Sex and the City was revolutionary in the way it both featured purses and told stories about purses, but ever since Lucy grabbed her Bienen-Davis Box Bag and headed to LA, purses have been used in television to tell us something about the characters who carry them. The evolution of how handbags have been used in television is fascinating: join me as I look back on a few of my handbag inspirations from the past 50 years of television.
Star Trek: The Original Series pioneered a functional purse philosophy that included wearing a tricorder as a crossbody. While this look was common among the female scientists that were thrown into the plot for Kirk to seduce, science officer/number two Spock and the Enterprise’s chief medical officer McCoy (aka Bones) were also seen numerous times wearing the look. Jadzia Dax also very much rocked a tricorder when the Deep Space Nine crew paid a visit to the past, though really what can’t she rock?! The tricorder purse reminds me of Fendi’s recent utility belts, which I take to mean that Star Trek accurately predicted fashion future. Now I’m just waiting for the Vulcans to arrive once we achieve warp capability. Don’t mind me: I’m a Trekkie.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired before it bags were really a thing, but as Mary was often seen trying to balance her budget and notably wore her outfits more than once, it’s likely the costume designers wouldn’t have given her an expensive purse to carry around anyway. What these purses lacked in name recognition, they made up for in style, with Mary often embodying a Chloé-like aesthetic and her BFF Rhoda going for more of a bohemian look. One of my favorite purse moments from the MTM spin-off Rhoda is when Rhoda explains to her mom how to make a purse out of an old pair of jeans. Rhoda never goes out of style: fashion houses are still churning out denim purses, but Rhoda’s life hack will always be the best way to get the look for less.
The Golden Girls aesthetic is kitschy, Miami, and very 80’s. Dorothy favored giant hobo bags (a woman after my own heart), Blanche could usually be seen with a cute little shoulder bag, and Rose’s purses were more what you’d imagine an older woman would carry. But of course it was Sophia’s wicker purse that will go down in history as one of the most beloved handbags in television history. The actress who portrayed Sophia, Estelle Getty, bought the purse from a thrift store and it was her idea to have Sophia carry it with her at all times to show that as women age, most of their possessions end up in their handbags.
Fun fact: Rue McClanahan’s estate is still being auctioned off, but unfortunately this purse she wore on the Golden Girls has already been sold
Friends premiered just a few years before the it bag would truly take off after Fendi’s Baguette found a home on Sex and the City. So I guess the show can be forgiven for featuring a character who started as a spoiled little rich girl from Jersey who later made a career for herself in fashion, yet is seldom seen carrying any handbag at all in the first few seasons (though her mother seems to carry Louis Vuitton). In season 1 she wears a muted brown purse a few times, and throughout the series we really don’t see her accessorizing to her full potential.
To be fair, many scenes are shot in various apartments or at Rachel’s workplace, so there’s not really ample opportunity to showcase purses. I do appreciate how Rachel’s purse collection seems to evolve in tandem with her fashion career, which is far more realistic than that famous rent-controlled apartment of Monica’s. In later seasons Rachel was seen carrying the odd Gucci or LV original. (This LV was either vintage or fake, depending on who you ask. Either way it’s beautiful!)
Wardrobe knocked it out of the park on Gossip Girl, and the bags are no exception: just looking at them all makes my head spin. I think I’m due for a re-watch of the entire thing: honestly it’s worth it just to see the fashion. It’s impossible to sum up the handbags that appeared on this show because there were so many and they were all so lovely, but each character had their own aesthetic. Blair favored feminine and preppy bags (she carried some stunners by Ferragamo and Dior), while Serena’s purses were often bejeweled, snakeskin, neon, or any combination of these. Both were bold in their own ways, but neither was as bold as Georgina, who carries possibly the only bag I love yet know deep in my heart that I could never pull off: this Angel Jackson Lakota Feather Bag.
The most striking thing to me about that Gilmore Girls: Year in the Life four-parter wasn’t the cliffhanger ending or overall low quality of the material (sorry, but seriously). It was the fact that Lorelai Gilmore is carrying a beautiful giant Marcie bag, and yet everyone around her just acts as if she’s carrying a normal purse and not a symbol of the wealth and good taste that Lorelai has spent the entire series eschewing. I’ll give Lorelai a pass: as a successful entrepreneur, she can afford the bag, and the boho style is a departure from any high society bag that mama Gilmore’s crowd would choose - they seem more Chanel or Birkin folk.
But what I cannot forgive is Rory’s Jamah purse. It’s beautiful, but how is she affording this on a freelance salary when she publishes seemingly one article every few years and spends the rest of the time ruining her career and hanging out with Logan?!
Get some TV purses and tell us what your favorite moment in handbag history was in the comments!
Star Trek: Fendi Two Pocket Mini Bag ($750)
The Mary Tyler Moore Show- Mary: Chloé Tess Bag ($1,850)
The Mary Tyler Moore Show- Rhoda: Etro Printed Shoulder Bag ($1,650)
Golden Girls -Blanche: BAGGU Small Canvas Purse ($45)
Golden Girls -Dorothy: Saint Laurent Bandana Bag Suede Hobo ($2,550)
Golden Girls -Sophia: Brixton Avalon Top Handle Bag ($95)
Friends: Louis Vuitton Graceful MM ($1,840)
Gossip Girl: Angel Jackson Alligator Print Satchel ($450)
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