Saturday, December 25, 2021

Advice Was Ignored

Author Harold M. Groves ((1897-1969, state senator, economist, tax expert and University of Wisconsin professor) wrote the 1944 book Production, Jobs and Taxes, in which there was a small mention of federal excise taxes. Groves said that taxes on necessities “are objectionable from the standpoint of equity because they fall most heavily upon low-income families.” Although he didn't specify what should be considered a necessity and not, as in the determination of handbags, a "luxury," he also said, “If during the war the federal government launches upon a general sales-tax program, these levies should be the first to go when the war ends.”

1944 book by Harold M. Groves, from the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Tax Was on Many Women-centric Items

Not only did the 1944-1965 US federal excise tax cover handbags, luggage, wallets, key fobs and manicure sets, it was also placed on other women-centric items, including face creams, furs and jewelry. This original press photo from the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum is dated February 21, 1944, two months prior to the implementation of the 20 percent FET. At this time, jewelry was "only" taxed at ten percent. There were problematic issues that came with the convolution of income tax, "victory" tax, pay-as-you-go taxation and the federal excise taxes on items that were deemed luxuries. The photo--and, presumably, its accompanying article--concerned the inability to deduct luxury taxes from income tax.

Photo illustration representing the jewelry "luxury" tax and the inability to deduct it from one's income tax. From the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum

The recommended caption for the publication of the press photo above, on its reverse.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Handbags Were Not Rationed During WWII

Leather was in short supply during World War II as it was being used for the war effort. While shoes were rationed, handbags were not. Still, purse manufacturers themselves were under ration orders, which is why they turned to unconventional materials during the war. Many of their designs were modeled on the bags made by home-crafters.

Original shoe ration coupon from the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Buying Frenzy

The April 1, 1944 (April Fool's Day!) implementation of new Federal Excise Taxes created a rush on a variety of goods. The public couldn't have known that the tax would last another twenty years.

31 Mar 1944, Fri The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware)

Friday, December 10, 2021

Wartime Shortages Weren't The Only Reason

It is commonly known that many 1940s-1950s handbags were created from unconventional materials by traditional manufacturers as well as home crafters due to World War II shortages. While this is true to some extent, there is another reason. In 1944, the US government placed a whopping 20% federal excise "luxury" tax on handbags. This meant that a $3 purse purchased at a department store would cost an additional 60 cents tax at a time when minimum wage was 30 cents an hour. This led to many women crafting their own from patterns, which is why there was an upswing in sales of raw materials such as crochet cord, zippers and zipper pulls, which were not subject to the tax.

Below are some examples of home-crafted handbags and a photo of a woman carrying a similar purse. Bags and original photo from the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum. 1944 newspaper article clipped via paid subscription to

06 Aug 1944, Sun Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Pain in The Purse: The Tax That Changed Handbag History - Now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle ebook

In this micro-history by award-winning writer Wendy Dager, you'll learn that on April 1, 1944, the American people were subject to a federal excise tax that encompassed a large number of items the US government had deemed luxuries. Among them were handbags, a necessity that cost consumers an additional 20% of their retail value. Twenty years of FET had an enormous impact on much more than the pocketbook. An early form of today's "pink tax," it was placed on numerous women-centric items, including jewelry, furs and face creams. This tax affected industries, feminism, politics and journalism, and forever altered the designs of mid-century purses, which remain a fashion staple.

Purchase today in paperback or Kindle ebook

Monday, December 6, 2021

Three Years Before The Handbag Tax

It all started in 1941, when excise taxes were placed on a number of items deemed luxuries by the US government. These "luxuries" included telephone services, light bulbs and cosmetics. Also luggage, which was certainly not a luxury item for the military families that had to move frequently due to war assignments. By 1944, more items were added to these special tax assessments, including handbags, an expansion of the luggage category.

This original 1941 press photo appeared in numerous newspapers and is now in the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Coming Soon to Amazon: Pain In the Purse: The Tax That Changed Handbag History by Wendy Dager

Welcome to the blog of Pain in The Purse: The Tax That Changed Handbag History by Wendy Dager, curator of The Vintage Purse Museum. This unique micro-history details the story behind the "forgotten" 20 percent US federal excise "luxury" tax placed on handbags from 1944-1965. We'll be posting bonus photos and information in this space, so keep checking back.