Guide to Retro-styled Bags

Retro Style: Bakelite and Lucite

Bakelite was a popular accessory from the '20s through the '40s.
Bakelite was a popular accessory from the '20s through the '40s.

For a retro handbag with some "wow" value, you might look to plastic. In handbags, that typically means either Bakelite or Lucite.

Bakelite accessories were big in the '20s and '30s, and are valuable collector's items from the time. But their popularity continued through the 1940s, when, after World War II, the Western World suffered all sorts of shortages. The fashion industry felt the effects in, among other things, a leather short shortage. Lest fashionable woman carry stuff in their pockets (or last year's bag), designers turned to plastics.

Typically, these plastics made up handles and frames. Sometimes, though, as in the case of Lucite box-shaped purses, they formed the entire bag.

Bakelite, for one, is a valuable plastic and isn't really in production anymore, so if you decide to spend on a retro-style bag with "Bakelite" details, you may want to check with an expert (an antiques or vintage-jewelry dealer, perhaps) to make sure it's real.

Otherwise, just enjoy the stylish novelty of plastic. And be wary of pairing it with other plastic accessories. The novelty might wear off.

The structure of plastics, and refinement of the classics, would eventually give way to an entirely new attitude -- and these retro bags are everywhere right now…