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    

Wwii -us Army- Vintage Gi Fixed Bale/front Seam M1 Helmet W/liner90's B&l Ray Ban Diamond Hard Outdoorsman 58mm Lens Aviator Large Metal & CaseAntique 19thc Gentlemans Gold, George Washington Cane, Mount Vernon WashingtonRay Ban Rb3447 001/3r Polarised Round Metal 50mm Unisex Sunglasses & CaseRay Ban Rb3447 001 Round Metal 50mm Unisex Sunglasses & CaseVintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Kalichrome Bullet Hole Shooter **euc Sunglasses&caseRay Ban Aviator Sunglasses Vintage Driving Gold Amber Bausch Lomb Case Original Vintage Royal Stetson Whippet Gray Felt Fedora Size 7 1/2 Hat Russell Bros.1920s Antique J Duvelleroy Red & Black Ostrich Feather Fan In Original Box YqzVintage Gianni Versace Red / Pink-ish Croc Print Leather Medusa HandbagVintage Penny's Marathon Fedora Pecan Tan Size 7-3/8Vintage 1940-1950's Plastic Telephone Cord Purse-rare- M-1881 -indian Wars- Vintage Us Army Engineer's Spiked Uniform Hat/helmetRay Ban Rb4165 "justin" Wayfarer 856/11 Sunglasses & CaseVintage 80s Ivory & Mocha Mink Fur Scarf 48 X 8 Vintage Microbeaded Scenic Purse Enamel Jeweled Frame1964 Enid Collins Of Texas "sophistikit" Original Wood Box Bag Purse Vtg Authentic Bausch & Lomb Ray-ban 58014 Aviator Driving Sunglasses With CaseSilver Wallet Purse Card Stamp Ticket Business Card Case Leather Victorian 189780's Bl5022 Wayfarer B&l Ray Ban UsaVintage 1980s Crystal Fox Fur Plush Collar Vintage Ray-ban Gatsby Style 5 - B & L Bausch & Lomb Usa - TortoiseWwii -us Army Air Force- Vintage Pilot Officer's Uniform Crusher Hat/capVintage Ray Ban B&l Usa Wayfarer Ii Sunglasses Bausch & Lomb Antique Victorian Period Gold & Sterling Silver Cane Walking Stick Circa 1880Hm1907 Crocodile Skin & Silver Card Case Purse Wallet No Reser Alligator VintageVintage 80s Original Carrera Porsche Design Sunglasses Aviator 5621, CamouflageRay Ban Polarised Rb2132 902/58 55mm New Wayfarer & CaseVintage Lot Of 8 Ladies Womens Hats Hat Box Feathers Straw Fur Bows Tulle WoolPolo Ralph Lauren Duffle Bag P Wing Polo Sport Men's Fashion Ray Ban *clubmaster* Rb3016 W0365 49mm Lens & CaseOrnate, Antique, 19th Century Gold-filled Presentation Cane/ Walking StickRay Ban Rb2140 Large 54mm Wayfarer 901 & CaseVintage B&l Ray-ban 1/10 12k Gf Aviator Decot Shooter Kalichrome Lenses MintVintage B & L Ray Ban Usa Style A Cats Sunglasses Black & Tortoise AcetateVtg 80s Gucci Large 20" Italian Leather Logo Canvas Stripe Duffel Speedy Bag2 Antique Art Deco French Pictorial Micro Beaded Purses Gilt Hardware GeometricVintage Ray Ban Ambermatic Aviator-shooting Sun Glasses With Original CaseLoose 7 1/8 Vintage, Stetson "gus" 7-x Beaver Cowboy -new Mexico Movie Hat- SassIconic Vintage Gianni Versace Medusa Safety Pin Sunglasses, Model.429 Col. 852Ray Ban Rb4175 Flash Lens Clubmaster Oversized 6092/69 & CaseAntique Beaded Purse Evening Bag Multi-color Scenic Garden German 1920sAntique Floral Petit Point Purse W/ Outstanding Stand-up Jeweled FrameVintage Ray-ban B&l Wayfarer Woody" *limited" #5022 Sunglasses - Dark Frames1990's Dgm B-15 Mirror Lens B&l Ray Ban Wayfarer Ii, 54mm Lens & CaseVintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Outdoorsman 1960s *vietnam War Era **vguc SunglassesRay Ban *london* Rare Prints Wayfarer 50mm Rb2140 1114 & Case Vintage Art Deco Telephone Cord Handbag Purse-earth TonesVintage Bausch & Lomb Ray Ban 58[]14 Aviator/shooter Sunglasses W/ Yellow Lens Vintage Art Deco Red Plastic Beaded Rare Telephone Cord Handbag Purse EucCartier Prescription Sunglasses Wood Temple Arm With Gold Tone Trim Paris FranceMandalian "lustro Pearl" Mesh Purse W/ Candy Stripes And Enamel Frame ExcellentRay Clubmaster Polarised Rb3016 901/58 51mm Lens & CaseRay Ban Clubmaster Ii Colour Mix Rb2156 1011/3f 49mm Lens & CaseVintage Lot Of 7 Ladies Womens Hats Hat Box Feathers Rhinestones Flowers BowsVtg Fully Beaded Scenic Design Handbag W/ Enamel & Jeweled FrameAntique Rare Cinnebar Handled Walking Stick/cane-great Handle-ebony Shaft-1800'sPolo Ralph Lauren Vintage Strech Cap Royal Blue Vintage Sport 5 Panel HatB&l Ray Ban W2394 Inertia Chrome Wrap Sunglasses & CaseRay Ban *aviator Light Ray Ii* Rb4211 646/55 56mm Flash Lens & Case