A recent article in BOF attempts to explain why women buy expensive handbags. Or, as many a spouse would say, it tries to make sense of the nonsensical. The ultimate question posed by author Alexandra Shulman is why “women are prepared to fork out substantial sums for an item that does nothing that a supermarket plastic bag can’t do.”
To me, the quick answer was her punchline: no one ever asks if a bag makes you look fat. You can gain (or lose) ten pounds and still carry the same purse. No need to switch handbags just because you feel droopy or bloated. Of course, a plastic or recyclable shopping bag is the same, so there must be more to it. In other words, while the form may follow function, it also follows fashion.
Handbags are the “leading accessory” of our time and a bright light in the fashion industry. “It’s the item that every brand hopes will sustain them through good times and bad. The product that has been relied upon for sales when ready-to-wear is having a weak season, or in better times, is simply the lovely, high-profile icing on the cake, adorning store windows and providing catwalk fodder, while contributing only a small percentage to the bottom line.” Purses have even become a popular category on auction house calendars. Some sales have been record-breaking.
Season after season, designer brands repackage older models and endeavor to introduce the next “it” or “iconic” bag, and women buy. It is common – and often a point of pride – for a woman to wear low- and mid-price clothing yet carry a high-end designer bag. One friend who proudly dresses like a self-described slob doesn’t carry anything other than LV – and owns a cache of them.
Historically, Ms. Shulman explains, purse popularity developed after WW I as women grew in independence and stature. Although they started off small – clutches with lipstick and powder – they now can be virtually any size. Ironically, in many settings, the real show of power is going utterly purse-free and having someone else carry your necessaries.
For the rest of us mere mortals, a handbag not only has a function but it also can convey personal style – and it can change daily. You can look upscale, boho, sporty or whatever. Or the reverse – perhaps you leave your expensive bag home to negotiate buying a car. Either way, your bag can make a statement. And apparently, we are willing to pay big bucks to be heard.
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