Designer handbags have been a status symbol for years. With classic pieces like the Gucci Diana, Lady Dior, and Louis Vuitton Alma, it’s easy to understand why they’re a staple for many influential women in the UK. The timeless beauty of these bags makes them fashionable in any era. Additionally, timelessness makes pre-owned handbags look new.
Many UK royals and politicians are known for their impeccable taste in luxury designer handbags. The late Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana had made many designer bags iconic, while former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was famous for “weaponising” her handbags.
That’s because, for influential figures, a handbag is more than just a fashionable accessory—it’s a symbol of power and a political statement. Brand-new or pre-owned, handbags are that powerful.
How could handbags carry such significance? This article will delve into the power of a handbag, encouraging you to express your best self with a handbag that amplifies your voice and confidence.
Handbags: A Symbol of Power
Someone who isn’t into luxury brands might think a designer handbag flaunts nothing but your wealth. While that might be true for some, royals and politicians don’t need to flaunt anything. The public already knows how much their coffers are filled, so their handbags serve a bigger purpose.
Even something as mundane as covering your chest with a clutch bag was considered a power move. Princess Diana was known for doing this with her “cleavage bags,” the clutches she used to prevent cameras from capturing unwanted shots.
The late and rebellious princess loved her bamboo-handled Gucci tote, her go-to handbag. Not only did she pair it with her day dresses but also with her gym outfits, including biker shorts. First released in 1991, the bamboo-handled Gucci tote became so iconic that it was relaunched in 2021 with a revamped look to honour the late princess. The entire Diana collection includes totes, shoulder bags, and handbags in various designs, colours, and sizes.
However, Diana’s ultimate power move was perhaps using a Chanel bag after her divorce with then-Prince Charles. The princess reportedly avoided the brand and “the C’s” because of Charles and Camilla. Still, she had showed up in a charity dress auction in New York in 1997 carrying a Chanel handbag. If that had happened today, Millennials and Gen Zs would make the moment go viral on social media and call the princess an “unbothered queen.”
Margaret Thatcher also made handbags a symbol of her power. As the first female British prime minister, she faced sexism and misogyny, but that didn’t stop her from carrying out her duties. Among Thatcher’s many qualities that stood out, though, was her attachment to handbags. Both her supporters and critics gauged her mood and the direction she was taking based on the handbag she carried.
Tory MP Julian Critchley wrote in 1982 that the Iron Lady couldn’t see an institution without hitting it with her handbag. Amusing as it sounded, the public’s perception of Thatcher’s handbags definitely contributed to the feminine accessory being a symbol of power rather than just an expensive item. The Iron Lady even stated that she carried a big handbag because she was obstinate in defending Britain’s liberties and laws.
How the Media Interprets Designer Handbags
Much of today’s news about handbags has something to do with TV and film stars and influencers, but the impact of politicians and royals on handbags is far from forgotten.
Vogue magazine deemed that Margaret Thatcher’s “most important piece of weaponry” during her 11-year premiership was her handbags. The former Prime Minister’s handbag collection remains iconic because they are auctioned or offered as competition prizes. Her grey Chaumet shagreen handbag, which she might’ve worn at formal evening occasions, was auctioned at the Halls Fine Arts, Antiques and Jewellery Auction in March of this year. The handbag vendor won it in a Daily Mail competition in 2016.
It hadn’t been the only occasion The Daily Mail offered Thatcher’s handbags as competition prizes. In 2022, the newspaper company purchased five of Thatcher’s handbags and three of her headscarves at two property auctions, intending to give them away as prizes yet again.
The Senior General Valuer at Halls, Alexander Clement, called Thatcher’s Chaumet an “extraordinary item” and an icon of the late 80s. True enough, the handbag’s fame created a verb in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary: “to handbag,” which meant to treat a person, idea, etc., ruthlessly or insensitively. The verb was intended for the use of female politicians.
The media has always created a buzz about politicians’ and royals’ handbags. In 2017, then-Prime Minister Theresa May made headlines when she was pictured with a £995 handbag. It was a big deal then because, before this sighting, Mrs May was photographed with a pair of leather trousers at the exact same price as the handbag.
The trousers made her expensive taste in fashion a subject of much debate, which intensified after the public discovered that Mrs May also owned a £950 Mulberry Bayswater handbag. However, the bag was 12 years old and given as a present, according to a source close to the politician.
Mulberry was glorified again when Kate Middleton was seen multiple times with its handbags. The Princess of Wales owns many of the brand’s handbags and clutches, but the Amberley satchel and Amberley clutch appear to be her favourite pieces.
Another favourite of Kate Middleton’s is the Mayfair Midi by Aspinal of London. The handbag pops up on many occasions, and so do her Anya Hindmarch clutches. The princess’ noticeable habit of repeating handbags emphasises her practicality and effortless glam.
The Evolution of Handbag Power
The term “handbag” originally referred to the luggage tourists carried by hand back when public trains were introduced in the 19th century. Some designer bags, including Louis Vuitton, started as luggage makers.
The popularity of handbags increased when the number of working women grew in the 1920s. The Boulevard bag and large shoulder suitcases were the top choices.
