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A carpet bag is a piece of luggage made from heavy duty material stretched over a supportive frame. In some cases historically, these bags were in fact made from carpeting, but more commonly, materials like velour, brocade, and heavy upholstery were used. Classically, a carpet bag is rather shapeless and soft, which means that it can be compressed into a variety of shapes, allowing it to fit almost anywhere. These bags are also famously roomy, allowing people to carry everything but the kitchen sink in a carpet bag.
The origins of the carpet bag design are a bit unclear. Heavy materials including old carpeting are, of course, ideally suited to traveling, and it is possible that the carpet bag evolved naturally as creative people tried to come up with new uses for old things. The addition of a framework to give the bag some shape and additional sturdiness appears to have occurred around the 19th century, in a period when the carpet bag happened to be in heavy use.
Unlike a hard suitcase, a carpet bag is usually easy to handle, even when fully laden. The flexibility of the bag can be a distinct advantage in situations where people are trying to work with limited space and lots of luggage, while the sturdy material protects the contents of the carpet bag from damage. Carpet bags can also be locked for additional security, although it is of course possible to cut through the material of the bag to access its contents.
Many people associate the carpet bag with the Victorian Era, when people did rather a lot of traveling and often carried large amounts of luggage. Carpet bags are also associated with the so-called “carpetbaggers” of the American Civil War Era who moved from the North to the South to take advantage of political instability in the South during Reconstruction. Allegedly, these opportunists were often equipped with carpet bags filled with household possessions along with goods for sale.
It is possible to find antique carpet bags made from original materials including recycled carpeting, and some of these bags are in very good shape, reflecting the utility and sturdiness of the carpet bag design. Several luggage companies also make modern carpet bags, utilizing new or recycled materials. These bags come in a range of sizes and shapes, and they are often very distinctively patterned, which can be a definite plus at airport luggage carousels.