Long before the days of polythene bags, rucksacks, and wheeled suitcases, ladies were packing trunks, vanity cases, and hat boxes full of their precious possessions. Built to last, and designed to keep belongings safe, a lady’s luggage was not only practical, but effortlessly elegant. Tara Gardner unpacks the secrets of travelling in style.

Forget discount airlines or the Eurostar, in the early to mid 20th century travel was often a long and arduous affair involving epic land-crossings by train, or voyaging across vast oceans in gigantic liners. International air-travel was expensive, and many only travelled abroad out of necessity rather than for a holiday.

First-class was a luxurious and lavish way to travel, and whether by land or by sea as part of the ‘summer crossings’, was often a meeting point of fashionable society touring the seasonal socialite hotspots across the globe.

In an age where presentation was everything, a lady’s clothes and accessories had to be beautifully kept, ready to be worn to dinner, drinks, and dances. Steamer trunks were ideal for transporting clothes and accessories, and certain types of trunks, specifically the Saratoga trunks, had many different compartments, trays, and drawers for a lady’s convenience. Travelling light was not an option!

And in fact, so entrenched were Saratoga trunks in the life and culture of the early to mid 20th century, that there was even a Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman film made in 1945 called Saratoga Trunk.

Other notable earlier types of trunks include the Jenny Lind trunk, with its distinctive hourglass shape. Named after a Swedish singer who toured America in the mid 19th century, and who had a famous hour-glass figure, the Jenny Lind trunk was highly decorative with brass locks, tooled leather, and elaborate interiors.

With excess baggage fees, and confined space in today’s transport, travelling with a trunk is not exactly a practical option, however that’s not to say they aren’t a fantastic item to own. Buying an antique or vintage trunk is a great investment, and a stylish storage option for your bedroom or living space.

Look out for vintage Louis Vuitton trunks, and antique Goyard, for the ultimate in old-style luxury. Try the wide selection of Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Goyard at BentleysLondon.com or ThisOldTrunk.com.

Returning to the early to mid 20th century, a lady on the move couldn’t be without her vanity case for powdering her nose and topping up her make-up.

Vanity cases or train cases as they are also known, come in all shapes and sizes and each decade has added something new to the style. From the plainer leather Antler train cases with open-top lids to the plastic square upright vanity cases, from simple interior compartments to decorative fabric and mirrored interiors, vintage vanity cases are highly functional and brilliantly collectible.

And whether to be used as a stylish overnight bag, as a static display case in your bedroom, or even as neat and elegant storage in your home, no vintage-lover should be without their very own vintage vanity case.

For the discerning early to mid 20th century lady, an elegant hat made by a milliner was a staple of everyday wear, and hat boxes were an absolute must to keep fashionable hats and head-pieces from getting damaged or losing their shape. Many high-class stores would provide hat boxes with a purchase, and these would be used and reused for storage or transportation.

Nowadays hat boxes are something of a rarity as most modern ladies don’t tend to need a special case for their beanies and bobble hats!
In the later part of the 20th century the classic round hat box shape was merged with the vanity case shape to create a hat box style vanity case.

Hat boxes make stylish storage solutions for a bedroom, and the hat box vanity cases are great for overnight bags.

Try this fantastic selection of hat boxes and wig boxes of all shapes and styles from OriginalVintage.com

And for your more general travel needs there is a huge array of stylish vintage suitcases from across the decades, in many different styles and designs.

A particularly popular brand of vintage travel case is the Globe Trotter who have been producing iconic British suitcases since 1897.

Pedlars.co.uk webstore has a fantastic range of vintage Globe Trotter suitcases which can be customised with genuine vintage hotel and airline stickers well worth checking out.

Or if you want to browse a wide selection of vintage suitcases from across the decades, try an eBay search



4 Responses

  1. Lena

    Oh my God, my vanity case obsession is going into overdrive!

  2. annie

    HAHAH lena is hillarious! i need a good website for more vintage suitcases etc etc. Anyone? x

  3. bob baggage

    Anyone need a few sets of vintage luggage? I have 4 complete 3-4 pc sets of luggage, coincidentally all blue in color, and all 50’s – 60’s. One mint McBrine set plus 3 misc sets that are in fair to good shape. Want to sell the lot as a lot, looking for 150 for all (about 12 pieces) in the Los Angeles area beach cities. email for pix!