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Luggage: a travel through history!

Even in the quite small time of its 120-year history, the development of luggage is surprisingly articulate and full of implications with the improvement of the social lifestyle.

Starting from the steamer trunks of bygone eras to the sticker-covered, double-locking suitcases of the 1950s and ’60s and the four-wheeled spinners of today, the development of the design and production of luggage is part of the history of human movement, reflecting how we travel and revealing what we value as travelers and human beings.

Luggage. A suitcase and a trunk. 1930. Courtesy of Stiftelsen Nordiska museet. CC BY NC ND

The first model of suitcase appeared around the mid-to-late 19th century, replacing the travel trunks. It was born as a massive, cumbersome box, made of wood and leather, with a heavy iron base, in order not to be crushed during travels in steamships and stagecoaches, and a covering in canvas. even though suitcases began as an afterthought in the luggage and leather goods business, in the late 19th century the beginning of mass tourism made it the very symbol of travel.

Brown suitcase for toiletries: comb, shoe horn, hand schoenoprekker, button hook, hair brush, clothes brush, toothbrush, soap box, sweeper, two boxes for jewelry, hand mirror. 1930/1935. Courtesy of Centraal Museum. All rights reserved

Since the early age of the luggage industry, some companies made a name for themselves with their high-end products. At first it was Louis Vuitton who, in the mid-1850s, introduced his pioneering slat trunk, with a canvas sheath, well-designed drawers and a flat top that made stacking much easier.

Woman in plaid skirt and heels reflected in the mirror on the street with two suitcases. 1949/1951. Courtesy of Stiftelsen Nordiska museet. CC BY NC ND

In the early 20th century, the ‘dress-suit case’ was only one of countless styles of container that travelers could buy, as steamer trunks, club bags or everyday portable wardrobes. Tourism was a decidedly upper-class phenomenon and rich people, who used to travel with their servants, could rely on an army of hired hands to carry luggages. When trunks went out of style, suitcases took on practical and cultural significance, becoming a literary symbol for both mobility and mystery.

Pair of nylon stockings in packaging. "Voyage". 1955/1965. Courtesy of ModeMuseum Provincie Antwerpen. All rights reserved

With the rapid expansion in automobile travel during in the 1920s, and a more gradual expansion of air travel a couple decades later, they had to get lighter and cheaper and cardboard and plastic models were launched on the market, emphasizing ‘modern’ materials and convenience. But they were still far from the most recent products.

Bags by Missoni. L'officiel Voyage France. 2014. Courtesy of Missoni. All rights reserved

The modern suitcases feature large pieces of hard plastic and are built with synthetic materials and fabrics; zippers have replaced clasps and few of them are specifically waterproof. Last but not least, the most of them have wheels. All these developments came in the last half-century, with the onset of mass aviation. The suitcase had to adapt to fit the requirements of flying travels, which comprehend half a mile of walking during check-in, layovers and arrival and specific proportions and size limits of the storage areas. During the 2000s luggage manifacturers released new lightweight models with the latest tech recoveries to stay competitive. The ultra light and highly durable polycarbonate, the ergonomically designed bags and backpacks, GPS-enabled technology and luggage that charges and protects tech gadgets, just demonstrate that the improvement of luggage features evolves with changes in lifestyle, paying attention not only to the content but, interestingly, to the container as well.

Discover more amazing suitcases and luggage on Europeana Fashion portal!

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