Winters Past

20th Century Fashion from Deco to Disco

Classic Alligator Bags

Have a look at this gorgeous 1950s handbag I acquired a few days ago. This 60 year old purse is in pristine condition. It is made from the hide of a horn back alligator, notable for the interesting raised textural detail on one side. Those half circle shaped discs are the alligator’s back scales; the other side is made of the reptile’s smooth belly skin.

What’s the backstory on these treasures?

Alligator bags of varying types have been around for 200 years. In Victorian times, gators culled from the Louisiana bayou were used to make carrying cases. In true Victorian fashion, they were treated like curiosities and had a real yuck factor, incorporating the paws, faces and other less savory bits.

By the early 20th century, alligator skin was treated as a luxe material; Louis Vuitton and Gucci made small suitcases out of it.

They increased in popularity, peaking in the 50’s. With a rising American middle class, alligator bags became a coveted status symbol. Hollywood style setters such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman and Marlene Detrich were photographed with their exotic skin purses, adding to the mystique.

Women in the 50s loved the idea of a “good” handbag and it became the marker of a certain kind of success. These were classic 50s frame bags with short handles that were carried on the hand or wrist.

Here are some more classic 1950s bags I have in the shop right now:

How to wear an alligator bag? Take a cue from these modern ladies and pair them with anything, from evening wear to sweatpants.

Author: Winters Past

I am a vintage clothing shop owner living and working in rural north Florida. I believe in adding a little vinegar and molasses to my greens, having my coffee outside whenever possible, and mixing something vintage into every room and every outfit.

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