April 16, 2011

1945 edition of what's in your bag?

Day 106 of Vintage 365


A few years ago a trend sprung up on the ol' interwebz in which it became all the rage to share a photo of the contents of one's bag with the world. From fashion to mommy bloggers, oodles of gals (and to a lesser extent, guys - as this blog post shows) were (and still are) letting us sneak a peak into the various possessions that were calling their purse home.

A Flickr group - which currently has over 20,000 members - called What's in your bag? devoted to the subject even appeared, as have variations of the theme such as The Items We Carry and What's in your camera bag?.

Though I've occasionally seen accusations of staging (aka, the charge that someone had deliberately placed certain items in the photo that they didn't really carry around with them all the time), and every now and then that may be the case, by and large these images give us a very realistic glimpse into the private sanctums of another woman's purse - and by extension, a look at who that person is.

Thanks to such photos we could suddenly know if she liked to carry around everything and the kitchen sink (a camp into which I've been known to veer many-a-time myself) or she was a streamlined sister with little more than a Metro Pass and a beloved tub of nearly finished lipstick in her tiny clutch.

From books to music devices (iPods, etc), make-up to accessories, snacks to camera, there was (and is) something strangely addictive about glancing at the contents of someone else's purse. You can't help but compare your own bag against it (with thoughts such as, "Ooooh, we both use the same hand cream!" or "Their wallet is so much nicer than mine!"), noting similarities and differences, and perhaps being reminded of something you should be toting around but haven't been lately (such as an umbrella in the spring).

While the desire to peer into another person's handbag is scarcely new (especially for chaps, who so often seem to think all purses have a magical Mary Poppins-like quality to them), until recently I had yet to find a vintage example of this fun game (though long had a feeling that, given enough time, one would appear - there's no way that yesteryear gals didn't enjoy peering at the stuff women of their day carried around just as much as we do today!).

{Click here for a larger version of this wonderful 1945 magazine page.}


This terrific vintage image, which comes by way of kimintn on Flickr, is immensely interesting, as it features the handbag contents of both a young girl named Margaret o"Brien and chicly dressed lady called Maria Montez.

The items in little Maggie's bag remind me very much of what I used to carry around in my first teeny handbag (which was a darling tartan patterned mini saddlebag style purse): a tiny doll, some coins, a hankie, and a few cherished belongings.

Being older and more worldly, Maria naturally needs to stock her bag with more than just a child's trinkets and treasures. In her interesting Persian lamb's wool purse we see a larger - but still rather streamlined - array of items such as gloves, photographs, a calorie guide (attesting to the fact that trying to keep your figure trim is anything but a new preoccupation for many folks), letters, a small pouch-like bag used as a wallet, and - just as in young Margaret's bag - a handkerchief.

By comparison with the kinds of things one often finds in today's (one might say "overcrowded") purses, Maria's bag seems nearly minimalistic (it's interesting to note how few cosmetics she was packing that day), yet I bet it was worlds easier on her shoulders than carrying around the kind of Sherpa worthy bags many of us do these days.

This wonderful vintage magazine page from the forties shares not only a moment of handbag voyeurism, but also a snapshot of the lives of two individuals at that precise moment in time - which, if you stop and think about it, is exactly what today's "what's in your handbag" craze accomplishes, too.

Different eras, yet common items interspersed with the events and trends of the day, capturing perfectly the essence of someone's life as told by the contents of their purse.


  1. Now I want to see what's in YOUR bag! I think I'll check out the flickr group as well. I have a Moop bag and it's packed with stuff. LOL

  2. Oh man, let's see what was in my bag today... lipliner, lipgloss, powder compact, a bazillion loose tissues (I have a cold and couldn't find a travel pack before I left the house, so I just grabbed a bunch), muesli bar, wallet, phone, big fat textbook, notes (test on monday, eep), water bottle, loose layby receipts that I am meant to be paying off, loose prescriptions that I was meant to fill days ago (can you tell I am organized?) and a jacket. I envy the woman who can get around with a bus pass and lipstick! My shoulders are killing me.

  3. Jessica what a wonderful post. Peeking into the contents of our bags is somewhat like looking into little time capsules.Thinking back I can see how the contents of my bag have varied considerably at different times of my life. What was important to carry at a certain age became less so later or was replaced by new priorities. That vintage ad is simply darling!

  4. I love this post! I especially like peeking into their purses and seeing how little they carried! Awesome and amazing!!!!!

  5. They voyager in me loves this post!