While most of the former paraphernalia has made a comeback in the past five years, evening bags - until now - have remained a thing of our mothers' generation. Now, a small band of British fashion designers have changed all this.
The evening bag has been resuscitated by women with wonderful names like Anya Hindmarch, Lulu Guinness, Emily Jo Gibbs and Kitty Percy. While old-style kitsch remains as a reminder of the past, a new sharp design edge establishes these bags firmly in the present.
Browns 23-27 South Molton Street W1 (071-491 7833) Mon-Sat 10am-6pm
For an elegant touch to a slinky evening gown, Emily Jo Gibbs' pod-like dusty blue silk purse enshrined in delicate copper and silver tresses - a snip at pounds 205 - will certainly turn heads.
'Most of my bags are inspired by organic things and flowers,' she says. While Gibbs has only been making bags for a year, she has three outlets in this country, one in New York, a line of wedding bags and a bespoke service (commissions and enquiries on 071-490 8834).
Other gems at Browns are Natasha Barrault's handmade small evening purses. Working out of Paris, Barrault is a completely untrained bag designer who turned to making exquisite objects of desire after having a baby. She now sells to Browns and has a bespoke service which can be contacted through the shop. Her concertina bag with a gold interior and tassle drawstring sells at pounds 315, and her pink flower-lipped purse costs pounds 290.
Lulu Guinness 87 Hereford Road W2
(071-221 9686) Mon-Fri 10am-5pm
By appointment only.
Lulu Guinness came to fame with her brightly clashing Pucci-esque Dolly Bag in 1990. Since then her customers have included Elizabeth Taylor and Jerry Hall, and an army of high-fashion glitterati. This summer her bags are small Minnie Mouse purses and Kelly bags in pale pinks, yellows and blues (pounds 120), as well as small, straw pastel bucket bags with lids (pounds 130). Ideal for that short, flirty party dress or wickedly high mules.
There is also a bespoke service and customers can choose from a wide range of designs and discuss with Lulu shape, fabric and colour. Prices at her showroom are cheaper than other outlets such as Harrods and Joseph.
Anya Hindmarch 91 Walton Street SW3 (071-584 7644) Mon-Fri 9.30am-6pm Sat 10am-4pm
With her own Knightsbridge shop at the tender age of 25, one guesses that Anya Hindmarch is either a prodigy, street-smart business woman, or a unique handbag desinger. Turns out she's all three.
Her story reads like a film script. While studying in Florence as a teenager, she spotted stylish Florentine women sporting sassy drawstring duffles. Hindmarch sold 500 of these through a Harpers & Queen offer and made enough to start her own business.
Today her bags are the exotic cocktail of the handbag world and include a 'Tallboy black leather bag that rests on gilt stilts (pounds 280), classic evening bags with working watches on a fob chain (pounds 175), and a pigskin handbag with bent malacca wood handles carved with dog heads (pounds 370).
While prices may seem to be over the top - they range from pounds 130-pounds 385 - sometimes an event is just as lavish. Go on - order a cocktail.
Kitty Percy Unit 4, Cockpit Workshops, Northington St WC1 (071-404 1363) A graduate from St Martin's theatre design course, which led her into designing and building props for the Royal Ballet, Kitty Percy has now taken her ability to create humorous, stylish objets d'art into designing handbags.
Percy's silver baby wings back pack (pounds 97) is possibly her most covetable
and collectable - bag. They're ideal for patrolling the city at night as a fallen angel or as a decoy to disguise the devil in you.
Either way, worn with a backless black evening dress, the effect is heavenly. Her other bags include small gold crosses (pounds 56), and silver 'hand bags (pounds 58) on thin long straps for clubbers carrying condoms and loose change, and quilted crown-shaped handbags and back packs. All Percy's bags are made to order and take a week or two to make.
Mary Quant 3 Ives Street SW3 (071- 581 1811) Mon-Sat 10am-7pm
Opened last month, the new Mary Quant shop is a welcome revival of one of the Sixties' best-known icons of kitsch.
While her bags range from comfortable canvas totes to small satin vanity cases, her gold rucksack (pounds 51) and signature daisy-shaped silver purse (pounds 32) make elegant and sassy evening bags. Great for clubs and retro glamour girls.
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