Prior to the invention of the handbag, women carried necessities in pockets. But, unlike men's pockets, which were part of a man's garment, a woman's pockets were an entirely separate garment, worn tied around the waist under her skirts. The large volume of women's skirts made it easy to hide the bulk of pockets. This changed in the last decade of the eighteenth century, however, as high-waisted gowns gained popularity.
Because of the slimmer silhouette of the new style gowns, it became a grave fashion faux pas to wear bulky pockets beneath one's gown. Pocket-lines were the panty-lines of the 1790s and no fashion-forward woman would be caught sporting them. With the death of women's pockets, came the birth of the women's bag.