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    

Antique Brass Copper Railroad Conductors Baseball Military Hat Figural Snuff BoxVintage Mens Borsalino Grey Felt Fedora Dress Hat Size 7 3/8 2 1/2" BrimMint 1950s Stetson Open Road "twenty'five" Silverbelly Fedora 7 1/8 + Box Antique Vintage Silver Modern Ornate Handle & Bamboo 28" Cane Walking Stick Vintage 1960s Tweed Welsh Tapesty Wool Bag - Mod Bag - Retro Tapestry Bag.. 60sVintage Ray Ban Bausch Lomb Aviator Shooting Glasses Amber W/ Original Case Nice Vintage 80s Plush Crystal Fox Fur Collar 50x6 Antique Vintage Sterling Silver Machine Age Deco Bamboo Wood Cane Walking StickAntque Chinese Carved Brise Fan Eventail Ventaglio ĹVintage Stetson Open Road 3x Beaver Cowboy Hat With Original Stetson Box *best*Vintage Ray Ban Sun Glasses Store Display Clock Very Nice Nr! Sign Bausch LombVintage Lucite PurseVintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Bullet Hole Shooter Gold 70s **exlnt Sunglasses&caseVintage Borsalino Hat Made In Italty Imported By The Higbee Co. Cleveland Oh70's Bl5022 *wayfarer* B&l Ray Ban Usa & Case Superb Vintage French 1940s/50s Grey Felt Hat With Wonderful Trim On SideAntique Vintage 1920s Flapper Tiara Headdress70's Bl5024 *wayfarer* B&l Ray Ban Usa & Case Rare 19c Gold Washed Gilded Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Lorgnette Unger BrothersVintage Ray Ban Outdoorsman Sunglasses Kalichrome 1/10 12k Gold Yellow 57-17 UsaVintage R. Hall Fedora Hat 7 5/8 Stetson Playboy Style Mid-ribbon Black Fur FeltRb-3 Lens B&l Ray Ban 58mm Aviator Large Metal & CaseVintage Ray-ban B&l Wayfarer *rare Rb-50 "cats" 5000 Matte Black Sunglasses&caseRay Ban *ice Cream* Rare Prints Wayfarer 50mm Rb2140 & CaseOld Royal De Luxe Stetson Open Road Hat With Original Hat Box!Bausch & Lomb Ray-ban Vintage Aviator Sunglasses 58 14 Gold W/ Tan (us Made) **new Vintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Pilot 58mm G-15 Gold **nos 1990s Sunglasses+++Vintage Whiting & Davis Company Mesh Bag Metal Antique Flower Enamel Clutch OldRay Ban Rb4125 Cats 5000 Aviator & CaseVintage Gucci White Leather Purse Gold Gg W/ Blue Red Stripe No Reserve!Vintage 60's B&l Ray Ban Wayfarer Sunglasses 5022 Bausch & Lomb Usa Exc CondVintage 30s 40s Sculptural Black Wool Felt Asymmetrical Fun Big Bow Hat MintVintage Homa Genuine Tan Brown Leather Structured Doctor's Travel Case - Uv G23Vintage Royal Stetson Whippet Altermans Mans Shop - Gunter Hotel - San AntonioTrue Vtg 1940s 1950s Dusty Rose & Black Synthetic Horse Hair Braid Designer HatBeautiful Man's Borsalino Fedora Hat Imported By Silverwoods W/stetson Hat BoxAntique Flapper Mandalian Enamel Floral Mesh Fringe Purse Bag Handbag 1920sThe Wildest Vtg *gage Hand Craft* Fascinator Straw Hat Ever! ~ Movie Prop (h7Antique Whiting & Davis Art Deco Silver & Gold Mesh Purse Or Evening BagVintage Sunglasses Made In Italy By Versace. Mod: S38. Medussa. Deadstock NosVintage 50's Clear Lucite Clutch Purse With Carved Cherry Blossoms & Rhinestones90's *traditionals Premier E* W0868 B&l Ray Ban + Vivienne Westwood CaseRay Ban Rb4115 Predator Wraps Sunglasses & Case Antique 1890 Rest Fenner Smith & Co Gold Ebony Walking Stick Cane .99 Start NrEarly Vintage Marghab Lady's Handkerchief Forget Me Not #866Vintage B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Double Gradient Mirror Aviator SunglassesAntique Victorian Parasol Umbrella Silk/ Wood W Carved Bone Tips Handle Folds UpVtg American Optical 1-10 12k Gf 5 1/2 Aviator Sunglasses Vietnam & Apollo EraRay Ban Rb3447 Polarized Round Metal 50mm Sunglasses & CaseAuthentic Vintage Real Doube Brown/red Fox Fur Wrap/stole/scarf/shrugSleek 40's Gray Felt Tilt/hat W/black Feathers & VeilingVintage 1990's Cartier Sandoz Paris France Eyeglasses - Sunglasses Rim Vintage Gray Chinchilla Fur Striped Stole CapeBeautiful 1920's Egyptian Assuit Shawl Stole. Black And Silver. Geometric DesignRay Ban 2 Tone *wayfarer Ii* Rb2143 919/32 & CaseArt Nouveau Micro Beaded Floral Alpacca Silver Handbag Purse Vintage B&l Ray Ban Usa 1/10 12k Gf Mirror Caravan Aviator Pilot SunglassesVintage Ray Ban Sunglasses B & L Wayfarer 5024 Brown Tortoise ShellVintage Ao Safety Glasses Motorcycle Goggles Metal Frame Steampunk Optical BikerVintage Churchill Fedora Hat 7 3/8 Cavanagh Edge Grey Fur Felt