The hip flask, as we know it today, originated in the 19th century, however similar drinking vessels have existed for centuries. During the Middle Ages, for example, people would hollow out the insides of certain fruits and fill them with liquor. This evolved further in the 18th century, by which time in had become custom for women to fill pigs bladders with a spirit and then hide them under their petticoats in order to smuggle them onto British Warships.
When hip flasks started to become popular (during the 18th century) they were mainly crafted out of silver and glass. Silver was used due to the fact that it was believed to enhance the taste of the alcohol within the vessel. For those who couldn’t afford the luxury of a silver hip flask however, pewter was the next best option. The drawback to this material was that the pewter flasks would sometimes leak lead, poisoning the drinker, which could sometimes result in brain damage.
The modern day material of choice for crafting hip flasks is generally stainless steel as it is both affordable and strong. This material tends to effectively resist corrosion, staining and rusting, making it relatively easy to clean, and resistant of leaks.
The form of the common hip flask is usually thin and often curved; it fits snugly therefore, against the wearer’s body (or perhaps against the hip or thigh, in a pocket, or down the side of a boot), making it a convenient item to keep on one’s person. Some flasks are fitted with a ‘captive’ top, meaning that the top is attached to the main body of the hip flask by an arm (so that it won’t detach and get lost).
The common hip flask can usually only contain about four or five measures of a spirit, and this content is traditionally shared along with a suitable toast.
The hip flask played a very important role in the United States in the 1920s during the prohibition era (a time in which there was a national ban the sale, production and transportation of alcohol). Prohibition led to the upsurge in social rebellion, as people were desperate to get their hands on alcohol regardless of the new laws. This led to the emergence of a black market based around the production of alcohol- a vocation colloquially known as bootlegging. During this time, the hip flask became the ultimate accessory for anyone wishing to stylishly flout the law.