Imagine, you are a woman living in the 1950s. You pride yourself on being at the height of fashion, and keeping up with all the latest trends. So, when the new trend became handbags made out of the plastic 'lucite', you of course had to have one (or two or maybe more). The problem is, they might be fashionable, but they are such silly things. Hard and rigid, they don't carry easily, and several of them are see through - why would you want people to see what was in your handbag?
When I took this lucite handbag to show the children they thought it was rather handsome, but didn't for a moment think it was a handbag. Being made of plastic, they assumed it was simply a 'funky looking box', which perhaps would be good for holding candy. The idea that it would be used as a ladies handbag was, to them, simply ridiculous. They thought it was ludicrous to use such a rigid material to make handbags, and the girls couldn't imagine their Mothers wanting people to know what was in their bags. They were amazed to discover that not only were lucite handbags exclusive in the era when they were invented, they are very collectable and often valuable today!
Although the value of lucite handbags, jewellery and accessories may suggest that lucite is some mysterious, wonderful material, lucite is actually a type of plastic. It was invented in 1931 by chemists working at the DuPont company. A similar plastic, plexiglass (also sometimes called perspex) was invented at almost the same time by the Rohm & Haas Chemical Company. Bakelite, an earlier plastic, had already proven popular when used in jewellery and accessories, and this new plastic had a lot of potential too, being clear, resistant to water and UV light and stronger than other plastics. It still had its weaknesses though - lucite handbags stored in hot places have been known to melt!
Yet it wasn't until the 1950s that one of the most famous lucite accessories, handbags began to be created. Lucite handbags were, at first, sold only in exclusive shops, and were the domain of wealthy women, but eventually cheaper copies, often using cheaper plastics were created to sell to the masses. The handbags were extremely popular, being created in a wealth of different shapes (everthing from ovals to pyramids), in a range of colours (from clear to green and red) and with a huge variety of finishes (ranging from opaque to glittery or metallic). They could even be embellished with decorations ranging from beads to shells. Yet for all their beauty, they weren't very practical. If they were dropped they cracked, when stored in hot places they warped, and if cleaned using chemicals, the finish on them could be ruined. As a result, production of lucite handbags stopped in the 1960s.