A clutch purse is a women's accessory designed to hold a few necessities like a driver's license, a cellphone, and a credit card. Clutch purses are designed to be carried by hand, some have a detachable chain or leather strap so they can also be worn hanging from the shoulder. There are many different styles of clutches, and some form of small purse has been used since the Babylonian era, though specific styles have gone in and out of fashion since then. In modern times, they're most often used as evening bags.
Clutches come in a huge variety of shapes, makes, and styles, all of which can vary between brands and seasons. They come as little square boxes, in triangles or heart shapes, covered with satin, beads or brocade. They are fastened with tassels, loops, and other fanciful decorations. Leather or vinyl clutches are available for less formal events when a smaller purse is still desirable.
Since they're so small and come in such a wide range of styles, clutch purses are often used to personalize an outfit. A woman wearing a conservatively colored dress might choose a brightly colored clutch purse to add some color to her outfit, or might trade in a more utilitarian purse that she carries for daily life in for a unique clutch if she goes out for an evening event. Since they're often relatively cheap, some women choose to buy many clutch purses in different styles so that they'll have a purse to match with many different outfits.
The history of purses in general dates back to the Babylonian era. Purses were generally used in religious ceremonies then, but later were more commonly used for carrying money and valuables. Both men and women in ancient times wore small purses on a belt. In the early 1800s, women began carrying reticules, the forerunner of the modern handbag, looking very much as some styles of the clutch purse look today. Ladies would carry handkerchiefs and smelling salts in their reticules, along with, perhaps, a packet of rice papers to dull a shiny spot on the face.
The clutch purse went out of fashion in the early 19th century, but experienced a resurgence in popularity during World War II. With rationing, the smaller clutch required less material for manufacture and fit in well with a wartime mindset. It remains popular today as an evening bag, though some women do use them for daily use, particularly if they don't need to carry a lot of accessories around or if they are just running errands.