Here are a few neat terms to keep in mind:
Bracelet Handle: A handle made in the shape of a complete closed circle.
East-West: Describes a handbag shape which is wider than it is long.
Gusset: The triangular end piece of a handbag which gives depth and roominess to
Luggage Handle: Has the same rigid shape as the handle of an ordinary suitcase.
May be made of metal covered with leather or material.
North-South: Describes a long narrow shape.
Top-Handle: A handle not long enough to go over the shoulder, designed to be held in the hand.
Designers constantly think of new, off-beat materials to use, but the basic-leather, synthetics, fabrics and straw will account for most of the bags you will find on today's market. The quality of a handbag depends on the quality of the materials used.
Calfskin: made from the hides of young cattle, has soft, smooth texture which makes it desirable for the finest quality handbags.
Kip (Steerhide): from a somewhat older animal, is less fragile than calf, but not as
supple and fine.
Cowhide: from the full grown animal, a grained leather especially popular for casual
Sheep and Lambskin: Light, fine grained leathers used primarily in imported bags.
Reptile: skins used for handbags include those of certain types of snakes, turtles and lizards. All are distinguished by the intricate patterns of the animal's scaled skin. Some reptile materials are restricted from use in handbags by laws which protect endangered species.
Before materials are made into bags, leathers are subjected to a variety of treatments and finishes which create great variety in color and appearance.
Antiqued leather has a smooth finish and a mottled, mellow look. The grain of crushed
leather is accented by shrinking.
Glazed leather has a polished finish, whereas a matte finish is dull.
Suede is a treatment applied to the flesh side of a skin to produce a napped, velvet-like
Embossing reproduces grain and other patterns on the leather surface. It may be used to duplicate a natural phenomonon-reptile grain may be embossed on smooth leather, for example-or it may be used to create an entirely new effect. One popular embossed grain is saffian, which gives a crosshatched texture to the leather surface.
Patent is high gloss finish on leather. Thick leather is split into two or more layers before use. The top layer, containing the natural grain is called top grain. All other layers are splits.
Originally developed as less expensive substitutes for leather, man-made materials have become important handbag components on their own merits and are now used in a large percentage of handbags made in the United States. New textures and colors are continually introduced. The principal man-made materials are vinyl and polyurethane. Light weight and wipe-clean care are two factors contributing to their popularity. Embossing, patent and other finishes used on leathers are created on man-made materials as well. A major innovation in handbag technology is flow molding, in which liquid material flows into a mold and emerges as a finished bag, complete will all details of texture and stitching.
Virtually every fabric that's used to make garments has been used at one time or another to make handbags. Certain materials have become classics:
Burlap is a coarse, bumpy cloth used in casual bags.
Canvas - durable and good looking, is the most popular fabric used in handbags.
Duck - a similar but somewhat heavier fabric, is also used.
Cotton in an incredible variety of prints and textures is used in novel summer handbags.
Faille has a ribbed surface with a smooth, rich finish. The fabric is a flat, cross-grained silk, wool or rayon used in dressy styles.
Linen - woven from flax, is a spring classic.
Needlepoint and tapestry are heavy, ornamental fabrics used in knitting bags and similar styles.
Peau de soie is a dull satin used in evening bags.
Petit point refers to a very fine cross stitch worked by hand. Fine petit points are
almost always imported.
Silk brocade, crepe, bengaline, moire and satin are used for elegant late-day bags.
Velvet has luster and richness which make it ideal for dressier bags. Solids, prints and cut velvets are all popular.
Straw bags have been basic summer accessories for years. Classic straw bags of willow or rattan were hand woven into rigid shapes. More modern straws are soft and cloth like; most are imported.
Barrel: n. a handbag with a long cylinder shape that resembles a barrel.
Belt bag: n. a purse that hangs around your waist, like a belt. The bag of a belt bag may or may not be detachable.
Clutch: n. a handbag without straps or handles that must be held – or “clutched” – by you. Clutches are usually small evening bags, and were popularized during the 1950’s.
Computer bag: n. a purse – usually a tote or shoulder bag – specially designed to carry a laptop and its accessories. See also “shoulder bag” and “tote.”
Convertible: adj. describes a bag that can be converted from one function or shape to another. For example, some belt bags have detachable bags, so that the bag may be carried alone as a clutch. See also “belt bag.”
Duffel: n. a large bag made of cloth. Duffle bags are typically used to carry atheletic equipment or as casual luggage.
East/west: adj. describes a bag that is longer than it is tall. See also “north/south.”
Evening: adj. describes a bag designed to be carried during the evening to formal dress events.
Frame: adj. describes a handbag with strong, inflexible structure. Frame handbags were popular during the 1950’s.
Hobo: n. a slouchy, crescent-shaped bag. Hobos are usually also shoulder bags, and were popularized during the 1960’s.
Messenger bag: n. a unisex shoulder bag designed to be worn across the shoulders. Messenger bags are usually made of cloth and, while a now a fashion accessory, designed to have the functionality of a back-pack. Messenger bags are named after bags originally used by couriers and the post office.
Minaudiere: n. an evening clutch purse with a hard case. Minaudieres are usually covered in Swarovski crystals. See also “clutch” and “evening.”
Muff: n. a handbag designed to keep hands warm. Muffs are usually cylinder in shape and covered in fur. See also “cylinder.”
North/South: adj. describes a bag that is taller than it is wide. See also “east/west.”
Satchel: n. a bag with a wide, flat bottom, zippered or clasped top, two handles or straps. The satchel was inspired by the shape and utility of luggage and comes in a wide variety of sizes.
Shopper: n. a bag designed as a carryall for shopping. Shoppers are usually rectangular.
Shoulder: adj. describes a bag designed to be worn hanging from your shoulders. A shoulder bag is usually a day bag.
Top handle: n. a handle that is attached to the top of a bag and designed to be carried in your hands. Top handles are often paired with frame bags. See also “frame.”
Top zip: adj. describes a bag with a main opening that can be zipped shut.
Tote: n. a bag designed as a carryall. Totes are usually sturdy and rectangular in shape, with shoulder straps and a wide top opening. Totes are similar to shoppers. See also “shopper.”
Wristlet: n. a clutch with a bracelet-like strap so that the bag can be carried hanging from your wrist. See also “clutch.”
Yoga mat bag: n. a bag specially designed to carry a yoga mat. Yoga mat bags are usually tote or shoulder bags. See also “shoulder bag” and “tote.”