clothing at the end of the sixteenth century, the use of bags by men gradually declined. Purse styles became increasingly sophisticated during the seventeenth century, showcasing more complex shapes, embroideries, and trims. Common forms in the eighteenth century included the drawstring and pocketbook. During the nineteenth century, beaded bags were particularly popular. To showcase their needlework skills, women often crafted their own beaded and embroidered bags, which commonly featured sentimental Victorian themes, such as pastoral scenes and floral patterns.


By the early twentieth century, the purse was an integral item that no woman left home without. Manufacturers offered handbags to suit all occasions in an endless variety of imaginative designs. During the 1920s and ‘30s, tiny dance purses that dangled from the wrist contained a powder puff and mirror, allowing fashionable, modern women to carry the bare necessities for an evening out. Whiting & Davis offered enameled metal-mesh purses made from metal links similar to those used to make armor. Many purses were fabricated from new plastics, such as celluloid and Bakelite. A variety of novelty purses took the shape of dogs, cars, dolls, rocket ships, and even military caps. This stylish accessory remains an indispensable component of female fashion.


This exhibition was made possible through a generous loan from members of the Antique Purse Collectors Society.


The Antique Purse Collectors Society is dedicated to the collection and preservation of vintage and antique purses. Established in 2003, the group is composed of more than 100 members from around the world who are fascinated by antique handbags. The APCS researches the history of all types of purses and works to expand the public’s awareness of vintage and antique bags. Each year, the group gathers at an annual convention for informative talks and museum tours. Visit the Antique Purse Collectors Society website.


View the exhibition online.


Essential Style: Vintage and Antique Purses is located pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport. The exhibition is on view to all Airport visitors from January 23, 2016 to July 24, 2016. There is no charge to view the exhibition.


SFO Museum

SFO Museum was established by the Airport Commission in 1980 for the purposes of humanizing the Airport environment, providing visibility for the unique cultural life of San Francisco, and presenting educational services for the traveling public. The Museum was granted initial accreditation from the American Association of Museums in 1999, reaccredited in 2005, and has the distinction of being the only accredited museum in an airport. Today, SFO Museum features approximately twenty galleries throughout the Airport terminals displaying a rotating schedule of art, history, science, and cultural exhibitions, as well as the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, a permanent collection dedicated to the history of commercial aviation. To browse current and past exhibitions, research our collection, or for more information, please visit Follow us on,, or




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