History of Whiting and Davis

History of Whiting and Davis

Whiting & Davis is a well-known American company that has been producing high-quality mesh handbags and accessories for over 130 years. Founded in 1876, the company has a rich history and has been a staple of American fashion for generations.

 History of Whiting and Davis Purses

The Early Years: Whiting & Davis was founded in 1876 in Plainville, Massachusetts by William E. Whiting and Edwin F. Davis. Wade Davis and Company began making fabulous jewelry for the upper and middle classes, focusing on high quality goods and timeless designs often based on historical trends. The company originally produced metal mesh belts and chains, which were popular during the late 19th century. In that same year, a young errand boy named Charles A. Whiting began working for the company for a total of 9 cents an hour. Whiting threw himself into design training and quickly moved up the ranks to sales foreman by the age of 26. He knew what his customers wanted and proved it by being the designer of one of the most iconic staples of handbag fashion in the world in 1892, the mesh Whiting and Davis handbag.

 Whiting and Davis Silver Mesh Purse for sale from Bloomers and Frocks

The first of these handbags was silver metal, with an ornate ball closure clasp, and short wrist chain. The "Dresden" mesh had wider links than most modern Whiting and Davis models, appearing more like chain-mail than the solid fabric-like mesh of the we think of today. These handbags, made by women who worked from home linking the individual rings of metal together, were an instant hit, so much so that by 1896, Whiting became a partner in the company, and Whiting and Davis as we know it to this day was born.

The popularity of these bags grew so much that supply could not keep up with the demand, and by 1912, the company had it's first mechanized mesh-making machine. These machines meant that new types of mesh could be produced, and the "spider mesh" we all know and love began to roll off the line. This mesh had the distinct advantage of being easily paint-able, and could be made of other cheaper metals rather that silver.

The Roaring Twenties: During the 1920s, Whiting & Davis experienced a period of growth and success. The company’s metal mesh handbags became popular among women during this time and were a staple of the flapper style. Whiting & Davis handbags were known for their durability, versatility, and unique style.The metal mesh handbag was a must-have accessory, gracing the wardrobes of celebrities and the middle-class alike. In the 1930's, the company had established associations with the fabulous Schiaparelli, and Paul Poiret, who were hugely popular at the time.

Gold mesh purse from Whiting and Davis

The Great Depression:
The Great Depression had a significant impact on Whiting & Davis, as many people could no longer afford luxury items like metal mesh handbags. The company adapted to these changes by producing more affordable metal mesh products and expanding into other areas of the fashion industry, including jewelry, watches, and clothing accessories.

Wartime: As many private companies did, during World War Two, Whiting and Davis joined the war effort to help keep people safe. During this time very few of their metal mesh bags were produced, saving precious metal for the war effort. Instead, they produced radar equipment for the war. Additionally, for the private sector, they produced metal mesh gloves made to keep the workers on fur farms safe from animal bites.

Whiting and Davis Mother of Pearl deadstock vintage brooches

Post-World War II: After World War II, Whiting & Davis saw a resurgence in popularity, as the company’s metal mesh products were seen as a symbol of the new prosperity and optimism of the post-war era. As soon as the war was won, the company switched back to making belts, purses and wallets, and even began producing jewelry again. The celebrity status of the company, and their products relative affordability meant they were an attainable status symbol for women. The company began making clothing from their mesh in the 1950's, with Jane Russel wearing a metal dress that was said to weigh just over 20 pounds in the movie Macao.

Mid-Century: Whiting and Davis created statement, disco era jewelry from their mesh, including bib necklaces, bracelets that wound like snakes, incorporating patterns that evoked Ancient Greece and Rome, and bright bits of colored gems to complete their eye-catching and discoball light shining designs.

In the early 1970's, the company began producing jewelry for Tiffany and Co with Elsa Peretti. A Whiting and Davis accessory was a fabulous choice for the decade of disco lights. Donna Summers and the band ABBA being just two of the company's biggest fans of the era. Always innovative in fashion, in 1980, the company produced a new design for hoop earrings that would stay secure and never snag the skin, the same kind we still know and love today, and their place in the world of fashion history was firmly set.

1980s white mesh purse by Whiting and Davis

The Modern Era: Today, Whiting & Davis continues to produce high-quality metal mesh handbags and accessories, and the company has expanded into new areas of the fashion industry, including clothing, footwear, and home décor. Whiting and Davis hasn't lost any of its brilliance or shine. While they are still producing new designs of handbags, wallets and jewelry sold in department stores, a vintage Whiting and Davis bag never goes out of style. Some of these handbags and accessories of the past have become highly collectible with prices ranging from a modest $20 all the way up into the thousands for a fabulous mesh dress or top. 

Whiting and Davis gold mesh belt

The company has done ads for Absolute Vodka and covers for Cosmopolitan, and even still appear in Vogue. You can spot these fabulous accessories on everyone from Lady Gaga, to Mariah Carey and America Ferrara. With all that design, the company is still making workplaces safer, producing mesh tunics and curtains to prevent injury. Next time you see one of these brilliant works of metal art, whether it be for fashion or workplace function, know that you have over 130 years of American craftsmanship and design to thank!
Whiting and Davis gold amber bracelet