Brilliantly crafted and undeniably elegant, metal mesh purses are extravagant additions to a woman's wardrobe. With their unusual, cool texture and wide range of styles, there's no denying the mesh purse's ability to work well in a variety of situations. It's a traditionally dressy evening bag, and it serves as a glamorous alternative to the basic go-to clutch.
A Brief History of the Metal Mesh Bag
Mesh handbags date back centuries! During the 1820s, skilled artisans meticulously created them by hand. During this period, they used elaborate materials, such as gold and silver. Eventually, less exorbitant ingredients, like metal and steel, were used. To that end, stores sold mesh purses for relatively reasonable prices; in 1902, for example, Sears sold mesh purses for 49 cents each, while more costly versions came in at roughly 75 cents. It was no surprise that mesh purses took off the way they did. With their ostentatious beauty and ability to turn heads and garner a few compliments in the process, it was practically a given that the mesh-making industry grew exponentially over the years.
In 1909, A.C. Pratt of Newark, New Jersey invented the mesh-making machine. This essentially changed the face of the mesh purse industry, not only making the piece much more easy to manufacture, but also increasing its popularity. Through more efficient production techniques, mesh purses were assembled quickly and with a greater selection of materials and designs. The styles allowed the wearer to express her creativity in the most unexpected manner; purses often bore colorful patterns depicting wildlife, floral prints and geometrics on a vivid metallic backdrop.
Small finishing touches completed each piece to perfection. Interiors were lined with smooth silk, and ornate frames, exquisite closing mechanisms and fringe added extra value. Even the type of mesh varied from purse to purse. Some, for example, were enameled to nearly baby fine texture, which lent a cloth-like appearance to the purse. Others were pearlized for greater sheen or lightly pleated to add more heft to their delicate statures.
The mesh purse enjoyed its greatest popularity during the period known as the Roaring Twenties. The allure of the shiny, dazzling bag worn against an equally becoming flapper dress was irresistible to many. During the '20s, it was common for women to carry everything from outrageously patterned mesh purses to plain metallic versions, and they were more than willing to pay top dollar for this popular accessory. It's interesting to note that the more expensive styles came in at $30 and above, comparable to the high-end handbags of today. Sears even created its own knockoff mesh bags to replicate the look of more expensive ones - without the matching price tag.
For all its popularity, the hubbub surrounding the mesh purse began to wane during World War II. As particular metals were rationed and in many cases were simply too scarce, mesh purse production decreased. Eventually it resumed, this time employing a much more refined, simple look that focused on shine and less on artwork. By then, production levels were at a high and the purses were as widely available as they had ever been.
During the early 20th century, the most popular mesh purse producers were Whiting & Davis and the Mandalian Manufacturing Company. Both manufactured a great deal of purses in numerous designs. In fact, vintage metal mesh purses are especially coveted today. Depending on the condition of the mesh and hardware, they can easily sell for hundreds of dollars. Today the top mesh purse designer is undoubtedly Whiting & Davis. The company uses four types of mesh in construction of their purses:
- Ring mesh: Strong, flexible and lightweight.
- Bubble mesh: Lustrous, light and simple.
- Brass flat mesh: Shimmery, flexible and fluid-like.
- Aluminum mesh: Strong, good for large pieces and lightweight.
Care for Your Mesh Metal Purse
As one might expect, mesh is a delicate material that requires some upkeep, particularly if you'd like your purse to be a family heirloom that is handed down over generations. Keeping it in great condition now will ensure that your purse's future is untarnished, so to speak. A damp cloth should be used to remove trace particles, dirt and dust, however do not actually wash the purse. Use extra fine steel wool to buff delicate frames and hardware, as long as these areas are free of enamel (which may otherwise rub off over time). Follow up with a lightly damp cloth.
If the purse accidentally gets too wet, simply dab it dry with a towel and aim a warm hairdryer at it until the mesh feels dry to the touch. One of the most important things to remember is to use a light hand when cleaning - doing otherwise risks unlinking the mesh and damaging the piece. Take your time! When you're done, store your purse in a clean area free of heat, moisture or sunlight. Allow them to air properly, for poorly ventilated purses do not age well. Many collectors favor china cabinets for storage.
Purchasing Metal Mesh Purses
You don't have to look far if you're interesting in purchasing a mesh purse. If cost is no object, you can pick up well-maintained vintage styles at antique stores. New styles are readily available at many high-end department stores and Web sites, including: