Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Style Note - Straw Handbags

Every mother who dropped her child off at our town's lake for morning swim lessons had a straw or rattan handbag balancing on the passenger seat of the family station wagon.   Even if mom's summer consisted of nothing more than carpooling, making endless batches of potato salad, and refereeing fights over the pool floats, a neutral woven tote beckoned seaside adventures with whispering beach grasses and lapping waves on sandy shores.

Woven raffia and straw make a fairly durable summer purse especially if it includes leather straps and handles.  Many of yesterday's straw bags were embellished with cherry bunches for additional whimsy and charm.  Some straw handbags from the late 1960's were glazed and painted navy or white for nautical-esque appeal.  They were also made with brass or metal hardware and were as impervious as a good leather bag.

I don't pretend to be an expert on straw bags but I am certain there must be collectors and dealers who have written about the evolution of the basket to handbag.  I do know that at the height of summer, when I get out my straw handbag, I suddenly feel more relaxed and beachy.  Today there are a multitude of styles including designer versions.  A few years ago, I bought a Michael Kors rendition that included heavy gold-plated chain handles that made the bag so cumbersome, I called it "my appliance".  It felt like a toaster oven with a handle.  It was just simply too big a commitment for summer so I was lucky to find a rattan "Kelly Bag" style with a black patent leather strap.  Occasionally, a piece of the straw will come undone at the bottom but I reattach with glue and my bag goes merrily on its way, looking carefree and chic.  For dressing up, I tie a colorful chiffon kerchief around the handle to match my skirt or top.  

As your summer evolves, look for straw totes at farmer's markets and boutiques.  The bespoke Nantucket lightship basket purse is always an option for a few hundred dollars but there are many less costly adaptations if you want a petite basket bag for evening.  A black linen shift looks elegantly chic with a small woven bag.

Our mothers knew that straw handbags could certainly venture beyond the seashore.  They looked just right in the middle of a suburban backyard summer too!


My grandmother with my sister and I.  I believe those are cherries on her rattan tote.

Christmas gift (Nantucket lighthouse basket-inspired).


  1. It's been years since I had a straw bag - or, indeed, a waist as tiny as the illustration or your grandmither's! I remember that my mum always had one and I recall cherries as well. The bag in your last photo is one that I would happily carry!

  2. My mother had the tradition of carrying a straw bag/purse in the summertime which I carried on for several of my adult years. Just recently, I was thinking of how I miss having on for the summer. Lovely post.

  3. Of course our moms carried these! I believe my aunties did, too, although they were more fond of the sturdy canvas ones with the CRAZY bedazzled doodads over them--French poodles and such. I had a few plastic "straw" ones as a child, but must admit to preferring canvas to straw...must be too much of a Southern gal! XO Loved this fun post!