Exquisite handbag collection on display at the museum | Local News


All the ladies wear them. But in the past, only men had scholarships!

In her recent talk at the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum’s Lunch Break Special, Pud Kearns of Greenville described the history of women through the history of handbags.

Kearns’ mother, Mary Lauderdale, the namesake of “Mary of Puddin’ Hill”, collected a large number of antique handbags; many rare, beautifully designed and exquisitely crafted handbags are now on display in the museum.

“My mom started her collection with a fabulous black silk velvet Art Deco handbag she found in a boutique in Missouri,” Kearns said. “That first handbag started a wonderful journey for my mom and dad. I also say my dad because they traveled a lot together when my mom was an officer with the Retail Confectioners International Trade Association. antiques, where my dad liked to browse antique shops while my mom searched for vintage handbags, it’s been a good life for them over the years.

“When my mother left us, she had 571 scholarships. They all came to me. Over the years I’ve sold a few, but I have ‘My 100’ that I will never part with,” Kearns said.

Due to her background in design and fashion, Kearns is uniquely knowledgeable about the evolution of women’s handbags. She taught fashion design and costume history at Stephens College in Columbus, Missouri, and was curator of the college’s reference collection of antique clothing and accessories. “The history of handbags is a pretty modern phenomenon,” Kearns said. “In the Middle Ages and much later, only men wore purses! They were called alms purses, budgets and couriers, which later became known as “bucks”.

It was only when times and fashions changed that women were able to own handbags. First, they had pockets, the ancestor of handbags.

“The ladies finally had pockets to carry a few things,” she said. “They tied the pockets around their waists. In the 1700s, they tied the pockets under their full skirts. Inside the pocket, you might find a pocket glass (a hand mirror), a hand warmer, or a rum container.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, women began to wear crosshairs.

“When slim, clinging Empire-waist dresses became women’s fashion during the Regency era, dresses had no room for pockets,” Kearns said. “The solution was to wear a small pocket with a slit on the top and a drawstring. Known as the reticule, it was usually crocheted or knitted, and possibly tiny Venetian glass beads were part of the pretty designs.

At the turn of the 20th century, women went nowhere without their handbags. Instead of being mere fashion accessories, handbags have become necessities, especially as women have started to join the workforce.

“Clip-on handbags were invented, and then after World War I, leather handbags became popular,” she said. “Art Nouveau and then Art Deco creations were fashionable. In the 1920s, flappers had fringed bags that they slipped over their wrists.

“After the Second World War, the stock exchanges became much larger. In the 1950s, Italian Roberta di Camerino created the first designer handbag, known as ‘Roberta’, which featured a distinctive letter R on each bag,” Kearns said.

Kearn’s incredible collection of handbags will be on display at the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum during the first week of August. While some handbags are handmade and some are machine-made, all represent remarkable utility and artistry.


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