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    

Exceptional Chinese Carved Brise Export Fan Antique Qing Dynasty 1800 乾隆帝Stetson Fedora Open Road Western Hat 7 3/8 Long OvalVintage 80 B&l Ray-ban Usa Shooter Outdoorsman Aviator General Sunglasses Rb3 62Hermes Foulard Scarf L'ivresse De L'infini By Zoe Pauwels~silk Authentic~boxed..*nos Vintage Ray-ban B&l Classic Arista W1861 Etched Gold Blue Mirror SunglassesVintage Ray-ban B&l Wayfarer Max W1270 *clubmaster Tortoise **excelnt SunglassesNew Vintage Ray-ban B&l Wayfarer Ii Brown Leopard Tortoise Ray Ban Usa SunglasseRay Ban Rb3447 001/62 47mm Round Metal Sunglasses & CaseRay Ban Rb3447 Flash Lens 019/30 Round Metal 50mm Sunglasses & CaseB&l Ray Ban Gatsby Style 5 W1521 Sunglasses & Case, Blond Tortoise, Rb-3 LensTortoise Ray-ban Wayfarer Max B&l Bausch & Lomb Usa - Original Case - Good CondtRay-ban Aviator Sunglasses - Bausch & Lomb LensesVintage - Rare Italian Persol Ratti 805/t All Black Folding Sunglasses 1970Fine1897 Victorian Sterling Silver Spaniel Dog Parasol Walking Stick Cane HandleAntique Silk Top Hat In Its Leather Case Complete C1890 Lovely ConditionRay-ban "folding" Wayfarer 5022 Rb4105 B-15 Tortoise *nr.mint Sunglasses & CaseCollection Of 23 Antique & Vintage Purses - Beaded, Mesh And MetalRay Ban *clubmaster* Rb3016 W0365 49mm Lens & CaseRay Ban Folding Clubmaster Rb2176 51mm Lens & CasePerfect Vintage Borsalino Fedora Light Weight Fine Felt 7 1/8Vtg Borsalino Italy Fedora Hat Grand Prix Paris 1900 Alessandria W/box 7 1/8 Vintage 1990s Bausch & Lomb Ray Ban John Lennon Style Sunglasses With CaseChinese Mandarin Fan Silver-gilt Filigree Cloisonné.macau90's B&l Ray Ban Leathers 62mm Aviator Large Metal Ii + CaseNeat! Vintage Carved Clear Lucite Box Purse HandbagVintage 1940s Ladies Shaped Fitted Black Felt & Feather Hat Ww11 Civilian*new Vintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Arista 1980s 24kgp 58 G-15 *nos Sunglasses&caseGenuine Chanel Aviator Sunglasses Ladies Ref 4195q Size 58 13 135 New Gold BrownVintage Ray-ban The General Sunglasses Rb-50 W/ Case 1987 Bausch & LombI Medici Firenze Italian Leather Duffle Bag Unisex Weekend Travel Bag *rrp£285*Ray Ban Rb4057 Polarised Highstreet Wrap Sunglasses & CaseRay Ban Rb3447 006/3f Round Metal 50mm Sunglasses & CaseNew Vintage Ray-ban B&l Wayfarer Ii Blonde Tortoise Olympics 1992 Usa SunglasseVintage Ray-ban 50 Bausch & Lomb Aviator Sunglasses 62[]14 Metal Frame UsedVintage Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses90's B&l Ray Ban Round Metal W0966 Sunglasses & Case, Rb-3 LensVintage Persol Meflecto 806/52f Dark Tortoise Folding Sunglasses / Very Rare Ray Ban Rb2132 902 52mm New Wayfarer & CaseRare Ww1 Antique Glass Bead Handmade Turkish Pow Prisoners Bag 1917 - V17 C683 Vintage 40's-50's Railroad Train Conductor Lee Sanforized Union Made Hats CapVintage Ray-ban Wayfarer Bausch & Lomb Electric Red Sunglasses Bl Made In U.s.a.80's Black Marble Bl5022 *wayfarer* B&l Ray Ban Usa & Jasper Conran CaseVintage 1940s Ladies Shaped Fitted Brown Wool Felt Hat Typical Ww11 Civilian1.68m Exquisite Antique C1900 Manilla Canton Silk Piano Shawl*new Vintage Ray-ban B&l "lennon Style" W2467 Chrome G-31 Mirror *nos SunglassesVintage Ray-ban The General Sunglasses Rb-50 W/ Case 1987 Bausch & LombVintage Ray-ban B&l Wayfarer Ii.l1724 G-15 "risky Bizz" 80s *vgc Sunglasses&case80's Bl5022 *wayfarer* B&l Ray Ban Usa + Ted Baker CaseVintage B&l Ray Ban Usa Wayfarer Ii Sunglasses Ebony Bausch & LombLarger Whiting & Davis Art Deco Rose Design Purse/bag True Vintage B&l Ray-ban Wayfarers 5022 Lot Of 2 Pair + 1 Mixed PairWilliam Spratling Mexico Sterling Silver Modernist Geometric Belt Buckle 43gVintage Dooney & Bourke Crossbody Lot 1980's To 1990's Usa No Reserve As IsGold Round Genuine Moschino Letter 90's Sunglasses Micro Beaded Rug Purse/bag W/ Jeweled Frame Dramatic Pattern1990's Rb-50 Lens, B&l Ray Ban Folding Wayfarer, 50mmVintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Arista 24kgp 62[]14 G-15 Lens **mint Sunglasses&caseSuperb Silver Gilt Victorian Belt Buckle White Sapphires? C1800sVintage Ray Ban Usa Gold 6214 Large Aviator Sunglasses B & L Traditionals W/caseAcorn Pierced Celluloid Frame W/ Dramatic Beaded Purse