The Allure of the Handbag

What is is about handbags that drives women crazy?!

Have you ever walked past a store, seen a fabulous bag in the window, and experienced such a visceral reaction of want that you had to stop, do a double take and stare in the window longingly until you just had to go in and look? Have you ever gone in, looked at the price, seen it’s $550 and thought “no way!” but continued to try it on, play with its gold zippers and longingly caress its soft, buttery leather, thinking maybe it’s not all that expensive? Yes. Of course you have. We all have. But why is that? What is it about handbags that evoke such strong feelings of desire in women? After all, it’s just a bag.

But a purse isn’t just a bag. It’s a statement. It’s a statement of your status, sense of style and fashion savvy–even more so than clothes, because bags, we perch on arms and sling over our shoulders almost every day. It’s our constant companion and portable survival kit.

Frivolous as it may sound, the kind of handbag (satchel, clutch, shoulder tote or baguette) we wear says a lot about us. Like clothes, handbags are a form of expression and individuality, an assertion of you sense of style. The Chanel 2.55 quilted bag, for example, says you’re a traditionalist with a classic sense of style who likes to invest in timeless pieces. By wearing Chanel, you’re telling the world that you have impeccable taste and can afford to spend money on designer accessories. And as classy as it is, Chanel is also somewhat of an ostentatious brand, quilting, gold chains and embroidered C’s instantly recognizable. When you wear Chanel, everyone knows, and for some, that’s the point.

The same goes for wearing the coveted “It” bag. Wearing an “It” bag shows that not only do you have the fashion savvy to know what the “It” bag is, but also that you have the funds to afford the often $500 and up statement bag. Presumably, you also appreciate the aesthetics and design of the handbags, and are not spending exorbitant amounts of money to tote around a bag merely because you saw a picture in Us Weekly of Kate Hudson heading to Whole Foods with one.    

Yet at the same time, owning the same bag as certain esteemed fashionistas, does associate you with them on some level. For example, having the same bag as Kate Moss, whose mere ownership of a product, instantly adds an element of edginess and modernity to the piece. Thus, your ownership of the bag makes you a cutting-edge clothes horse as well. Maybe not in the same way that Kate Moss is, but enough for the get the point across.

Acquiring the hot “It” bad or statement handbag also stokes women’s competitive instincts. There’s typically only a select number of bags produced and for some women, having the social or political sway to get their hands on one is quite the accomplishment.

However, this phenomenon is by no means a recent trend. Women’s obsession with handbags cannot be attributed solely to the increased interest in celebrity fashion; the popularity of handbags has been steadily rising over the past 100 years.

About 200 years ago, purses were small and were often hidden in the folds of dresses and overcoats. It wasn’t until rail and sea travel became widely accessible that the size of purses increased. Handbags became larger and fashionable luggage was hugely popular. Many of today’s most esteemed fashion houses–Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Hermes–were spawned from the flourish in travel.

Additionally, as women have become increasingly more independent, both socially and financially, handbags have become increasingly popular as well,
as many women see them as symbol of their financial stability.

Women value handbags because they are an assertion of themselves. Whether you choose your bag based on your financial situation, social status or appreciation for rich detailing and plush leather, our bags are an expression of ourselves and the desire to express ourselves to the world is a feeling we will likely never lose. As such, neither will our want for fabulous bags.

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