"Handbags and Gladrags" is a song written in 1967 by Mike d'Abo, who was then the lead singer of Manfred Mann. D'Abo describes the song as "saying to a teenage girl that the way to happiness is not through being trendy. There are deeper values."
The original demo tape of the original version of the song was discovered in 2004 in a closet belonging to Mo Foster. It was amongst a collection of studio recordings d'Abo had recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The collection, including the demo recording, was eventually released on the Angel Air label under the title of Missing Gems & Treasured Friends.
In November 1967, singer Chris Farlowe was the first to release a version of the song, produced by Mike d'Abo. It became a #33 hit in the United Kingdom for Immediate Records. This arrangement of the song featured Dave Greenslade's piano blues-scale riff. The song was included as track 13 (of 14) on Farlowe's 1969 album The Last Goodbye.
In 1969, Rod Stewart recorded a version for the album An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down. This version of the song was arranged by Mike d'Abo, who also played piano on the recording. The song failed to garner significant sales or airplay in the United States, but when it was re-released as a single in 1972, it managed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at 42 in March. In 1993, he recorded a live version on the song during his session for MTV Unplugged. This version was included on the album Unplugged...and Seated. When introducing the song at the 2004 live recording of One Night Only! Rod Stewart Live at Royal Albert Hall, Stewart asked the audience to recall who had a hit with the song (presumably referring to the Stereophonics version) and disingenuously claimed "I was the first!"
Although never a hit single for Stewart in the UK, in recognition of its renewed popularity following its use for television series The Office and Stereophonics returning it to the charts, Stewart performed "Handbags and Gladrags" (backed by Phil Collins on drums) as his only song at the Party at the Palace in 2002.
In 2001, Welsh rock band Stereophonics released a version of the song on single. It was subsequently added to their previous album's re-release Just Enough Education to Perform as track seven and on their first compilation album as the final track. The band originally recorded their version as a demo "for a laugh", but after the record company heard it they saw the potential of it being a single and subsequently had it commissioned as one. Despite receiving criticism it became their most successful single in Ireland, peaking at number three and is one of two Stereophonics singles to be certified gold in the UK – the other being "Dakota" (2005).
The song was released as a single on 3 December 2001. Five different releases were made available to the public, this included: two CDs,maxi-CD,vinyl and cassette. The first CD released included two more covers, Ewan MacColl's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and John Lennon's "How?". The second CD contained a live version of "Caravan Holiday" and "Nice to be Out", both from Just Enough Education to Perform. The 7" vinyl only had "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" for a b-side, as did the cassette format. The maxi-CD includes all five songs but not the live version of "Handbags and Gladrags".
Following on from the "Mr. Writer" critical backlash, the song received a negative review from Drowned in Sound reviewer Anita Bhagwandas. Bhagwandas described it as the "final drop in the Stereophonics inevitable descent into pop mediocrity" and criticised the group for "selling out."