What’s the Difference Between a Handbag and a Purse?

A brocade purse

Image via Wikipedia

Is it a purse or is it a handbag?  How do you know which is which? If you were at the Kentucky Derby, the difference would be great.  The winner of the race gets a purse.  The definition of that type of purse is a sum of money offered as a prize.  So why do so many people use the word purse when referring to the item they keep close to their side with all of their treasured belongings.? A purse is a small holder for money which is meant to be carried in a pocket or one’s hand.

As far back as Egyptian times, a purse was carried by men as a place to keep their money.  In the 14th and 15th centuries, men as well as women would attach their purse to their clothing.[1] In the early 1800’s women began to carry more than just money as they ventured out to see the world.  Somewhere in this time frame, a purse turned into a handbag.

The actual rise to the handbag can be credited to the development of the railroad.  People began to travel by rail and women needed a place to have their hairpins, gloves, compacts and lipsticks readily available. Trunk makers put together suitcases for travelers, but women wanted certain items by their side while on the train; hence, the first designer handbag was developed by a trunk maker.   And yes, it was no other than Louis Vuitton. [2]

The difference between a handbag and a purse is simply that a purse is meant to hold only money, while a handbag is larger and holds many items.

Handbags have developed over time and there are so many styles and designers.  Below is a list of common styles for handbags.

Baguette – small, oblong shaped purse with short straps.

Bucket – round bucket shaped bag, can be any size and usually has one long strap for a handle.

Clutch – small framed bag usually with a snap top or a metal clasp, and very limited space for items.  This bag is usually used as an evening bag.

Hobo – oversized, soft sided, slouchy bag with one wide strap.  This bag hangs off the shoulder along the middle of one’s body and when filled, the middle of the bag droops down into a half moon shape.

Messenger – soft sided flap front bag with usually two buckles.  A wide strap is adjustable and the shape is rectangular.

Satchel – flat bottom structured bag with double straps.  This bag looks similar to the old style doctor’s bags.

Wristlet – small thin rectangular wallet shape with a looped strap.

Please refer to my post Your Signature Handbag for tips on selecting a handbag that’s right for you.

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2 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between a Handbag and a Purse?

  1. Pingback: In Praise of the Purse « The Word Busker

  2. Pingback: 10-27-2011 | Dream Fragment | A Purse/Book-Bag | John Jr's Dream Journal

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