Saturday, 4 January 2014

Handbags and Stuff

I got my first handbag at the age of about 7. A classy, flat-packed affair requiring self-assembly. It was pale pink, and made of China's finest plastic.
I tucked my little blonde doll in there, wrapped in a little blanket and took her for a walk. I put my Snoopy purse in there, with 5p in it, feeling rich as a queen, and bought 5 penny bubblegums in the shop. I carried my sunglasses and my favourite pencils.
Then I graduated to a lilac clutch at about 9 or 10 years old. Matching my lilac blouson jacket in colour with its gold metal corners, I felt every inch the sophisticee. I carried my mini Miss Dior perfume sample, my notebook and pencil, a comb and my favourite puzzle.
Graduating to the teen years. Bags were out, rucksacks in. I had a white patent rucksack which served as handbag when I went dancing. I carried two painkillers, my wallet, some lipstick, concealer and a naggin of peach schnapps.
Girls and their bags eh?

How come just as you realise you are an individual, conscious human being, someone hands you a piece of baggage and says "Fill that up now, and carry it around, that's what a lady does"?
I'm guilty of it too. Every time I pass the "little girl bags" section in a shop I stop and pause and wonder if I should purchase one as a gift for a little girl. Then I reason that she probably has a few already and move on.

What do guys get? A wallet of real leather when they reach their teens? A keyring? Certainly not some receptacle that they are urged to fill with mindless crap and shoulder for the rest of their lives. They walk this earth unencumbered, they swing both arms, can leave a barstool without checking under it. They don't realise the freedom they have.

And what does that bag do for us, as women?
It's a statement of who we are. How easy is it to pigeonhole the woman carrying the dove-grey MiuMiu? Or the woman with the sporty crossbody bag? Or the woman with the fake Balenciaga made out of squeaky PU? Or the woman with the oversized slouchy clutch? Or the woman with the camping-friendly rucksack? You instantly know which ones you will have things in common with. It's a shorthand as to who we are, our social status, our class, our income, our pastimes. Even our state of mind.

And we burden our daughters with all that from the minute they can walk. Look at her, the toddling two year old holding the cute kitten bedecked sparkly purse. In training for her lifetime of hauling around non-necessities and posing as a member of x social group. Don't worry, I'm not getting at you, I'd be the exact same if I had a daughter. I'd be handing down my bag collection, as and when she was ready for each one. Here's your great-grandmother's snakeskin clutch. Here's your fake Louis Vuitton, here's your wannabe Birkin in pale pink leather. I have them all ready and waiting.

And what do we cart around? The essentials, yes, like keys, money, phone....that's really all the essentials. And men fit them into trouser and jacket pockets. Yet we feel incomplete without the bag itself, matching the outfit, coordinating with the mood, , complementing the jewellery.  What's inside? Oh, only our whole lives, diaries, notebooks, makeup, mementoes, photos, toys, food, trinkets, emergency tissues, tights, all the heavy shite that we curse while hoisting it onto our shoulders, yet admire how the bag can fit it all.

Because from an early age we are taught the simple equation:
Stuff = importance.
Directly proportionate, so the more stuff you hoist onto your shoulder, the more important you are. Better still, the heavier the bag when empty, the more expensive the bag and thus the more important you are. And who's not guilty of boasting of the weight when empty of their leather bag?

So status symbols are alive and well, being passed from mother to daughter.
And that's ok. And we are free to partake and enjoy, and save for the designer bag, and fill it with our tablets and bulging wallets, and even get the matching coin purse.
As long, I think, as we recognise that it is just "stuff", in the most basic sense.
And not let that "stuff" become a shorthand for a personality, or a basis of judgement, or a reason to befriend, or exclude a certain person.
That's all I have to say. But I'd be interested to hear, do you think handbags empower or hinder a woman/girl?
Nee x


  1. Guess who stashes stuff in MY bag? Yep, the hubby. I swear, I don't know what he'd do if I didn't carry one.l He's just lucky it's rucksack sized.

  2. Very thought-provoking. I do like a nice bag, though I try not to spend too much on them. My husband made the mistake once of asking, when I bought a new bag, if that meant I would be retiring one of the old ones. You'd think he'd know me better than that by now. My daughter is not a bag fiend yet, though I did just buy her a new backpack... hmmm...


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