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    

Ca1860 Beaver / Silk Plush Top Hat Worn At Abraham Lincoln's InnaugurationChanel Vintage Jumbo Quilted Bag Vintage Ray-ban B&l Aviator Leathers Outdoorsman Changeables Lenses Sunglasses90's Ray Ban Aviator Changeable Photochromatic B&l Usa L1744 58mm & Case80's Ray Ban Traditionals Premier D B&l Usa W0865 Sunglasses + Case, Rb-3 LensVintage Ray Ban Bausch & Lomb Sunglasses Kalichrome Shooters 1/10 12 K Gf W/caseNos Vintage 1940’s Pin-up Girlie Risque Necktie Tie!Antique Gentleman's 19th C Maple Wood Sterling Silver 3 Sided Walking Stick YqzVtg Antique German Silver Coin Compact Cigarette Case Chatelaine Dance PurseCream Suede Art Deco 1930's Clutch Bag~silver Marcasite Cabochen Emerald TrimVintage Ray Ban Bausch & Lomb The General 50th Anniversary Aviator Sunglasses Vintage Bl Ray-ban Usa Precious Shooter Changeables Sunglasses With Hard Case Original 1950's "wilardy"grey Marbled Lucite Box Grab Bag-fabulous Shape-mintVintage Millinery Flowers 3 Bundles Of (54) Tiny 1/2" Pink Dog Roses * DollsAntique Beaded Woman's PurseMandalian 1920s Enameled Mesh Flapper Purse Art Deco Antique VintageVintage Carrera Porsche Design Sunglasses W/caseGhurka - Marley Hodgson No. 85 BarristerVintage Gianni Versace Sunglasses Model G38 Unisex Black Rose GoldVintage Rayban Aviator Photosun Sunglasses W/case Bausch & Lomb90's Ray Ban Gatsby Style 5 B&l Usa W0937 Rb-3 Lens Sunglasses + Case1919 Roycroft Leather Hand Bag Purse.....with Repro Catalog!......no Reserve!90's Ray Ban Wayfarer Ii, B&l Usa L1724 54mm $❶ No Reserve 6 Six Chain Mail Mesh Purses Nouveau Deco Chatelaine Tam Frames90's B&l Ray Ban Caravan L0227 58mm + Case-rare- 1950's -harley-davidson- Vintage Motorcycle Riding Hat/cap W/patchRay-ban Bausch & Lomb Wwii Era Aviator Sunglasses W Gf Frame & Leather Case Pair Antique Hand Carved American Sailors Folk Art, Ladys Leg & Dog Canes, Nr80's Ray Ban Balorama Dirty Harry Wraps L2870 Bausch & Lomb Usa + Case1990's G-15 Blue Mirror Lens Matte Black Ray Ban Wayfarer, 54mm Lens, B&l UsaCased Vintage 1940`s French Spectacles Glasses Sun Glasses Antique French Purse Steel Beads Gold & Silver VictorianVintage Wicker Figural Monkey Purse/basket Black Bead EyesVintage Authentic Ray Ban Ray-ban B&l 1/10 12k Gf Aviator Sunglasses Nice NrMandalian Manufacturing Co. Antique PurseVintage Ray Ban Aviator's Sunglasses / Frames W. Germany Crisp Lenses1870s Beaver Fur Mens Top Hat From Williams Hatter Pottsville Pa80's Ray Ban Round Metal Leathers Changeables Photochromic B&l Usa W0778 & CaseVintage Cartier Vendome Sunglasses 18k Gold Frame 59-14-130Vintage Art Deco Egyptian Assuit Ecru Cream Cotton Net Silver Stud Shawl ScarfVintage B & L Bausch Lomb Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses Case Cloth 1/10 12k Gf ArcoAntique Early 1900s Light Wood Devils Walking Stick Primitive Folk Art Cane YqzAntique Victorian Handpainted Silk Fan Eventail Ventaglio Abanico Fächer 1885Louis Vuitton Vintage Monogram Canvas Mini Speedy Shoulder Bags Handbag W/ StrapFab Lot 54 Vintage All Madeira Hankies Instant Collection! Hand EmbroideredVintage 1950s Pink Confetti Glitter Lucite PurseVtg Civil War Era Goggles Eyeglasses Sunglasses Blue 4 Lens Schneizer Steampunk Antique 19th Century Wooden Primitive Folk Art Blackamoor Walking Stick Cane YqzVintage Willson Weldor's Spectacles Goggles Green Glasses W/ Original Box Wonderful French Vintage 1940s Pine Green Brushed Felt Hat Amazing Shape Vintage 1940's Telephone Phone Cord Coil Purse1920s Stole Marabou Ostrich Feather Boa Cape Art Deco Flapper Vintage Large 1920s Feather Boa Ostrich Art Deco Flapper Original Vintage Antique GatsbyVintage Cartier Vendome Louis Glasses/sunglassesRay Ban Vintage Round SunglassesPrada Sunglasses, Eyeglasses Frames Lot Of 8Vintage Willson 20 Safety Glasses Goggles Steampunk Mesh*rare 60's Vntg~stylecraft Miami~straw / Leather Handbag~equestrian Horse Purse*Vintage Ladies' Wilardy White Pearlized Lucite Beehive Purse/handbag RhinestonesVintage Steam Punk Safety Glasses