history of handbags, part 4

Good afternoon boys and girls, today we’re going to talk about where the history of handbags intersects with American history: the carpet bag. The bag itself is really as simple as it sounds. It was a sturdy travel bag made up of peices of carpet that were sewn together with a leather strap. Sometimes it was a single peice of carpet that doubled as a blanket when unfurled, to keep its owner warm on unheated railcars.

Both of these are from the mid 1800s; the first carpetbag was made around 1830, but the humble style became famous during the Reconstruction era following the American Civil War, 1865 – 1877. The derogatory term “carpetbagger” was applied to seemingly opportunistic Northerners who flooded the South looking to cash in on economic and political opportunities there. According to urban legend of the time, these intruders carried all their belongings in a single carpet bag, flaunting the fact that they had no intention to settle in the South, and were merely coming to take advantage of the post-war chaos.

These days “carpetbagger” is still a favorite slur to hurl at politicians of all persuasions, but the carpet bag itself is also still quite popular. A quick search online reveals several stores that specialize in recreating the 19th century classic, and even some big name designers have introduced their versions. Some of them aren’t even strictly made of carpet, but really just thick tapestry-like material, or even simply texturized leather.

If I had a sewing machine robust enough, I know I’d be making bags out of carpet remnants in a second! In the mean time, I have turned my attention to other interior decorating fabrics…those of you who have seen the fall preview know what I’m talking about!


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