All clothes protect the body from the elements, but dressing with flair and style is a way of announcing one’s taste and standing in society. As Charles Dickens put it, “any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he's well dressed.”

Accessories are literally the flair—the final touches that decorate an outfit. While we tend to think of women as the gender given to accessorizing, adorning themselves with jewelry, scarves, elaborate hats, stiletto heels, and glamorous handbags, men have nearly as many accessories at their disposal, including ties, belts, cufflinks, and fedoras.

Some of the most common accessories today—ties with Windsor knots, purses, belt buckles, silk scarves, cufflinks, and sunglasses—only came into fashion within the last hundred years or so. Before the last century, early Victorian fashion demanded touches like elegant canes, delicate hand fans, châtelaines, pocket watches, and suspenders.

These days, canes are primarily used as aids for those who have difficulty walking on their own. However, canes and walking sticks have a long history of being elegant fashion accessories, must-haves for well-dressed gentlemen and ladies. In fact, at one point, it was considered quite improper to lean on a cane for support. Canes also doubled as containers for everything from maps and weapons to alcohol and perfume. In the Victorian Era in particular, canes were invented to hold every device imaginable, from microscopes and barometers to horse measures and fishing poles.

Another accessory that has mostly fallen by the wayside is the hand fan, used by Victorian women as a means of flirtation and rejection, as much as a tool to stay cool. These beautifully decorated objects had leaves made of everything from ostrich feathers and ivory to silk, paper, and celluloid.

For men, belt buckles—originally plain, utilitarian devices—have long been worn to indicate power or status, particularly in the military. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s, when the waists of pants were lowered, that belts became common accessories for men and women. That beloved Hollywood creation, the Western film, brought back the idea of the big, ornate buckle, a.k.a the cowboy belt buckle, reflecting a man’s status as an alpha male.

Ties, meanwhile, have their roots in a time when wealthy and powerful men proudly wore lace and other frilly fabrics, known as cravats, around their necks. This look evolved into...

Cufflinks, designed for shirts with French cuffs, were also the height of men’s fashion in the late 1800s. They were often made of 14-karat gold and set with onyx and agates in the shapes of lions’ heads, as well as with ancient Roman coins. After World War II, cufflinks experienced a surge in popularity—a sophisticated gentleman had both an array of cufflinks and a collection of ties to choose from.

For women, perhaps the most coveted accessory is the purse, which emerged out of the 19th-century trend of attaching châtelaines to waistbelts. These fasteners were replaced with small, decorative bags that served the purpose of pockets. Early purses were often beaded, embroidered, or embellished with tassels. Meanwhile, handbags, which were sturdier than purses and had more compartments, evolved from luggage.

Around the turn of the 20th century, purses and handbags were adapted to the style of the era, whether it was Art Nouveau or the Belle Epoque. In the 1920s, flappers in little black dresses wore the smallest purses possible, which hid elaborately decorated compacts that were designed to hold little more than powder, lipstick, a handkerchief, and perhaps cab fare.

Huge shoulder bags came into fashion in the 1940s, thanks to the practicality of World War II-era fashions. During the prosperous postwar years of the 1950s, when Americans first starting using credit cards, wallets as we know them today came into fashion for men and women.

Since then, top fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Coco Chanel have produced matching purse-and-wallet sets for women, often with their logos displayed prominently in the design. Men’s wallets have ranged from high-end leather ones to novelty wallets bearing likenesses of pop-culture characters like Hopalong Cassidy and Superman.

Modern sunglasses first appeared in the 1920s, when Americans and Europeans took to the beaches for their vacations. The sunglasses craze exploded when designers like Persol and Emilio Pucci made high-fashion shades for the likes of Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Men favored wire-framed Ray-Ban "aviator" sunglasses, which featured an innovative anti-glare polarized-lens technology, developed by Polaroid Corporation in 1936. Thanks to their air of mystery, dark shades became a symbol of cool detachment for beatniks, hippies, and jazz and rock musicians. Ray-Ban’s chunky 1952 Wayfarer style became a standard look among the young and the hip, while the Beatles' John Lennon made small tinted “teashades” popular in the ’60s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Ventagli.org

