Handbagging it …

It’s in the Bag: What Purses Reveal and Conceal by Winifred Gallagher

I’ve never been terribly concerned about handbags. For everyday use, I like a big bag which carries everything in enough pockets so that I can find things. I’m a big fan of Kipling bags which I buy in their outlet shop at Bicester Shopping Village for half price! I go for the bright, washable and shower-resistant nylon canvas ones rather than their posher leather bags. Practicality is my byword in a bag!

So I found it strange to be attracted to this little hardback when I saw it in the charity shop, but for a quid couldn’t demur. I’ve been dipping into it over the past couple of weeks, and learning all about the ‘It’ bags I’ll never be able to afford (unless I win the Euromillions!).

After a very brief history of the origins of the handbag, we’re into analysing the bag business – the designers, the companies, the store buyers and the owners. Little pen sketches illustrate some of the key purses; what I missed though was a selection of colour plates to show me what these $1000+ bags are really like. However the lack of pictures was more than made up for by all the fascinating facts and bons mots …

The (Grace) Kelly Bag by Hermès

“He (Sigmund Freud) proposed that the purse – in his day, a capacious, satchel-like affair – was a symbol of woman and that placing an object inside it represented sexual intercourse. His association of the handbag and the vagina has colloquial support. The term ‘pussy’ is derived from ‘purse,’ after all…”

The Chanel 2.55 (launched Feb 1955)

“The popularity of luxury bags is also partly a response to a plumper population in general and the huge, aging baby boom generation in particular. Of all fashionable items, accessories, which require no disillusioning trips to the fitting room, are the most forgiving. Regardless of her size, shape, or wrinkle quotient, a woman can wear the most stylish shoes and bag she can afford.”

‘… You can wear jeans and cowboy boots, but as long as you carry a two-thousand-dollar bag, people will place you where you want to be placed.’  Conversely, at least in certain millieus, ‘There’s nothing sadder than last year’s It bag, she says. ‘You get on a waiting list and pay so much for it, then a year later, it’s just an ‘old bag.’ What a derogatory term!’ “(Joanna Coles, the editor of Marie-Claire)

Margaret Thatcher's Asprey handbag which sold at a charity auction for £25,000

Ann Richards, former Governor of Texas, designed her own bag, and has a wonderful anecdote to tell about our monarch. “… at a formal dinner during a visit to Texas, Queen Elizabeth arrived with a lovely evening bag. What’s more, after taking her seat, she reached into her purse and pulled out a little piece of twisted S-shaped gold. Them she hooked one end on the table’s edge and hing her purse from the other. ‘It was charming,’ says the governor. ‘The queen – or someone – has given her bags some thought.’ “

However, during my limited researches into It bags, the best thing of all was reading about the ‘Birkin’ bag, a weekend bag designed for the iconic actress Jane Birkin by Hermès in 1984. Popular with celebs such as Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga and Carla Bruni and available in an array of hues and finishes, they cost upwards of £5k for them today, but Jane still has her original black bags – which are scuffed, covered in stickers, used all the time, and obviously still loved.

This was a sweet little book, quick to read and intermittently interesting, but rather concentrating on the American markets, (6.5/10). There are any number of other books about handbags available, but I would be drawn to 50 Bags that Changed the World, from the Design Museum, and written about in passing by Dovegreyreader here.

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To explore further at Amazon UK, click below:
It’s in the Bag: What Purses Reveal and Conceal by Winifred Gallagher, pub Harper Collins 2006, hardback 128 pages.
Fifty Bags That Changed the World: Design Museum by the Design Museum

2 thoughts on “Handbagging it …

  1. LizF says:

    I have to confess to being a bag lady and endlessly fascinated by books like this although I’m not sure that I really want to know what someone like Winifred Gallagher would make of the contents of my handbag as I have never really got out of the maternal habit of carrying around everything but the kitchen sink!
    The prices of the designer bags are eye watering and I could almost understand why the fashion editor of one of the pricier glossy mags used to insist on having an extra chair at the table if she was out for lunch so that she could put her bag on it because she refused to put it on the floor!

  2. sakura says:

    I come from a family of bag lovers and I’ve been using my mum’s fancy bags (it’s vintage, right?) and have been saving up to buy my own, but I think a Birkin Bag is WAY beyond my reach. Maybe if I win the lottery! For me, the most important thing about a bag is that it needs to be big enough to fit a decent sized paperback as well as all the other essentials I seem to lug around.

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