Iconic 1910s Bag Styles The Louis Vuitton Steamer Bag by Stefany Bags

Iconic 1910s Bag Styles: The Louis Vuitton Steamer Bag and Historical Influences

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Vintage fashion enthusiasts know that each era brings its unique charm, and the 1910s were no exception. The decade marked a pivotal period for designer bags and fashion in general, influenced by significant world events and cultural shifts. This article delves into the iconic bag styles of the 1910s, exploring their historical context and the factors that shaped their design.

The Birth of Iconic Bag Styles in the 1910s

The 1910s saw the emergence of several iconic bag styles that would leave an indelible mark on fashion history. One of the most notable introductions was the clutch bag. These small, handheld bags were elegant and practical, reflecting the sophisticated yet functional fashion sensibilities of the time. Clutches were often adorned with intricate beading, embroidery, and Art Nouveau-inspired designs, making them a statement accessory for the modern woman.

Another significant development was the rise of the handbag as a fashion accessory rather than a purely functional item. Designers began to create bags that complemented outfits, incorporating luxurious materials like leather, silk, and velvet. The use of metal frames and clasps also became popular, adding a touch of elegance and durability to these stylish accessories.

Examples of Iconic Bags:

  • The Hermès Sac à Dépêches: Introduced in 1928 but influenced by earlier 1910s designs, this bag became a symbol of timeless elegance and practicality.
  • Louis Vuitton Steamer Bag: Created in the early 1900s, this bag was initially designed for travelers. Its durable construction and practical design elements made it a favorite among the elite.
  • Minaudière by Van Cleef & Arpels: Although introduced later in the 1930s, the minaudière's inspiration came from the small evening bags and clutches of the 1910s, characterized by their intricate designs and luxurious materials.

The Louis Vuitton Steamer Bag: An Iconic Example

Among the various styles that emerged during the 1910s, the Louis Vuitton Steamer Bag stands out as one of the most iconic examples. Introduced in 1901, this bag was originally designed to be a smaller, more flexible companion to the larger trunks used by travelers. Its practical and innovative design quickly made it a staple among the elite.

The Steamer Bag was crafted from durable canvas with reinforced leather corners, ensuring it could withstand the rigors of travel. Its spacious interior and lightweight design made it ideal for carrying essentials, and it featured a drawstring closure that kept belongings secure. This practical yet stylish design embodied the shift towards more functional fashion accessories during the 1910s, influenced by the changing roles and lifestyles of women during World War I.

Key Features of the Louis Vuitton Steamer Bag:

  • Durable Materials: Made from high-quality canvas and leather, the Steamer Bag was built to last, reflecting the era's emphasis on practicality and durability.
  • Innovative Design: The bag's drawstring closure and spacious interior were innovative features that set it apart from other travel bags of the time.
  • Versatility: While originally designed for travel, the Steamer Bag's stylish design made it a versatile accessory that could be used in various settings.

World Events and Their Influence on Fashion

The 1910s were a tumultuous decade marked by significant world events that had a profound impact on fashion, including the design of bags. The most influential event was undoubtedly World War I (1914-1918). The war led to a shift in societal roles, with women taking on more responsibilities in the workforce and daily life. This change necessitated more practical and functional clothing and accessories.

As a result, bags became more utilitarian, with an emphasis on durability and convenience. The need for women to carry essentials while maintaining a sense of style led to the creation of larger, more versatile bags. The introduction of shoulder straps was a notable innovation, allowing women to carry their bags hands-free, which was particularly useful during wartime activities.

The Impact of Art Movements

Art movements such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco also played a crucial role in shaping the design aesthetics of the 1910s. Art Nouveau, with its emphasis on organic forms and intricate details, influenced the ornate decorations found on many bags of the period. This style was characterized by flowing lines, floral motifs, and a sense of harmony with nature, which were often reflected in the designs of clutches and evening bags.

As the decade progressed, Art Deco began to gain prominence, bringing a more modern and geometric approach to design. The clean lines, bold shapes, and luxurious materials associated with Art Deco started to appear in bag designs, setting the stage for the roaring twenties. This transition marked a move towards a more streamlined and elegant aesthetic that would dominate fashion in the following decade.

The Influence of Cultural Shifts

Cultural shifts during the 1910s also had a significant impact on fashion. The rise of the suffragette movement, advocating for women's rights, including the right to vote, brought a sense of empowerment and independence to women. This newfound sense of autonomy was reflected in fashion, with bags becoming a symbol of personal freedom and self-expression.

The influence of Hollywood and the film industry also began to make its mark on fashion. Actresses became style icons, and their fashion choices, including their bags, were emulated by women worldwide. The glamour and sophistication of Hollywood stars were often reflected in the intricate and luxurious designs of evening bags and clutches.

Celebrities and Their Influence:

  • Mary Pickford: Known as "America's Sweetheart," Pickford's elegant and refined style, including her choice of accessories, influenced many women of the era.
  • Lillian Gish: Another prominent actress of the silent film era, Gish often carried sophisticated clutches that complemented her graceful on-screen persona.
  • Queen Mary: The wife of King George V, Queen Mary was known for her impeccable style and often carried elegant handbags that set trends among the aristocracy.

Queen Mary's Iconic Bags of the 1910s

Queen Mary, a style icon of her time, was known for her exquisite taste in fashion and accessories. Her choice of bags often reflected her status and the elegance of the era. Some of the specific bags she was known to carry in the 1910s include:

  • Beaded Evening Bags: Queen Mary was frequently seen with intricately beaded evening bags. These bags were typically adorned with pearls, crystals, and delicate embroidery, showcasing the craftsmanship of the period.
  • Silk Reticule Bags: Reticules were small drawstring bags made from luxurious materials such as silk and velvet. Queen Mary often carried these bags, which were both functional and stylish, fitting perfectly with her royal attire.
  • Embroidered Clutch Bags: Known for her love of detailed embroidery, Queen Mary favored clutch bags with elaborate designs. These clutches often featured floral motifs and were crafted from rich fabrics, reflecting the Art Nouveau influence of the time.

Key Designers and Their Contributions

Several designers made significant contributions to the evolution of bag styles in the 1910s. One of the most notable was Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. Chanel's innovative designs focused on simplicity and elegance, challenging the ornate and elaborate styles of the time. She introduced the concept of the "little black dress" and designed bags that were understated yet chic, embodying her philosophy of functional luxury.

Another influential designer was Louis Vuitton, whose brand was already well-established by the 1910s. Vuitton's focus on quality craftsmanship and innovative designs set the standard for luxury bags. His use of durable materials and practical features, such as the incorporation of locks and compartments, made his bags both stylish and functional.


The 1910s were a transformative decade for fashion and designer bags, influenced by significant world events, cultural shifts, and emerging art movements. The era saw the rise of the clutch and the handbag as essential fashion accessories, reflecting the changing roles and lifestyles of women. Designers like Coco Chanel and Louis Vuitton played a crucial role in shaping the styles of the time, introducing innovations that would leave a lasting legacy in the world of fashion.

As we look back on the vintage bag styles of the 1910s, it's clear that this decade was marked by a unique blend of elegance, practicality, and artistic expression. The bags of this era continue to inspire modern designers and fashion enthusiasts, serving as a reminder of the rich history and timeless appeal of vintage fashion. Whether you're a collector, a historian, or simply a lover of all things vintage, the iconic bags of the 1910s offer a fascinating glimpse into the past, reflecting the enduring allure of classic style.

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