This exhibition at the V&A makes a compelling argument of the fact that handbags are certainly more than a fashion statement.

(c)V&A Museum

As a girl who loves her handbags, this was an exhibition that was well worth catching. As well as being filled with a dazzling array of different styles of bags, Bags: Inside Out really effectively highlights the many different purposes of a handbag and how it can be used as making a big statement.

Comprised of bags that were created 500 years ago up until the present day, the V&A’s well laid out if somewhat understated exhibition, explores the rise of the bag through its many different uses. This includes how it was originally used to carry money more than anything else, then through the World War with plenty of compartments to ensure soldiers had space for everything that they needed and of course Winston Churchill’s dispatch box – very much a symbol of power.

Each section of the display is sorted by theme rather than chronologically which can mean that the visitor can feel as though they are jumping all over the place time wise – but overall by doing it this way it feels as though you get plenty of depth and understanding as to how handbags can be used in a variety of ways outside of being a fashion statement.

In particular, the section in which concentrates on bags with statements on them are particularly eye catching and show how it can highlight a particular statement that means something to the person who is using it. Handbags actually highlight a persons identity, personality and attitude – which is something very much in evidence with Margaret Thatcher’s famous handbag which is on display. The way in which she carried it around as a symbol of power – hence leading to the term ‘handbagging’ shows just how influential it was on how people perceived her.

But of course there are plenty of handbags that simply dazzle including Vivien Leigh’s gorgeously elegant attache case, Princess Margaret’s Paloma Picasso edgy handbag highlighting the innovative design of handbags and the influence of celebrities on designs of handbags as seen through Hermes 2018 ‘Kelly’ Handbag – named in honour of Grace Kelly.

Perhaps it is not an exhibition that has quite the wow factor as other previous exhibitions at the V&A, with the top floor proving to be a little bit empty, but it is still a fascinating and engaging experience for anyone who loves their handbags.

By Emma Clarendon

Bags: Inside Out is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum until the 16th January 2022.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