Sep 23, 2013

The psychology of carrying a designer bag

By: Grace O'Connell

Norbert Mayer Author: Elle Canada Credits: Norbert Mayer

Sep 23, 2013

The psychology of carrying a designer bag

By: Grace O'Connell
The iconic leather 2.55 Chanel handbag.

1. The psychology of designer bags
I’m in a store that scares me. It’s shiny and white, and the clerks are beautiful. I would never go in this store normally. But today I breeze in as if I’m walking into a roadside coffee shop—without hesitation. I ask one of the intimidating clerks to open a change room so I can try on a floor-length fiery-red gown that costs more than my rent—for several months. I try on the dress. I joke with the clerk, who brings me comfortable heels to try on with the dress. (Comfortable heels! I didn’t even know they made those.) What has changed? Today I am carrying a top-tier handcrafted designer bag. With it on my shoulder, I feel like I’ve been given the password to the speakeasy. A few of the other clerks weren’t quite able to hide their rubbernecking as I turned, displaying my gorgeous purse like a peacock shaking its tail feathers.


I have been loaned two of the most coveted handbags around: an iconic Chanel 2.55 and a Mulberry Bayswater. Both are marvels of design and construction. I stroke them at first, a little hesitantly, like they are adopted kittens that just happen to be worth more than an armload of MacBook Pros.

The first day out, I fiddle with the 2.55 on my shoulder. I clutch it to my chest on the subway. (The subway! I agonize. What was I thinking? What if it gets covered in gum—or worse?) I glance around nervously so often that it looks like I’m on the run from the law. Effortlessly chic I am not. But as the day goes on, I start to relax. I start to think it’s my bag. It’s amazing how easy it is to adapt to something so luxurious. And somewhere along the line, I am transformed into someone who would have this bag, would carry it lovingly, certainly, but also blithely, lightly.


“Oh, yeah,” I say carelessly to a friend at lunch, whose jaw has dropped at the sight of the Bayswater. “Isn’t it great?” And suddenly I decide that I will have that glass of Pinot Grigio my friend is pressing on me. After all, I’ve got a patio, great company and a beautiful bag. And that’s it, really: These bags aren’t just vessels; they are scenes waiting to happen, the beginnings of stories. They’re Breakfast at Tiffany’s and An Affair to Remember.

As the week goes on, and I take the bags out, I am waiting for something to happen. My shoulder is all dressed up and wants somewhere to go. And things do happen. Strangers stop to compliment the bags. Envious young fashion students gasp as I walk by. I attend a fashion party and actually talk to people rather than hiding, writer-like, at the bar or in a corner. One guest even sports one of the bags herself—but she owns it for real. “I’ll have it for my entire life,” she says, and even on a dark rooftop, it’s obvious: The bag makes her happy, genuinely happy.

How to buy an investment bag on the next page... my-bag-chanel-story-002.jpgAnd I also make things happen, like with the red gown that I never would have had the guts to try on before. The purses, it turns out, are more than purses—they’re passports. Lots of places I go, no one notices the bags. Shopping for vegetables at the market? The greengrocers are oblivious, but I know—it’s like sporting sexy underwear. I feel different, even in places where no one else cares. All week, I pick my clothes more carefully. I’m excited to go out. Is it madness that a configuration of leather, metal and thread is having such an effect? Like with any piece of art, the value it holds is the value with which we ourselves imbue it. So why do I feel different?

GALLERY: 12 DESIGNER BAGS to invest in

I don’t think it’s because there are stores or parties that don’t want people whose shoulders don’t sport these rare beauties; I think it’s because when you have something like this, the headiest echelons are suddenly less intimidating. It’s like talking to that handsome guy in line at the supermarket or singing karaoke in front of a crowd. Once you try it, it’s not so scary. The bag is an inanimate version of the friend who shoves you forward. Sure, the red dress, the Clooney clone, the Journey song were always there. But by finding something that made me feel fabulous—and it could be a bag, a haircut or just the right mindset—I was able to skip the line of anxiety and go straight to having a good time. And that’s something I’ll hold onto even after my wallet and keys are stored back in my usual purse.


2. Fashion school: How to invest in a designer bag
Story by Alannah O'Neill

Your five-step guide to finding the perfect purchase.

The price
Figure out whether you’re looking for an entry-level piece, like a Marc by Marc Jacobs hobo (from $428), or something more aspirational, like an Hermès Birkin (from $8,000).

The role
Is your bag meant for special occasions or will it be a working part of your wardrobe? If you’re looking for a party accessory, make sure it’s big enough for the essentials without being too bulky. If you want an everyday bag, consider the practicalities: Is it big enough to store both your iPad and your Tory Burch flats?

The basics
Neutral shades like black or nude are always a safer bet than bright colours. (You’ll also have better luck selling it in a consignment shop later, should you choose to.) Look at size and silhouette. Is it comfortable? Are the pockets convenient?

The details
Examine the durability of the hardware and the materials. Calfskin is one of the toughest leathers on the market—and will likely be able to withstand the wear and tear of daily life better than exotic skins, like ostrich or crocodile.

The lineage
A classic piece from a high-fashion house is always a safe investment, since the workmanship is top-notch and the styles will never look dated. We love the Louis Vuitton Speedy (from $820) and the Chanel 2.55—which even has a pocket meant for love notes.

Read more:
Fall fashion trends: Quilted leather
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Investment shoes: 11 shoes every woman should own
10 trench coats you can wear forever

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The psychology of carrying a designer bag