Handbags, or purses to use American English, it is generally accepted, were originally used by men in the form of small sacks and are depicted in some Egyptian drawings. Gradually women started using handbags too, and in fashionable society it became a form of status symbol. Expensive materials would be used in the production of the handbags as an expression of wealth.
With the development of the puffed skirt, the handbag became less used and it wasn't really until this fashion died out in the 19th century that the handbag made a comeback.
The term handbag itself is a relatively recent term, probably dating around the early 20th century, and it was the latter half of this century that saw the large fashion labels emerging and establishing themselves as handbag manufacturers.