MY HANDBAGS HOLD MEMORIES: A COLORFUL CLUTCH WITH A MOUNT FUJI SCENE, A GIFT LONG AGO FROM MY FATHER TO MY MOTHER WHEN HIS MERCHANT SHIP SAILED TO TOKYO; A TINY JEWEL- LIKE METAL SQUARE ENCRUSTED WITH MALACHITE, BOUGHT THIS YEAR IN WONDERFUL BHUTAN; A TEAL BRIEFCASE, A DEEP (REAL) FAKE I FEAR; BOUGHT MANY YEARS AGO IN TOP SECRECY IN THE DARK LANES OF SHANGHAI; MY BELOVED ORANGE TOTE, THE MOST TRUSTED TRAVELING COMPANION A GIRL COULD HAVE. I REALIZE I COULD GO ON... AND ON AND I DON’T EVEN CONSIDER MYSELF TO BE A HANDBAG LOVER!
Women’s handbags originated as fabric bags tied with a drawstring and used largely for carrying coins, worn under, then later over, the dress. In the early 1900s, the term “handbag” was coined for women’s leather bags. As late as the 1950s the rule of elegant dressing demanded that the handbag and shoes must match, meaning that pristine handbags often outlived their down -at- heel partners. AbrilliantinnovationwasChanel’squilted2.55 Bag named for the date it was introduced - February 1955. Its double chain shoulder strap meant that women could at last go hands-free at social functions.
Hermes boast two of the most iconic bags, beautifully constructed, with worldwide popularity and viewed by some to be a better investment than the stock market. First the Kelly, this bag initially called the Sac a Depeches was renamed the Kelly when it became a favourite of Princess Grace. The other one, the Birkin, originated in the early 80’s, interestingly on an Air France flight, when the actress Jane Birkin had the luck to be seated next to the chief CEO of Hermes, Jean-Louis Dumas. After the contents of her handbag spilled onto the floor, they discussed the design of a practical yet beautiful bag more relaxed and capacious than the Kelly, and perfect for the needs of the modern woman. They succeeded! High-profile women such as Melania Trump and Kim Kardashian have vast collections in varied leathers.
To a color analyst like me, the color names spark joy : Bougainvillea, Bleu Abysse, Bleu Roi, Blue Lagoon, Bleu de Nord, Vert Veronese, Rose Lipstick, Crevette. And they look as good as they sound! There also neutral colors not swayed by fashion so timelessly elegant such as: Etoupe, Chocolate Brown, Black, Gold, Tan or ElephantGrey. AtaChristie’sauctioninJune2018 a Birkin bag in matte Himalaya Niloticus crocodile ( the most expensive leather) with white- gold and diamond hardware, fetched way over $2 million, with bids from 41 countries.
In the 90’s, It-bag mania peaked, epitomized by the Fendi Baguette of 1998, carried by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City (This year it has been reintroduced in a range of covetable luxury fabrics.) Ten years ago the Mulberry Alexa, named after Alexa Chung, became the It-bag of choice for women in the London workplace and was a major contributor to Mulberry’s enhanced fortunes. It’s fun to observe which heads of state, royalty, and first ladies prefer to carry their own handbag and which leave the job to aides. Here in the UK, the bag is popular as an accessory for women in the public eye. Some say as a shield or comfort blanket, or in the case of our first woman prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, as a weapon with which she metaphorically handbagged (the verb was coined for her) her unfortunate male opponents. Our Queen carries her Launer, a boxy, square framed bag in white, black, or beige, always over her left wrist, containing it is said a handkerchief, lipstick, mints, glasses, a portable hook to hang it on and often treats for her pack of corgis. Less well-known brands sell out when seen on the arm of royals and celebrities, as in the case of the Strathberry, a brand founded just in 2013, when their totes and clutches were endorsed by Meghan Markle Duchess of Sussex.
But back to the real world, let’s look at the trends in handbags. Instagram has contributed to the demise of the It–bag. Women now don’t want to be photographed with the same bag twice, so are forgoing wildly expensive four-figure sums and choosing to go for quality but at a more realistic price. Adaptability is now attractive, a good example being the brand Senreve’s Voya Tote, produced for the “multifaceted modern woman.” “Great for work, play and everything in between.” It can be handheld, cross-body, shoulder or backpack. Armani’s La Prima, just reintroduced, is another perfect example of a bag which is not a huge statement and will not date. Giorgio Armani describes it as “functional and sophisticated” and it works for day or evening.
Another current influence on the fashion in handbags is the growth of athleisure and street fashion. Backpacks and backbags in leather or microfibre create a less formal look with space for a water bottle and sports gear, and these have become totally appropriate in today’s more relaxed work dress codes.
Probably a neutral color: black, navy, browns, bronze, taupe or burgundy will be the most versatile for the first go-to work bag. I own a neutral tan, a fun lime and a ritzy patent teal leather with gold hardware. Each one is suitable for different places, events, moods, and whether the outfit needs added color or looks better with a neutral.
When choosing your bag for social events, decide whether you prefer shoulder, cross-body or arm candy. I have an elegant vintage bag, which I rarely use as I don’t enjoy a handheld bag, whereas I love the current trend for small, cross-body bags, which can be slung on and then forgotten. Whether shopping, traveling on public transport or partying, hands-free makes life so much easier!
Always check in a full-length mirror. Is the scale of the bag in proportion to your height? If you have curvy body lines try a softer outline. If your body lines are angular, this can be reflected in the bag structure. The shoulder strap should be adjustable and make sure the bag sits at the most flattering point of waist or hips.
When deciding on your investment bag consider the colors already in your wardrobe and your own personal style. Mine tends to be minimalist so is suited to the many structured, logo-free bags around. If in contrast, you favor an outdoorsy, relaxed look, then a more slouchy, soft leather or suede bag, perhaps with on– trend fringing will fit the bill, as will the current bucket bags. If you live where winter clothes are not needed, then the raffia and rattan trend continues. Maybe glamour or an OTT look are your thing, then go for a glitzy bag with full blingy hardware -it will work! The minute (in size, not price) Le Chiquito by Jacquemus is for those who love the quirky, and who carry only a credit card! Another cute option is the Loewe Elephant Mini bag, possibly in candy pink with a personalized dice charm, a look probably not for the boardroom! Belt bags continue to be popular and can be an interesting addition to an outfit.
Advertising constantly tempts us with novelty. In contrast the 30 Wears Challenge asks us to ensure everything in the wardrobe is worn at least 30 times. Now it is cooler to buy for the long haul, considering sustainability, so buying less but buying better. When thinking of the cost consider the price per wear. Ask yourself if you will be able to enjoy the bag several years ahead or will it date? Finally, the most importantquestion:‘DoIloveit?’ Ifindoubt,don’t buy, as the purchase will probably be a mistake and languish unloved and unused in the closet. Better to wait until you find the one you love; truly, madly, deeply.