All clothes protect our bodies 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    

Antique Victorian Micro Beaded Bag / Purse - Beadwork Lady & ParrotChanel. 1960-1980. Black Evening Bag Made Of Plaited Lamb Skin. Fine Condition.-wwi- 1918 -us Navy Aviation- Vintage Officer's Dress Blue Uniform Hat/capVintage Lot Of 5 Walking Sticks Canes- Gold, Sterling Silver, Engraved, CarvedVintage B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Kalichrome Shooter Aviator Sunglasses ExcArt Deco Flapper Mandalian Mesh Handbag Purse Jeweled Frame & Intact LiningAntique Asprey And Bramah, Leather Stock Brokers Case Circa 1880 Superb & RareVintage B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Shooter Aviator Sunglasses Exc Green LensesVintage B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Kalichrome Shooter Aviator Sunglasses 62mm**very Rare B&l Ray Ban Diamond Hard Outdoorsman Aviator 62mm Arista Vintage**Good Collection 7 Antique Lorgnettes. Some Folding Gold Filled. Inc. Art DecoAuthentic Designer Vintage Stetson “open Road” Gray Wide Brim HatTall 19thc Antique Victorian Era Fort Plains New York Gentleman Old Silk Top HatRay Ban Rb3447 Polarized Round Metal 50mm Sunglasses & CaseStunning Antique Micro Bead Handbag / Purse, Ornate Gilt Metal FrameC 1889 Antique Gentlemans Victorian Top Hat Brown Leather Case Bucket Box YqzVintage Authentic Louis Vuitton French Luggage Company Leather Valise Duffle BagVintage B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Aviator Sunglasses Double Gradient MirrorAntique 1930s Art Deco, Wrought Iron, Adjustable, Clothes Hanger Store Stand, NrVintage Ray-ban B&l Clubmaster~wayfarer W0366 Ebony B-15 Rb **nr.mint SunglassesAntique Art Deco Assuit Hammered Silver Shawl, 1920s Egyptian1990's B&l Ray Ban L1725 Wayfarer Ii, 54mm Lens & CaseVintage Persol 2679-s All Black Acetate Sunglasses / New Old Stock Vtg Estate Beaver Fedora Hat Grey Box W/artwork Mallory Aristocrat Quality 7 1/8Vintage Persol Meflecto 806/52f Dark Tortoise Folding Sunglasses / Very Rare Antique Victorian Scroll Pattern Collapsible Opera Glasses Chatelaine LorgnetteVintage 1920s Dance Compact Purse Trinity Plate Jeweled Ormolu Brass Necessaire Vintage Ray Ban B&l Usa Aviator Shooter 64mm SunglassesAntique Victorian Era Lock & Co. Silk Brooks Brothers Gentlemans Old Top HatVintage Beaded Purse 1920's Glass Beads Brass Frame Very Pretty Violets & RosedVtg Real Pigskin Leather Hand Bag Art Deco 40s 50s Taupe Cream Essell Kelly 30sVtg 40s Ww2 1940 Dated Od Canvas Leather Rucksack Army Kit Backpack Duffle BagVintage Sterling Silver Cane Walking Stick 1800's ?Vintage B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Aviator Sunglasses 58mm Bausch & LombVtg Peacock Real Feather Hand Bag Art Deco Clutch Bird Evening Burlesque KellyResistol Long Oval 4x Buckskin Beaver Cowboy Western Hat Size 6 7/8 Wt Hard CaseAntique Victorian Era Christy's Old Warner & Co. Silk Steampunk Top Dress HatVintage B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Caravan Aviator Sunglasses Bausch & LombVtg B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Outdoorsman Aviator Sunglasses Double GradientVintage B&l Ray Ban Usa Photomatic Changeable Tint Aviator Sunglasses ExcVintage Bakelite (?) Rectangle Purse Black/gold LinesB&l Ray Ban *wayfarer Limited Deluxe* Bl5022, W1213 50mm & CaseAntique Victorian Black Chantilly Lace Parasol Ornate FrenchAmazing Old Chinese / Japanese Silver Belt Buckle - Dragons W Ruby EyesAntique Victorian Era Silk H. Nied & Co Gentlemans Old Baltimore Hattery Top HatVintage Cazal Mod. 627 Dark Brown Tortoise Acetate Eyeglasses - Sunglasses Rim Cm-vintage Coach Black Willis Station Xbody Cross Body Leather Purse Bag HandbagSplendid 1860's Antique Victorian Silk Spoon Bonnet Dress Hat Lily Of The ValleyElegant Antique French Folding Silk Top Hat Paris Box C1880 Belle Brocante Vintage B&l Ray Ban Usa Aviator Pilot Sunglasses 58-14 Bausch & Lomb Arista GoldVintage B&l Ray Ban Usa L0205 Uxas 58-14 Aviator Sunglasses Bausch & LombRare 1940's Art Deco Butterscotch Lucite Purse By Llewellyn Of Nyc - No Reserve!Antique Edwardian Era Southcomb Old Silk Gentlemens Baltimore Hattery Top HatVintage Big E Levi Strauss & Co Shoulder Tote Book Bag Purse Levis DenimLot Of 4 Vintage Ray-ban Sunglasses Eyeglasses Hard Leather Cases B&l Ray Ban *olympian I Deluxe* L0255 'easy Rider' Wrap Sunglasses & Case Antique French Cast Iron & Bronze Millinery Flower Fabric Mold Press Hat #2 YqzAntique Victorian Gold & Sterling Silver Cane Circa 188019thc Dutch Hallmarked Sterling Silver Pocketbook Bag W/ Chatelaine Belt Clip NrAntique 19th C Folk Art Carved Cane Eagle Snake Odd Fellows Masonic Bpoe Elks