Fun fact: Bags used to be a man’s staple. However, when men’s clothing started having pockets in the 1670s, men ditched the bags, opening an era of bags as a feminine accessory. However, bags were too small back then—until the Elizabethan era.
The trendy puffy-skirted dresses of the time made small girdle purses unnoticeable amid all the fabric, so bags increased in size. Rich women began donning larger purses, while commoners carried large crossbody satchels.
It’s worth noting that this was still a time when women in the workforce were uncommon. As such, their large bags symbolised equality and movement. Bigger purses gave women a place for their money and possessions, for which they were no longer dependent on men.
Bags became even bigger during the World War II. Women’s fashion back then carried a military look, making handbags more practical in style. Drawstrings, in particular, were trendy.
Handbags as a status symbol were normalised moving forward. The tastes of royals and politicians have decided the most popular handbags through the years. In 1971, Princess Margaret and many other members of the royal family often carried patent-leather purses, making it the most popular handbag style of that time. The patent leather became a British fashion trend in the 60s, but its popularity boomed even more in the following decade.
White bags were also considered classy in the 1970s, thanks to Queen Elizabeth II. She popularized white handbags in 1975 when she was often spotted carrying them on her travels and at official events.
Royals outside the UK also made certain handbags iconic. Queen Fabiola of Belgium’s Chanel Double Flap in beige made neutral-coloured handbags popular in 1976.
And, of course, who could forget about Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher’s iconic handbags? They were the pinnacle of luxury fashion back then but still maintain their value and significance today.
The Psychology Behind Bags
Have you ever wondered if your taste in handbags also symbolises your personality or political stance, like women leaders and members of the royal family? Let’s see.
Sticking to used tote bags could mean that you’re practical, organised, and a minimalist. You prioritise function more than style, so you prefer bags that can carry your essentials easily. You might be like Princess Diana, who sported a luxury tote with poise even when outfitted in gym clothes!
A clutch bag represents class, elegance, and understated luxury. A preference for this type of bag could indicate that you’re confident about your style, and you don’t need to carry a big and noticeable purse to prove it. Your style icons could be Kate Middleton and Princess Beatrice.
Backpacks are go-to bags for travellers, thrill-seekers, and practical career people. Like totes, they carry your essentials easily, with room for gadgets like laptops or cameras. Backpacks showcase your on-the-go personality and adaptability.
Cute and smaller backpacks can exhibit the same traits but can also indicate that you strike a balance between style and function.
A crossbody bag is like a backpack in many ways. Both bags are easy to carry, practical, and functional. However, a crossbody bag can also suit more formal affairs, making them an excellent choice for laidback women. You’ll rock something like a 2nd hand Gucci Marmont bag any day.
Satchels are more structured than your typical crossbody bag, making anyone wearing them look sharp, smart, and polished. If satchels are your go-to bag, you’re likely detail-oriented, witty, and a natural leader. Perhaps, like Margaret Thatcher, you can use your satchel to attract attention and command a room. Imagine that with a pre-owned Louis Vuitton Pochette bag or Dauphine!
Classic Designer Handbag
If you prize classic or vintage handbags more than any other purse, you most likely exude class, confidence, and power when you walk into a room. It shows that you value timeless pieces, your power and voice as a woman, and everything you work hard for.
Like Kate Middleton and Theresa May, you’re unapologetic about your fashion choices, an ultimate power move for the modern woman.
If any can relate to any of these assumptions, maybe they can help you choose your next pre-owned handbag!
UK Political and Royal Icons and Their Most Powerful Bags
Before wrapping up this article, let’s go through the bags some of the most famous and influential UK figures used.
Lady Dior: Princess Diana
Princess Diana made Dior My Lady a famous and classic handbag. The bag was said to have been gifted to her, and the late princess had cherished it since.
Bamboo-handled Gucci: Princess Diana
Another handbag that Princess Diana popularized was her go-to bamboo-handled Gucci tote. The iconic Gucci handbag now comes in various designs and sizes—you can choose among large, medium, and small totes and shoulder bags.
DIOR Lady D-Lite Bag: Meghan Markle
Like any other member of the British royal family, the Duchess of Sussex has an impressive handbag collection. One of her most stunning pieces is the DIOR Lady D-Lite bag, an embroidered version of the Lady Dior. Markle was seen with the bag at the Global Citizen Live event in New York City.
Gucci Clutch Bags: Princess Beatrice
Princess Beatrice caught attention for her personalised bags, which showed her initials or quirky phrases like “Wifey for Lifey.” One of her favourite brands is clearly Gucci, as she has been seen with its clutch bags on multiple occasions. The princess appears to like the monogram canvas, like the ones you’ll see on the Gucci Dionysus and Blondie.
A handbag is a woman’s treasured and essential accessory. It not only carries her belongings, but also helps express her confidence, power, and political stance. You may not be conscious of how your handbag affects people’s perceptions of you, but believe it or not, people can guess your social or economic status just by your bag. They may also make assumptions about your personality based on how you carry your bag.
The handbag’s power has gone a long way since the 19th century, and it will only continue evolving. If you’re eager to make a statement, get a pre-owned handbag and amplify your voice.