In the (fashionable) bag

An exhibition about purses… WAG was so there.

It was with much anticipation that we attended the recent press preview of “Pockets to Purses: Fashion + Function” at The Museum at FIT in Manhattan.

As with all of the thoughtful exhibitions we’ve attended at FIT, we knew we would be captivated not only by the objects but also by the history behind them – and “Pockets to Purses” did not disappoint.

The exhibition is presented by the Fashion Institute of Technology’s School of Graduate Studies and The Museum at FIT and has been organized by graduate students in the Fashion and Textile Studies program.

Grad student Bethany Gingrich led our informal tour through an exploration of pockets and purses for women and men from the 18th century to today. The L-shaped gallery is not only filled with clothing and accessories but also features period photographs, advertisements and video clips that include references to purses for men in shows such as “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”

As our walk-through began, Gingrich told us the exhibition was designed to appeal to a broad audience.

“Everyone has pockets. Pockets and purses are everywhere. They’re universal.”

The exhibition gets underway with 18th-century examples of men’s and women’s pockets – how they were styled and used and what they symbolized. We then go on to reticules, small handbags that typically featured a drawstring closing. From there, the journey through time picks up speed, from 19th-century bodice pockets to 1920s pocketbooks complete with coordinating containers for cosmetics and cigarettes, the latter mirroring society’s new acceptance of women smoking and wearing makeup in public.

An elegant – and eclectic – clutch from Cartier is particularly striking.

“This handbag would’ve been carried like a gem, like a jewel,” Gingrich said of the creation, a 1930 clutch featuring wool embroidery, brown suede, jade and rock crystal.

We’d go on to see iconic examples of purses, from the Chanel 2.55 bag, an Hermès “Kelly” and a trio from Judith Leiber. Along the way, explorations touch on a Meyer & Mortimer bespoke jacket created in 1900 for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII); some fashionable attempts to elevate the much-derided fanny pack – or what Gingrich called the “belt bag;” a Bonnie Cashin green raincoat, circa 1965, with playfully practical pockets; and some novelty creations such a Lederer bag in the shape of a clock from 1950s France.

Near the exhibition’s end, a quote from Tom Ford elicits a knowing smile. The question “What makes a good bag?” was reportedly asked of him – and his memorable reply: “You gotta have it or you’ll die!”

“Pockets to Purses: Fashion + Function” continues through March 31.

And in a related fashion note, a dip into Lord & Taylor on the way back to Grand Central Terminal yielded a lovely surprise – an Imperfectly Perfect sighting. The charming mannequins and busts we first wrote about in December 2016 are the result of the collaboration between mannequin impresario – and former WAG cover subject – Ralph Pucci – and the noted fashion illustrator and designer Rebecca Moses. It’s always fun to spot those “lovely ladies” around town.

For more on “Pockets to Purses: Fashion + Function,” visit

— Mary Shustack

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