by Lois Alter Mark for USA TODAY 10Best

At the ESSE Purse Museum, women's history is in the bag

One of just three purse museums in the world, the ESSE Purse Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas is filled with hundreds of handbags, telling a fascinating story not just of style and fashion but of women’s history in the 20th century.

Image courtesy of Nancy Nolan

Check out these 10 stunning bags – one representing each decade – and be sure to visit the museum’s store to buy your own piece of history from an eclectic collection of 21st-century styles.

1900s

Image courtesy of Nancy Nolan

This round suede wristlet features a cameo and a carved trim made of celluloid – an early plastic commonly used as a replacement for decorative accents as ivory supplies dwindled.

1910s

Image courtesy of Nancy Nolan

Clean, geometric lines defined the beginning of the Art Deco era. Purses were considered an everyday accessory as men went off to World War I and women took on the head of household role.

1920s

Image courtesy of Nancy Nolan

Once women were given a voice through their newly-earned right to vote, they roared through the twenties, making statements by carrying purses bursting with bold design and color.

1930s

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After the Great Depression, with money too tight for most women to buy new wardrobes, purses offered women an easy and fun way to change up their outfits. Made out of low-cost plastics like Rodolac, they felt like a splurge.

1940s

Image courtesy of Nancy Nolan

Wartime rationing led to the use of alternative materials for making products that weren’t essential to the war effort. This purse is made from telephone cord!

1950s

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During the “Mad Men” era, women were defined by domesticity and motherhood. Although purses began to get smaller and more fun, they always had room for coupons, keys, an address book and, yes, cigarettes.

1960s

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One look at this yellow vinyl smiley face tote and you know you’re back in the '60s. Counterculture was dawning, and it was the era of mod, psychedelic, space-age looks.

1970s

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Large leather bags were the “it” purses of the decade. Slung over a shoulder or across the body, they left women’s hands free, empowering them to enter the work force en masse during the rise of feminism.

1980s

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This was the decade of the yuppies – the young upwardly mobile professionals. Women were trying to have it all and they needed to carry more and more. Bags became larger and more practical, and a shoulder strap was a must.

1990s

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A backlash against the excess and power dressing of the '80s resulted in a return to the classics and “good” pieces. Women invested in smaller designer bags like this black quilted shoulder bag by Chanel.

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