Joining the Chain Gang

"I got fed up with holding my purses in my hands and losing them, so I added a strap and carried them over my shoulder," said Coco Chanel. In February 1955, Chanel’s maverick creation made it acceptable for women to carry handbags on their shoulders – which sounds like a no-brainer these days, but in a world of debutantes, etiquette and strict fashion rules, there was a time when a lady of certain social standing simply wouldn’t dare wear a bag that way. Masculine satchels and messenger bags had fallen out of favour immediately after WWII – unless of course, you were a country bumpkin who needed hard-wearing practicality on the farm. It wasn’t necessarily considered chic to go out to work after the war effort, but with one swift yank of the chain, Coco Chanel flushed those dated notions away, freeing up our hands for cocktail hour (all the better for mainlining canapes with our fellow emancipated party guests!).

Although Coco made it fashionable – hers wasn’t the first bag to feature a chain strap – her stroke of genius was a chain-reaction that linked back to the very origins of the handbag. In the 16th century women would wear purses on a chatelaine – part jewellery, part Swiss-army knife. A chatelaine was a decorative clasp worn on a belt – with chains hanging from it. Useful household accoutrements were attached to these chains, such as scissors, thimbles and keys.

For a few centuries after that, handbags took the form of pockets, which were hidden under meringue layers of skirts, but as slinkier silhouettes came into vogue in the 18th century (inspired by the discovery of Pompeii and a mania for Classicism) bags had nowhere to hide. Enter stage left, the reticule – the first true handbag. Often beaded or embroidered, this was a small pouch with a drawstring closure, hanging from a cord or chain. With the bold use of a shoulder chain Coco Chanel was evoking a centuries old tradition, although it’s also been speculated that her chain straps are inspired by the belts worn by the nuns that taught her taught as a little girl.

Short or long, swinging from one shoulder or styled across the body, the chain strap is not only the perfect way to take your bag from day-to-night, but it’s also the ideal way to inject a glint of “hi-lo” into your everyday wardrobe (which is fashion editor speak for ‘smart/ casual’). Sarah Haran chain straps are available in either silver or gold, and are crafted in the perfect proportion for wearing as a simple shoulder strap, or the edgier cross-body style.

Take inspiration from the chatelaine and use one inside your bag as a chic keyring chain. These chains attach to almost all of the Sarah Haran bags (as well as any other bags you already own that have loops or jump-rings). Chain straps offer maximum versatility and customization – after all, it’s essentially a piece of jewellery for your bag. Gold, silver, long or short – on a smart and practical Iris Saddlebag or on an evening clutch. There’s never been a better time to join the chain gang.