Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On Plastiflex Handbags


I mean it when I say I want one in every color, Plastiflex clutch handbags are the best! Over-sized, super modern looking, and durable to this day, whats not to like? I tried to do some research for this post and had to stop because I was discovering so many different versions and colorways of these handbags that my mental wishlist was overflowing with mind boggling desire. I can't imagine finding one of these handbags in the wilds thrifting or in an antique shop. The first in my small collection you see above, black striped tiles in alternating directions with its original pull tab chain. This bag is what started my obsession for the style! Now I've got three...oops!
 Here is the image for when inventor Florence Kuhlman filed for the patent on March 28th 1941! You can see how these bags are made with the tiles being hollow underneath with openings for the plastic coated cotton cord (to look like leather) weaves through to create the chain mail like flexibility.

"This innovation relates to decorative material of the type which may be employed for covering handbags, belts, and other accessory articles of apparel...The units may be suitably shaped and may be made of any rigid material. However, it is preferred to make the units of plastic compound of "Catalin," "Bakelite," "Beetleware," etc."

I would have never thought when I first got my first clutch that this design was from so early in the forties, they were made and were popular throughout the decade. It is imagined handbags like these made out of unconventional materials were created out necessity due to leather rationing during WWII, but no one seems sure. It certainly makes sense, and they have a great retro futurist look about them don't they? The sort of chocolate bar style tile design shown in the patent above is the same as one of the handbags I have managed to get a hold of, and mine is even chocolate brown which really sells that mental leap!

Often when looking for these clutches the ones in poorer condition have the coating from the cotton cord wearing off or worn off completely. Other condition factors today include the state of the lining, whether or not any of the tiles are cracked, and noting if the bag still has its original zipper pull tab (often shaped to match the tiles on a matching plastic chain). Some colors seem to be rarer than others, but it could be that some colors are just in higher demand today. Who wouldn't want a bright red one of these after all!


This 1945 Sear's catalog page lists a "flexible cubed plastic" clutch as being not available! Sadly this means we don't get the price listed either, but the first sentence says "A white bag that's ever fresh, more popular each season." I doubt they knew then that such handbags would be collectors items among women even well over 60 years later, I'd say they retain their popularity alright!


I would also like to note that the woven fold over straw clutches pictured here are readily found now and are often labeled as being from the 1960s or 70s but clearly the style dates back to the 1940s too! These could be vintage pieces mis-dated, or just later examples, but either way they are much easier to find and much less pricey than plastiflex so keep a look out for those! The clutch from the first page with a wooden top clasp (H) also looks very similar to bags I see labeled as 70s on Etsy often, so it pays to look at old catalogs and photos so you can be a more informed customer since so many sellers don't seem to know what they really have. Honestly it is the best when sellers don't know...you can get such deals sometimes! For example I got the checked plastic clutch from Monday's outfit post for only $25, which is quite a deal when you see most plastiflex clutches selling for $80-$200 dollars!

Top on my own wishlist now are red and white versions next, though now that I have seen rainbow striped ones, and ones with solid color tiles but multicolored lacing...and really cool tile designs I had never seen before...goodness I'll be on the look out for any of these in my price range! I shouldn't have even brought them to your attention! But they are too cool not to share <3

Do any of you have a Plastiflex clutch? Have you ever found a particular style of vintage item you love and want to collect more than everything else? Tell me about them below, unless you don't want to me to end up competing with you out in the wilds of vintage shopping ;) In which case I'd totally understand ha!


6 comments:

  1. I am yet to come across one of these in the wild, though I've seen them in museums! A very novel design, I can see why you're so taken with them. X

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    1. I have seen snapshots of collections where people have a dozen of them and I get jealous ;) One day perhaps!

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  2. I was at an event last week with someone with a very contemporary version of the plastifex concept: from a distance it looked like a geometric design but up close it was a series of small pyramids that all moved in relation to each other. I really liked it but it hadn't dawned on me that the concept was vintage. Thanks for the terrific insight!! Karen x

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    1. It does seem like such a modern design! I'm not surprised some variation is still being produced out there :)

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  3. I haven't found any of these in the wild but I will keep looking! They are such fabulous pieces. I'm not surprised that you want one in every colour!

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    1. At least the hunt for such vintage unicorns is a fun one right? <3

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