Voyage, Voyage: the history of the travel bag Read more

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Fashion historian Milana Abieva spoke about the origin and development of the toilet bag especially for the online magazine «Shipyards».

Dramatic changes in the world and the lifestyle of people that occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century led to a change in the usual way of life and, as a result, the wardrobe. Both women’s and men’s clothing began to be greatly simplified. Gradually, the obligatory wearing of corsets and hats came out of use, the cut of clothes was simplified, and the number of accessories decreased noticeably.

Fashion historians often talk a lot about how significant changes have occurred with women’s dress. However, they forget that the men’s suit has undergone tremendous changes.

However, some things have not lost their relevance. Among them is the travel bag, which has undergone many transformations, but retains its significance for more than one century. Today, a travel bag is as important to a man’s wardrobe as a cosmetic bag is to a woman’s. Despite the external identity, the cosmetic bag is still intended for storing skin care products, while the toilet bag was originally conceived in order to travel comfortably, taking everything you need with you.

Voyage, Voyage: the history of the travel bag
This more ascetic and compact travel bag dates from the early twentieth century.

Hence the original name — nécessaire de voyage (Fr.), meaning «everything you need for travel.» The first toilet bags looked like square or rectangular cosmetic cases and were mostly made of wood of different species. The dimensions of the toilet bags were very impressive. No wonder, because such a case had to contain not only personal hygiene products and perfume, but also many other little things necessary for the trip. Among them could be writing utensils, crockery and cutlery, and even a teapot or candlestick.

Voyage, Voyage: the history of the travel bag
Ladies dressing gown mid 19th century

No self-respecting gentleman could go on even a short trip without a travel bag. Travel bags reached their peak of popularity by the middle of the eighteenth century. At this point, travel bags were popular with both men and women. Ladies, in addition to powder, comb and other cosmetics, kept embroidery and needlework kits in a travel bag. In the men’s travel bag, in turn, this place was reserved for a flask for alcoholic drinks or work accessories.

Voyage, Voyage: the history of the travel bag
French travel bag from the early nineteenth century. Museum of Decorative Arts, Berlin

As is often the case with the most popular accessories, over time, travel bags began to look like real pieces of jewelry. Wealthy persons ordered travel bags not only from wood, but also from silver or gold. The interior decoration of such toilet bags was made of the most delicate expensive silk or velvet.

The lids of toilet bags were often decorated with mosaics of enamel or semi-precious stones, they were also encrusted with a wide variety of precious stones, folded in ornate patterns. Such toilet bags were often presented as a gift to nobles and even representatives of royal families and were considered one of the most worthy gifts.

As technological progress gained momentum, the toilet bag began to decrease in size. The development of the railroad made travel more accessible and faster, and therefore the need to carry such a large amount of things with you disappeared. By the beginning of the twentieth century, with the widespread use of private cars, widespread electrification and the development of aviation, traveling light became a necessity.

Travel bags in their original form began to lose their relevance. Already by the beginning of the First World War, they significantly decreased, but still they were a faithful companion of the men who went to the front. Was there a better way to store everything you need while constantly changing locations?

Voyage, Voyage: the history of the travel bag

Nevertheless, the wars made their own adjustments, and if in the glamorous thirties the dressing gown became the prototype of the minaudière and thus retained its popularity among women, then after the Second World War it almost completely took on the dimensions and features that it has today. During this period, travel bags began to be made of leather, suede or dense textiles, but inside they usually had no more than two or three compartments.

Such a travel bag was used to carry a razor, comb, essential medicines and other small things. A modern travel bag has a similar functionality. But with the modern abundance of gadgets, it is also perfect for storing chargers, wireless headphones and many other small accessories and will be indispensable for organizing both a work bag and a travel bag.


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