Ventagli.org

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

Antiquespectacles.com

Antiquespectacles.com

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 80s New Champagne Round Blue Lens Sunglasses Vintage 1960s Italian Gucci Leather, English Saddle, Shoulder Purse Bag, NrAntique Eugene Antoine Aizelin Bronze Sculpture Shepherd Boy Carving Dog CaneVintage 1950s Italian Gucci Canvas Leather Green Red Striped Travel Luggage BagVintage Authentic 1980s Gucci Duffle Bag Suitcase, Clean! No Reserve!Vintage Small Gucci Navy Blue Monogram Canvas Leather Trim Suitcase LuggageAuthentic Vintage Gucci Logos Horse-bit Parasol Green Red Cotton Cane UmbrellaVintage 1950s Italian Gucci Leather Green Red Striped Diamante Design Purse BagVintage Gucci Italy Dark Brown Suede Leather Red& Green Striped Gg Print HandbagLarge Vintage Gucci Navy Blue Leather Trim Monogram Canvas Suitcase LuggageVintage Authentic Gucci Leather & Pelham Diamante Designed Shoulder Bag PurseAntique Vintage Mandalian Art Deco Painted Mesh Beaded Evening Bag #1Vintage Ray Ban 1/10 12k Gf Aviators Sunglasses, Shooter Bausch & Lomb NiceAnya Hindmarch Tote / Weekend Bag Superb Quality & Condition Stunning Vintage Medium Gucci Navy Blue Leather Trim Monogram Canvas Suitcase LuggageFine Antique Victorian Gold Handled Cane Walking Stick Dated New Years Day 1889Rare Fur Felt Stetson Indiana Jones Hat 7 3/8 In Orig. Box Excellent ConditionVintage B&l Ray-ban Usa Wings Aviator Bausch & Lomb Black/pink Rare Sunglasses Antique Carved Wood Dog Head Handle Walking Stick Cane Greyhound Silver CollarVictorian? Ladies Bird Hat Germaine MontabertVintage 1950s 60s Italian Gucci Patent & Genuine Leather & Bamboo Purse BagStetson Hat - Open Road Regular Oval - New!Vintage Authentic Gucci Nylon Brown & Beige Designer Horse-bit Umbrella, NrVintage Art Deco 1920's Egyptian Assuit Shawl Silver Metal Runner Stunning! Aston Martin Leather Holdall Large Vintage Excellent Condition Genuine 99p No ReVintage Ray Ban "the General" Sun Glasses Circa 1987Vintage Black Top Hat Borsalino 7 3/8 Made In ItalyVintage 1961 Borsalino Colombo Fedora, Dove Gray, Men's Hat Wool Felt. 7 3/8 Vintage Ganscraft Chimayo Gray Hand-tailored Wool Clutch Purse W/box Never UsedVintage Champ Featherweight Felt 1950's Mens Hat Fedora 7 3/8 In Original Box !!100% Wool Handmade Top Hat, Small, Gothic Steampunk Rock Style - C1 H10Vintage 1940s Coach Bonnie Cashin Rare Brown Leather Pocket Book BagVintage Dobbs Fedora Grey 7 1/4Authentic Vintage Gucci Accornero Flora Design Colorful Umbrella, NrVintage Black Ray-ban Aviators Leathers Gold Bausch & Lomb Case SunglassesVintage Gorgeous Lucite Purse Sparkle Pearl Box Bag Pattern HandbagPortis Hats Original Box & A Men’s Vintage Fedora 7 1/2 Dark Grey Brim 2.5"Vintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator-pilot Outdoorsman 1970s Gold 58-rb-3 Sunglasses&caseVintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Arista G-15 62mm Gold **mint 1990s Sunglasses&case++Fine Antique Gold Top Cane Walking Stick Circa 1910Antique Beaded And Mesh Handbags - No ReserveAntique French Or Viennese Silver Gilt Hallmarked Enamel Coin Purse As FoundNew Old Stock Vintage Ray Ban Usa B&l 50th Anniversary "the General" Rb50 62-14Signed Antique Hp French Fashion Vernis Martin Miniature Fan Landscape ScenesAntique Edwardian Black Silk Velvet Curved Brim Hat,original Green & Cream Bird Genuine Real Barguzin Sable Fur Stole Tippet Golden Brown Extra Large Wow FactoVtg 1960s Genuine Black Fox Fur Huge Stole Wrap Shawl Coat Jacket - As Is 70"Classy Antique Whiting & Davis Metal Mesh & Multi-color Enamel Purse19c Qing Dynasty Chinese Carved Bovine Ivory Fan Made For European Market*rb-50 Folding Wayfarer* W0753 B&l Ray Ban Usa & Case Vintage Antique Point De Gaze Lace HandkerchiefVintage 1960's Mappin & Webb Tan Lizard Print Framed Handbag - C1 G13Rare Antique Civil War Union Naval Officer Dress Belt Buckle 2 Pc InterlockingVintage 40s Borsalino Rockabilly Fedora Hat Size 7 1/4Old Ray Ban Bausch Lomb 1/10 12k Gold Filled Gf Yellow Aviator Shooting GlassesSuperb Antique Carved Antler- Bone Monkey/frog Walking Stick/cane Great Color Vintage 80s Vuarnet Px 003 France Skilynx Pouilloux Aviator Ski Sunglasses BrownVintage Hand Woven Genuine Panama Hat Ecuador 7 1/4Antique Carved Wood Folk Art Dog Head Cane-old Paint-glass Eyes-4" Iron FerruleB&l Ray Ban *tortuga* Changeable Photochromic 62mm Outdoorsman Ii & Case