It’s so odd that just in the past couple of years, designer hand bags
have gained so much prominence attention as the ‘it’ accessories.
They’ve gotten so much more expensive, it’s not uncommon to see list
prices advertised in thousands of dollars. A few years ago, a few
hundred would get you a top of the line bag. I’m guessing that the
cost of manufacturing the bags has increased at a lower rate than the
outrageous inflated mark-up of the retail prices, especially since
even many of the genuine designer bags are made in China, not just the

Maybe the luxury brands are pushing hand bags because they are
one-size-fits-all; unlike shoes or clothes which have to made in a
range of sizes. When the sizes at the ends of the spectrum don’t sell,
the brands lose profit. Perfumes – no, environmental sensitivities or
allergies. So focusing on bags makes for easier for stocking and
inventory control. They’ve gotten bigger – women have more stuff to
carry (cell phones, car keys with alarm fobs, sunglasses, fatter
wallets, daily planner, bottles of water) or is it so that they can be
more easily identified as this brand or that brand?

Also perhaps as more and more women are overweight/obese, they have
may have more hang-ups about buying clothes and having to think about
size*. With bags, they don’t have to worry about size or fit or
alterations. Another advantage of the trend is also towards big bags,
so that even on a large woman, they do not look out-of-proportion.
Even without the issue of the individual woman’s size, handbags as
accessories free you from having to worry too much about your body
shape, after all, different cuts of clothes even in ‘normal ranges’ of
sizes can look awkward on the inappropriate body shape.

(*On a tangent: I’m also going to complain about size deflation: the
size numbers are getting smaller. For my favorite brand of office
wear, straight out of college I wore their size 6. Now I wear size 4
or even 2, and no, I’ve been getting pudgier, not skinnier over time!
My complaint is that I used to be able to buy clothes without having
to try them on and know how they would fit. Now I have to grab two or
three items of the same style in different sizes and waste them trying
them on and off.)

Bigger bags also means heavier at tare weight, i.e. when the handbags
are empty. There’s more metal hardware and bigger straps, adding yet
more weight Another problem is that most of them are styled to be
suspended from the shoulder hanging under the armpit, or from the
crook of the elbow, which leads to imbalanced/strained posture. For
me personally, this trend has been a dilemma, as backpacks style bags
are no longer ‘in’ and not really available. I prefer backpacks to
balance the burden on my back/next/shoulders. Also it’s annoying when
I go out to eat, bigger bags take more space to park at the table or
hang it from the chair. I’m stuck putting my bag on the floor (yuck)
or slipping in on my seat between my back and the seatback, which is
also uncomfortable. Otherwise we have to take up an extra chair just
for the bag to sit somewhere.

Yet I’ve succumbed to the trend. I like looking at different styles of
bags in magazines and high-end stores: it’s like eye candy. They have
interesting decorative details, and they function as a sculptural or
architectural accessory hanging on your arm or shoulder. Seeing them,
instead of using them myself: I don’t have to worry about whether the
functional details, like whether it’s zip or drawstring or magnet
snap, or whether the internal pockets are arranged in a way that’s
convenient for me. I can just think “oh that’s witty” or “oh that’s
cheesy”. Kind of fun in a one-person gossip-to-myself way.

It’s also entertaining to see how the brands make selective use of
their logos. After all, for most women, having a designer bag is to
draw attention to one’s self by the instantly identifiable “Coach” or
“a Louis Vuitton”, signaling the aspirational “I can afford it”; the
exclusivity and cachet of the brand hopefully rubbing off on the
possessor, or so she hopes. [I used to despise Louis Vuitton for the
ubiquitously show-off quality of their Monogram line (it’s not even
leather, just treated canvas! If I’m going to pay that much for
something, I want a four legged creature to have died for it!), but
when they came out with their Epi line, of striated textural leather
in bright colors and pleasing geometric/sculptural shapes, I redeemed
my opinion of them!]

Brands know this and take it one step further: they make even more
‘exclusive’ bags at even higher price points where the logos are
eliminated or so subtle so that you’d have to a serious bag
cognoscenti to spot the really high end bag from certain brands simply
based on the shape or style details, because there’s no recognizable
logo plastered all over it. A simple example of this is Coach making a
given style of purse in leather or fabric. With fabric it’s cheaper,
and also easier to weave logos throughout. It screams ‘Coach’ from
twenty paces away. The leather version is more expensive, but since
it’s only got a one or two small ‘Coach’ logos on it, it’s harder to
spot it as a Coach bag unless you recognize it or squint hard. . .

For those who don’t/can’t want to pay for the ‘real thing’, there’s a
multi-billion dollar industry of fakes. While I don’t condone
counterfeiting, I’m not entirely sympathetic to the brand companies,
who have inflated the prices of their goods outrageously out of
proportion to the cost of production, to artificially enhance the aura
of their products, without really providing any commensurate quality
to the consumer.

(A thousand bucks for a bag! And still it will get scratched, or the
dinged, or fall apart. The profit margins are outrageous. If Moore’s
Law can hold in Silicon Valley, where chips are made increasingly
cheaper, yet better, it stands to reason that the bag brands can make
bags cheaper as demand increases by pure economies of scale!)

Target has been very clever in getting high-end designers to design
clothes, and now handbags, so that people buy an affordable version of
a handbag that is ‘ authentically’ the look from a designer, but made
with cheaper materials, say vinyl instead of leather. (As opposed to
buying an illegal knockoff.)

I guess a lot of luxury brand have high operating costs in marketing
their brand and keeping it on the radar screens of consumers: there
are so many brands out there, if you don’t advertise and keep up the
name recognition of your brand, people won’t buy yours. (Remember the
90’s, when Donna Karan was a hot brand, and Burberry was a fuddy,
duddy brand? Marketing has switched things around) People will buy
the brands that keep getting shoved under their noses through
straightforward advertising as well as implicit celebrity endorsements
“Paris Hilton is carrying a such-and-such bag” as seen in gossip
magazines. The ironic thing is that there these celebrities, who are
more likely to be able to afford the retail prices of these bags than
the average Jane, or often given or loaned these bags.

I used to never carry a purse, now I do so more frequently. But most
are cheap, and I buy them more with an eye toward functionality and
intrinsic design or color. My one splurge was a Kooba (high end, but
not really marquee recognition) at 65% off on the Saks end-of-season
clearance table; the price was a good deal, and the leather was so
buttery soft. I bought it anyway, even if it was a challenging peachy
beige, and buried deep inside was the tag that said ‘Made in China.’ I
‘wore’ it to my cousin Nat’s graduation. His younger sister Nit was
quite happy to carry my ‘trendy-looking’ bag for me whenever I had to
do camera duty. Truth be told of course, the bag went better with her
outfit and her dewy bloom of youth!

Now with the recession (it’s ‘official’ now), I wonder what will happen to this phenomenon of ‘it’ bags.


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