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 Wooden Hat Stretcher / Block Milliners Hatters Adjustable C1920Vintage 1960s Bakelite Patent Leather Super Mod Jackie Purse Vintage 1960s Borsalino Rapallo Fedora 7 3/8 Long Oval Cavanagh Edge W BoxB&l Ray Ban 'the General Ii' W0364 Outdoorsman Aviator Rb-50 & Case70's Bl5022 *wayfarer* B&l Ray Ban Usa & Case Vintage Ray-ban B&l *clubmaster~wayfarer Tortoise&gold **exlent Sunglasses&caseRare B&l Ray Ban Gatsby Style 1 W0931, Rb-3 Lens & CaseSteampunk Original Wwii Raf Aircrew Round Anti Glare Spectacles / Sunglasses VgcLarge Vintage 1940s 50s Wide Brim Tall Crown 7 1/2 Fedora Wind Trolly Excl CondVintage Plush Fox Fur Glamorous Jet Black Collar Antique R & G Sterling Top Metal Mesh Vanity Flapper Purse W/ Compact Art DecoVintage-antique Silk And Beaver Fur Dunlap & Company Top HatVintage Leather Steampunk/motorcycle/ski Sunglasses Goggles Side CupsVintage C1930 Leather Snake Skin Green Dressing Vanity Case Suitcase Fitted.Authentic Cartier Tank Vintage Reading Glasses Eye Gold France Sunglasses Frame Ray Ban Rb4175 Clubmaster Oversized & Case19thc Antique Civil War Era Green Lens Glasses Steampunk Spectacles SunglassesSweet Vintage Blue Fox Fur Wrap Stole Capelet Canadian Fur Co. Size S/m Vintage Whiting & Davis Mesh Vanity Flapper Purse Silhouette Compact Art DecoVintage Flying Tank Motorcycle Wwii Leather Goggle & Case SteampunkSharp Royal Stetson Fur Felt Fedora 7 1/4 2 1/2 Inch Brim Walnut Color Good Cond**new Vintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Arista 58mm Gold Frame *nos 1990s Sunglasses++A Pretty Leather Vanity Case With Silver Topped Bottles70's B&l Ray Ban L0226 52mm Caravan & Case90's B&l Ray Ban Round Metal Insert Tortuga W1674 Sunglasses & Case90's Bl5024 *wayfarer* (l2009) B&l Ray Ban Usa & Case Rare Antique Hat Mold Stretcher Primitive Wood Adjustable Vintage Brass Gears 1990's B&l Ray Ban L1725 Wayfarer Ii, 54mm LensVintage 1960s Brown Stetson Fedora 7 1/4 Long Oval Great StyleB&l Ray Ban *clubmaster* W0366 49mm & CaseVictorian Ladies Metal & Sea Shell Oyster Pearl Coin Purse Case Box Handbag 1870Vintage Nos Fast Color Elephant Trunk Down Indigo Blue Polka Dot Bandana 40s 50sB&l Ray Ban *olympian Ii Deluxe* W1307 Sunglasses & Case Vintage Ray-ban B&l Wayfarer *rare Rb-50 "cats" 3000 Matte Black Sunglasses&caseRay Ban Rb4089 Balorama Wraps & Case Etc.Antique Victorian 'faux' Tortoiseshell Garnet Stone Set Ostrich Feather Fan 1900Hermes Silk Scarf Beloved India Elephant Pink Orange Brown HermVintage Borsalino "toledo" Fedora Hat Sz 5 (us 7 1/8)B&l Ray Ban 62mm Aviator Large Metal Ii L2846 & Case4 Vintage Ray Ban Lenses 58mm 3025 Aviator Original Bausch&lombVintage Ray Ban Shooter Aviator Sun Glasses Blue Lens Changeable Leather WrappedRare Vintage 1992 Ray Ban Sport Wayfarer Albertville Olympics Sunglasses B&lRay Ban Rb4105 Matte Black Folding Wayfarer & Case Etc.Antique 1910s-20s 14k? Or Gold Filled Capped Walking Stick Original And Beauty!Vintage Porsche Design By Carrera 5623 Aviator SunglassesAntique Irish Leprechaun Wooden Club Or Walking Stick Shillalgh LeipreachVintage Heavily Indian Embellished Clasp Frame Velvet Beaded Evening Bag F6 F14Vintage Stetson Gun Club Fedora 7 3/8 Aussie Boonie Outback Safari Style Sharp70's Bl5024 *wayfarer* B&l Ray Ban Usa & Case Vintage Burberrys Of London Lambswool Nova Plaid Fringed Scarf 12 X 72 19thc Antique Civil War Era Glasses Light Blue Lens Spectacles SunglassesCarven Sunglasses1950's Signed Wilardy Tortoise Shell Lucite 2 Handle Purse - ExcellentVintage Gold Glasses By Cartier Made In France 135b Eyeglasses Or SunglassesUnusual Antique Primitive Cane Walking Stick Unique Textured Wood90's B&l Ray Ban Round Metal W0603 Sunglasses & Silhouette CaseMagnificent French 1940s Vintage Double Silver Fox Fur Tie / Scarf / Stole Vintage Bausch & Lomb Ray Ban Yellow Shooting Sunglasses Glasses W Case1917 English Hallmark Sterling Silver Repousse Wood Cane/walking Stick/hiking1990s Gucci Doctor Bag Purse