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From Travel Bags to Tantrica: A Brief History of the Clutch

I have to admit something: I’ve never owned a clutch.

I’ve always been a big bag kind of girl… the kind who carries everything with her all of the time in the one bag she uses to death before replacing. My mother, on the hand, is the complete opposite. She is a purse addict and has a bag for every occasion. A few years ago, as she was cleaning out her closet in an attempt to downsize, she offered me a small black clutch from her collection.

I turned it down.

Before working with House of Tindale, the word “clutch” either meant that tricky part of a manual car, or a small, impractical bedazzled bag that old ladies carried to dinner parties and galas. I didn’t want either of those things.

Then I saw the clutches House of Tindale had to offer. Those bags aren’t old-fashioned or impractical. Those bags are sexy as hell, and the women carrying them aren’t little old ladies. They’re beautiful, powerful women and they look so free without a big, bulky bag weighing them down.

Looking at HOT’s clutches got me thinking: why did I have the conception that clutches were for old heiresses? And how did we get from the bedazzled bags in my head to the badass bags I was writing about? So I did what any good writer does: I researched the hell out of the history of the clutch bag.

The first clutch (as far as we know).

I knew clutch bags were old, but I didn’t realize how old. In 2014, The Daily Mail reported on a 700-year-old clutch bag hailing from northern Iraq going on display for the first time at the Courtauld Gallery in London. Experts originally thought the brass bag with gold and silver inlays might be a man’s wallet or saddlebag, but came to the conclusion that it was most likely a woman’s bag and dubbed it the first known clutch. It’s dated at around 1300 A.D. when Mongols controlled the region and features intricate designs and depictions of women and court life.

Look at this thing. It’s pure luxury.

But I was more interested in the history of the modern clutch, and let’s be honest: I wasn’t trying to write a dissertation on the topic.

Between the 700-year old clutch and the start of the modern clutch’s story, a lot of time passed. Like 500 years. A lot can happen in 500 years, so let’s just suffice it to say that small, clutch-like handbags were only carried by royalty and women of the court across the world, and especially in European nations. They were small commissioned pieces meant to say more about class and status than a personal sense of style.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s, at the start of the Industrial Revolution, that the clutches you see on the streets today began their story. As transportation and travel became easier than ever, people needed sturdy baggage in a variety of shapes and sizes. That’s where the story of the modern clutch really begins — with order-made hand luggage. Clutch-like bags made for convenient travel bags for women on long journeys by train or sea.

Here we are! Look at us!

By the beginning of the 20th century, badass women were already demanding bags that reflected their place in the world. According to the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, hand luggage evolved into handbags thanks in large part to women’s emancipation. Women were emerging from their homes and becoming more visible in public life. As their roles evolved, they demanded different bags for their new roles: bags for shopping, bags for travel, bags for makeup, and so on. And they wanted bags that said something about their personal aesthetics.

Enter the big name brands we know today. European designers saw an emerging market and were happy to oblige. Chanel was founded in 1901. Prada in 1913. Gucci in 1921. Fendi in 1925.

In the 1920’s, clutches and pochettes were popular with flappers and socialites alike. They were small, held in hand or under the arm, and most often made with metal casing, leather, snakeskin, alligator, and other quality materials. From dance halls to opera halls, women were enjoying their lives outside and using the minimalism of clutch bags to accent their freedom.

Though the clutch remained a popular choice, World War II saw significant changes in design and construction. As women headed to work while their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons went off to fight, the clutch grew in size to become a more practical daily bag. Additionally, the clutches made during those turbulent years were made with cheaper and readily available materials like wood and plastic while leathers and metals were in short supply due to the war effort.

A turning point.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that the clutch reclaimed its former glamour. Fashion historians credit Christian Dior with being the visionary who breathed new life into handbags. With the war over, international travel and trade brought new luxury materials like mother of pearl, and leathers and metal were readily available again. In the Golden Age of Hollywood, starlets were gracing the silver screen and red carpet carrying the satin and beaded evening clutches that filled my mind when my mother offered me one of hers.

In the 60s and 70s, women began outwardly celebrating their femininity in new and exciting ways. The evevning clutches of the time took on a longer shape and a louder, more powerful attitude. Rhinestones and metallic blends were common, accenting the glam rock and disco scenes of the time.

The 80s and 90s saw women moving into the corporate world, marking the start of everything House of Tindale hates about today’s handbag industry. Because women were entering higher-paying careers, big name brands began positioning their products as status symbols. The selling point became the name on the bag rather than what the bag could do for its owner. Designers created luxury leather day clutches in larger sizes and featured unapologetic branding like large, prominently displayed logos.

As I looked at pictures of clutches from the past century, I noticed something. While clutches have come in every shape, size, and material imaginable, one thing remained the same: all of the clutches from any given decade looked like all the other clutches from the same decade.

Recently, it seems that many designers are moving away from obvious branding as their stock drops, but the designs of their clutches remain much the same. Conventional materials. Safe designs. A lot of self-referencing.

And that’s how we came to this point.

It’s 2017 and House of Tindale has launched a series of clutches that look nothing like any of the clutches I imagined when my mother offered me one of hers. They’re playful, sexy, bold, and they weren’t made to sell the HOT brand. They were made to empower the women wearing them with a sense of self.

Every HOT clutch looks nothing like the others. The Tantrica comes in a curvaceous shape I’ve never seen, and the fringe looks like nothing I found while crawling the internet for examples. The Wild Child Clutch uses a blend of colorful prints, oxidised metal and glow mesh that makes the bag just as rebellious as its name. They’re all the optimal size for modern women who want to minimize what they carry but need a little more than just a compact and a tube of lipstick And most importantly: not an in-your-face logo to be seen, because the point isn’t to show off what you can buy. The point is to show off who you are.

HOT clutches are not the clutches of the past. These are originals, and they stand out from the crowd just as much as the remarkable women who wear them. So for the first time in my life, maybe I’m ready to be a clutch-carrying badass, too.

This blogpost is brought to you by…

Lauren Patton – Copywriter

lauren-pattonI’m the unassuming girl in glasses that has been writing since I was old enough to spell words.  As a freelance copywriter and content creator, I love working with women-focused businesses and brands with strong, no-bullshit voices. That’s why House of Tindale is sort of like my spirit animal. 

When I’m not helping the HOT team come up with words, I’m working with small businesses, brands, and start-ups to define their voices, polish their websites, and establishing relationships with their clients. And if I’m not doing that, I’m probably chasing my son around the house.

You can find more of my work at L. Patton Freelance

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