In the early 1950s, the casual handbag emerged, as women demanded purses that were both fashionable and capable of holding all their cosmetics and accessories. Large shoulder shopping totes made from straw seemed to capture the spirit of summer and vacationing on the beach.
Soon, affordable and sprightly little baskets of woven rushes were all the rage, like those made by the likes of Los Doradas. These often resembled small handheld picnic baskets with ribbons and decorative elements on top, like plastic or fabric fruits or flowers. This down-market trend, started by Dorset Rex of New York, never appeared on the pages of Vogue, but were well-loved by the “dance hall crowd.” Such bright, colorful straw bags remained popular well into the '60s, when whimsy became the new black.
Straw handbags made of plaited raffia, rattan, rushes, willow, cane, and dried grasses didn’t remain the domain of the plebes for long. In the mid-1950s, sophisticated straw handbags appeared in southern France. Eaton Bag Company issued elegant raffia baskets, as well as trunks made of black-lacquered straw closed with a gilded lock and key. Elizabeth Arden even created a high-fashion take on a shrimp basket, outfitted with a compass in 1956. By 1958, giant hand-woven basket bags were finally staples of high-fashion magazines.
Nantucket, an American company that had been selling straw baskets since the turn of the century, began producing rattan purses, and these became status symbols for the wealthy yachting set who would sail between Nantucket Island and the Riviera. These bags were coveted for their tight weaves, tops and bottoms made of hardwoods like walnut, hand-carved bone ornaments and fasteners, and leather hinges closures wrapped in rattan. Coach, meanwhile, made the straw purse classy and affordable for office workers, adding durable leather trim and handles.
In the 1990s, the decade of the designer handbag, fashion houses once again turned to straw. Karl Lagerfield created purses woven from synthetic straw with Plexiglas handles, while British designer Sonia Rykiel put out a line of little bags made of real straw. Dolce & Gabbana made straw beach bags to go with their straw bikinis, Eric Beamon produced raffia-covered bags, and Lacroix issued wicker bags to match its suits with raffia fringe. Jean-Paul Gaultier even showed a straw bucket bag with real leather handles in 1992.
By 1994, straw bags were veering toward the silly again. Kate Spade explained that her burlap Hula bag for Todd Oldham, fringed with raffia, was meant to be “something Mary Ann from ‘Gilligan’s Island’ would have worn.” Models like Christy Turlington and Estelle Hallyday carried Jamin Puech’s Papou bag, which featured crocheted raffia and a grass-skirt-style fringe. Bottega Veneta took inspiration from a fisherman’s creel for its straw bag with leather trim, while Lulu Guinness created gorgeous straw bucket bags adorned with shells and starfish.