Standing outside a high-end designer boutique last month, I gawked at the delectable leather offerings shown in the window. While I heard myself fantasizing, “If only I could have that one, and that one, and that one too…” I stopped to think about whether my relationship with designer handbags is founded on the principles of Label Blindness. What is it that makes a bag so popular and why are we (or, I don’t know, maybe just me) so quick to conform to expensive trends that often seem to die before we’ve even completed paying them off? Unable to arrive at my own conclusion, I commissioned a pair of fresh eyes to assess the situation and comment. Below, Sophie Milrom investigates the It Bag phenomenon:
When I landed in a new and more upscale middle school at 13 years old, I had a very hard time making friends. After a few weeks of spending lunch periods talking to my mother on a payphone outside of the nurse’s office, I was fully convinced that my problems would disappear if I had a Kate Spade messenger bag, the backpack of choice for girls at the most coveted cafeteria table. It was big enough to fit one textbook (was it Einstein or Thoreau who said “the more impractical the more luxurious”?) and for its most fortunate owners, a Prada pencil case.
Even once my self-deprecating humor earned me favor with a group of girls who ten years later I still consider my inner circle, I believed that little rectangular logo would make my braces disappear, my chest look bigger – er, existent – and, as Joan Didion says in her prose on self respect, entitle me to “the love of a good man.” I was fixated.
A birthday and promise to stop biting my nails later, my prize arrived–in black, obviously. Because if I was going to pass it down to my great granddaughter it couldn’t be vulnerable to stains.
But when I finally retired my purple Jansport, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Nobody seemed to notice…or care. I couldn’t admit it to myself, or my mom, and pretended to love that expensive nylon messenger like a first-born child until the end of high school. But somewhere deep down, I took a vow of abstinence. Not from sex, which wouldn’t have been hard among the pipsqueak boys at my Jewish high school, but perhaps the hardest oath an adolescent woman can make: never again would I buy – or even covet – an “It Bag.”
[An interlude for humor: last summer, while admiring my parent’s photos from their trip to Europe, I realized my dad was wearing it proudly as, according to him, “the perfect
Here is my case against It Bags: they are beautiful, well made and widely accepted as classy, but attain their mass appeal by serving as a status-symbol for a moment in time. Women wear expensive handbags and men drive expensive cars, (I’d presume) often to validate the owner’s ability to (a) identify the right item and (b) afford it. If excessive spending could signal that you’re smarter than me, phenomenal in bed, or just plain likeable, I wouldn’t oppose. We all want to be and feel respected, accepted and even envied, but as I learned from my affair with Katie, it can’t be achieved through a purse.
Since high school, I’ve found myself tempted. I watched friends rack up an entire arena of the It Bags that have since infiltrated The Bowery Hotel bar and kept saying to myself maybe, I’ll get the next one. But not wanting to spend a small fortune at the tail end of the fad, I put off taking the plunge several times.
Eventually I accepted that what goes up must come down–and what is an It Bag eventually was an It Bag. And the only thing that seems worse than wearing something outdated is wearing something outdated for which you overpaid for with the sole purpose of it being on trend.
Like a girl who finally gets over emotionally unavailable men and is able to appreciate a “nice guy,” I gave up the chase and began enjoying – in fact, relishing in – knowing that the Mulberry Bayswater tote I splurged on 7 years ago will never be “so out” because it was never “so in” to begin with.
I often wonder where It Bags go to die. I frequently shop in consignment stores where the inventory of insert-brand-name-here satchels doesn’t seem to correlate to the volume sold during their Carry-Bradshaw-endorsed heyday. After many restless nights I’ve come up with two theories: there are either children in underdeveloped countries walking around in t-shirts that say “New England Patriots Superbowl Champs 2012” and holding Fendi baguettes, or, maybe, like every other cultural phenomenon that cant quite be explained, they are big in Japan.
What do you think constitutes that which makes an It Bag, It? Do share.