Top 5 Iconic Handbags

Victoria Beckham shows off her posh Hermes Birkin.
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Arm candy ain't what it used to be.

Gone are the days of diamond watches and gorgeous men. Since the late-'90s, the must-have accessory is the It Bag. The bling sling. The purse you could trade in for a year at a state school.


Actually, diamonds and hunks are still in. But the iconic handbag has a longer wait list, and it can cost more. What began as a sudden, overwhelming need for a baguette-shaped handbag has exploded into a full-blown obsession that reaches back half a decade. Iconic bags aren't just price tags ($500 to $150,000, by the way); they have a history, a presence, a Hollywood cameo.

We'll get to the bread bag later. The first icon on our list was born in 1955, the brainchild of a designer named Coco.

1: A Pocket for Your Love Letters

Coco Chanel knew the practical elegance of her chained 2.55 would have women swooning.
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Introduced: 1955

Seen on: Jackie Kennedy, Katy Perry, Princess Mary of Denmark


You've seen it: It's quilted, chain-strapped, fronted by interlocking C's. The Chanel 2.55 was named for the year it first graced the arms of the wealthy and fashionable: February 1955.

And when we say wealthy and fashionable, we mean princesses and first ladies.

The refined, quilted exterior and gold chain strap are perhaps the most recognizable of its features, but the 2.55 has other notable traits. First off, it was the first purse to feature a shoulder strap.

And it has romance: Legend has it Coco Chanel modeled the quilting on the stained glass windows found in her French hometown; chose burgundy for the lining based on the burgundy uniforms of the orphanage where she grew up; and designated one of the handbag's seven pockets for love notes.

Four decades later, a different purse made history when it passed into Princess Diana's hands.

2: The Gift Heard 'Round the Fashion World

Dita Von Teese ties together her black and white ensemble with a tiny Lady Dior bag.
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Introduced: 1995

Seen on: Princess Diana of Wales, Diane Kruger, Marion Cotillard


Princess Diana, inaugurating a museum in Paris in 1995, received a Dior handbag as a gift from then-first lady of France Bernadette Chirac. It was the start of a love affair.

Henceforth known as the Lady Dior bag because Lady Diana loved it, the popularity of that purse spread like wildfire.

The Christian Dior-designed handbag can be recognized by its cane-style quilting, boxy shape, and small, half-moon handle.

Or you could just look for the gold letters "D-I-O-R" swinging from the handles.

Lady Dior is an icon, but it wasn't the original It Bag. That distinction belongs to a Fendi.

3: It's Not a Bag, it's a Baguette.

Paris Hilton sports a glittery Fendi bag to match her glittering dress at her 2009 birthday party.
Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

Introduced: 1997

Seen on: Everyone


When Carrie Bradshaw was mugged for her accessories, the guy demanded her bag. Panicked, she blurted out, "It's not a bag, it's a Baguette!"

Introduced in 1997 to a somewhat tepid response, it was "Sex and the City" that elevated the Fendi Baguette to icon. The bag, named for the loaf of bread, not the gem cut, appeared in lots of scenes in lots of colors throughout the life of "Sex and the City," and only partly because of its beauty. SATC's fashion folks were granted free reign in the Fendi store.

You'll know the Baguette by its long, slender shape, flap closure, buckle front, and short strap drop.

Carrie Bradshaw and Princess Di aren't the only fashion icons to turn a purse into a status symbol. The next bag honors American royalty.

4: O, Jackie!

Always imitated for her style, Jackie's post-White House looks usually involved oversized shades and a Gucci Constance.
Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty Images

Introduced: Late '60s

Seen on: Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Salma Hayek (New), Camilla Belle (New)


Jackie Kennedy was probably the first American first lady to qualify as a style icon. What she wore, American women clamored after. The Gucci Constance handbag she was seen toting in photos from the 1960s became so associated with her style that people looking for the bag in Gucci stores asked simply for "Jackie's bag." Gucci finally renamed the bag "The Jackie."

The Jackie is hard to miss: It's a structured, hobo-style bag in the classic Gucci print, leather-trimmed, with the H clasp atop a slim line of green and red.

The updated, slouchier version is called -- wait for it -- the New Jackie.

Finally, the last bag on our list is really two bags by the same design house. We couldn't choose.

5: Hermes? We'll Take Two.

Grace Kelly used her oversized Hermes handbag as cover.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Introduced: 1984

Seen on: Jane Birkin, Victoria Beckham, Samantha Jones


As if launching one bag to stardom weren't enough, Sex and the City's Samantha started some serious scheming after a Hermes salesmen told her "It's not a bag, it's a Birkin!"

The iconic Hermes Birkin, named for actress Jane Birkin, with its clean, square lines; belted, sculpted-leather flap and double strap drop, is a constant in the It Bag realm. Stylish and wealthy (or purse-poor) women have been proudly carrying it since the '80s. The Birkin also has the distinction of carrying, until recently, the longest waitlist in accessory history: six years. (With the economic downtown, though, you can now walk into Hermes and walk out with a Birkin. No wait.)


Introduced: 1935

Seen on: Grace Kelly, Mary-Kate Olson, Katie Holmes

Another Hermes has an (arguably) even more impressive Hollywood cameo: In 1956, Grace Kelly famously used her beloved Hermes handbag to shield her baby bump from Paparazzi. It was henceforth known as the Hermes Kelly. It looks a lot like the Birkin but with a clean-cut flap and single strap drop.

In fashion's typical fickle style, It Bags come and go. Rapidly. But icons like Kelly, Birkin, Jackie and all the others boast one thing most bags don't: staying power. If you're going to spend, spend on legends. They'll come back around.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Buchan, Heather. "Coco Chanel's 2.55 is a piece of purse history." Metro Canada. April 15, 2010.
  • Carrie's Best Looks Ever: The Fendi Baguette. InStyle.,,20364084_20365543_20775659,00.html
  • Cartner-Morley, Jess. Grace Kelly exhibition features famous battered handbag. Guardian UK. April 16, 2010.
  • Dior's dazzlers. The Star. Dec. 7, 2008.
  • Donnally, Trish. "Postcard From Paris: What's New." SFGate. March 24, 1996.
  • Gucci Handbags. Designer Handbags 101.
  • Gucci Launches New Ad Campaign Featuring Reintroduced Iconic Handbags. Famespy. March 1, 2010.
  • Hermes Birkin Bag No Longer Has a Wait List. Huffington Post. April 26, 2010.
  • Hermes. New York Magazine.
  • Lady Dior Bag. ButterBoom. June 16, 2009.
  • Would you pay £13,000 for this bag? Belfast Telegraph. Jan. 9, 2008.