My late grandmother once smuggled two bottles of Champagne out of a party at Blenheim Palace by slipping them under her brocade coat. She explained to me, reasonably, that the men’s dinner jackets were too close-fitting for the task. If you’re not trying to conceal fine wines about your person, women’s eveningwear has few practical advantages. But then, something you use for a few hours on special occasions can afford to be more fun than functional. This preference for the short-term and decorative is epitomised by the evening bag, crucially incapable of accommodating much more than keys and a compact mirror. No diary or work pass or emergency plasters: an evening bag signals your departure from the everyday. It’s a little canvas for rich embellishment and an enclosed private space to carry with you when you’re out.
I found the bags below in a cardboard box at my grandparents’ old house. They looked a little sad in a room with no heating and a view of mauve, shivering trees and the swollen Thames. I prefer to imagine each one perched on a lap at the theatre, or nestled amongst glassware at a formal dinner. Or indeed, thrust into a dapper man’s hand while its owner wraps a Krug bottle in a beaded shawl.