Brace yourselves. This is going to be a highly controversial post in which I risk alienating myself from my more fashionable readers (that’s you. No, really…). Here it is: I don’t really get designer handbags.
The marvellous Caitlin Moran wrote about designer handbags in her book How to be a Woman. Like me, she couldn’t really see the appeal and, even when she set out on a special shopping mission to find one to buy for herself as a treat, she just didn’t find anything as nice (or indeed as fun) as your average offering in Topshop. The problem of being expected to like and appreciate designer handbags is, I think, worse in Dubai than anywhere else in the world (Probably. Except maybe Manhattan. Or Knightsbridge. Or Chelmsford). The malls are crammed with thin, glamorous women teetering about in their designer heels with several thousand pounds worth of leather dangling off their shoulders. And I just don’t get it. It’s not even as if many of them are that pretty (the bags, I mean, not the women of course – who are groomed to within an inch of their lives) – most of them have got weird spikes or annoying dangly bits, or brash, gold branding all over them (again, I’m talking about the bags here, obviously). Or they are so plain and understated you might as well have bought one in M&S in the first place for all the attention it’ll get you. Perhaps what I really dislike is the unspoken, vicious competition they suggest is going on around us all the time – the ruthless one-up-woman-ship; the exclusive coded club of mine’s-better-than-yours showy-offy-ness that, some might say, undermines both genuine individuality and female solidarity at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong, if you can easily afford such things, knock yourself out (who knows, maybe I’m just a little bit jealous, and perhaps everyone buying expensive handbags will give the Italian economy a boost…). I just feel it’s important to buy and wear things we genuinely like, rather than things retailers or advertisers tell us we should like, or things that we think will supposedly impress other people. It’s this disingenuous, brainwashing nature of high fashion propaganda that irritates me – all young girls must feel free to say “NO! I know that bag is fabulously expensive and that Cara Delevingne (or whoever) has got one, but, dammit, I think it’s ugly! And it hasn’t got enough POCKETS.”
In this respect, posh handbags remind me a bit of expensive, Sex-and-the-City-style high heels. They are an icon of glamour. We are supposed to like them… Now, if the more expensive high heeled shoes were dramatically more comfortable than cheaper ones (as confirmed by a pal of mine the other day when she treated herself to some beautiful Jimmy Choo wedges), that would actually justify the price tag a bit, but that can’t possibly apply to handbags, can it?…”This Chanel bag just sits much better on the shoulder…”; “The new Givenchy Lucrezia really is better at carrying several things at once than cheaper bags…”
I’m going to contradict myself a bit here. Last Christmas, my husband bought me a gorgeous little Kate Spade evening bag – and I love it dearly. It is the first posh handbag I have ever owned and it is perfect for the occasional night out. It does not have any silly spikey or dangly bits and it is a bright, sunshiney yellow colour, which is cheerful and (surprisingly) goes well with just about any other bright colours I happen to be wearing (I recall Caitlin Moran having a similar revelation about yellow shoes. Guard these fashion secrets with your lives, dear readers – they don’t exactly tend to come thick and fast on this website…). But it is not really practical or capacious enough for my daily use. Let’s face it, few bags are…
This is the main reason I can’t be doing with silk-lined designer handbags: I need a handbag to be like a good haggis – substantial and robustly stitched. Like a true Englishwoman abroad (or indeed, a particularly enthusiastic boy scout) – I am always prepared. ALWAYS. For just about ANYTHING (except perhaps an alien invasion. Or an event that required people to be carrying very small handbags…). I take after my mother in this respect. If you ever need anything – you know, the sorts of things people need when they’re out and about – tissues, plasters, a pen, a hardback copy of The Ornithologist’s Guide to Common UK Migrants etc. – just ask my mother. You will not be disappointed.
So, this weekend I decided to do a handbag audit… I have categorized the items within for ease of reference. Are you ready?
Keys (I put these first but, in real terms, they should come last, as they tend to hide in the miscellaneous rubble at the bottom of my bag for at least seven minutes whilst I rummage helplessly outside the front door); phone; travel cards and security cards; tissues; Tic Tacs; an unfeasibly heavy purse (I always carry both UAE and UK currency – largely in the form of loose change, for some reason); more tissues; a plaster; some makeup; a travel-pack of baby wipes; anti-bacterial hand gel; a biro.
Vital in a hot country:
Sunglasses; SPF 15 lip salve; a bottle of water; a fan; Evian water spray; a mini bottle of SPF 30 sun cream; a cotton sunhat.
Miscellaneous rubble (also vital):
Nineteen random receipts from the last two or three years; some old electricity bills; body spray; a memory stick (Lord knows what’s on it); some paper clips; an old pack of chewing gum; two four-colour pens; a propelling pencil; some post-it notes; a small tupperware box of Earl Grey teabags; a mini map of Dubai; two old shopping lists; an unfinished crossword torn out of The Lady magazine; a sandy pair of swimming goggles; a pair of sports socks (washed, but slightly sandy); some shells from the beach (sandy, unsurprisingly); three random business cards… And a packet of oaty biscuits (pummelled into a packet of oaty crumbs from the pestle-and-mortar effect of my unfeasibly heavy purse banging about in the bottom of the bag).
If I’m travelling anywhere on public transport I will also have a book, and, often, a banana, for hunger emergencies. Sometimes I forget about the banana for a few days and only remember it’s in there when my money and tissues start to smell of overly ripe, squashed banana. My husband sometimes refers to my handbag as The Fruit Necropolis – where pieces of fruit go to die: “I think you left The Fruit Necropolis on the sofa.” Or, “Have you put my keys in The Fruit Necropolis again?”
The only expensive designer bags I have ever fallen in love with in a posh shop here in Dubai are made by the Italian company Braccialini. The bags are totally gorgeous and utterly bonkers – just have a look at their page… There are handbags that look like ducks and owls and elephants and cottages and violins and accordions and telephones and clocks and mushrooms and washing machines and snails and rocking horses (I say, here’s fun – why not play a game and try to find all those bags on their page right now?!). They are truly amazing bits of leathery craftsmanship. But even with these works of art, I’d struggle to justify actually buying one. With what would I wear it? (dear Liza, dear Liza…) And wouldn’t a large, beautifully crafted, colourful leather accordion hanging off my shoulder rather upstage the rest of me?
Nope, I think I’m destined to a life of practical and affordable baggage. I shall fashion myself into an icon of scruffy pragmatism. My handbag is always going to be less of a Louis Vuitton and more of a cross between the TARDIS and Mary Poppins’ magical carpet bag… Come to think of it, I wonder how many squashed bananas Mary Poppins must have had at the bottom of her bag? Thousands, I imagine. I bet she takes even longer to find her keys than I do…
MISS PRISM: Lady Bracknell, I admit with shame that I do not know. I only wish I did. The plain facts of the case are these. On the morning of the day you mention, a day that is for ever branded on my memory, I prepared as usual to take the baby out in its perambulator. I had also with me a somewhat old, but capacious handbag, in which I had intended to place the manuscript of a work of fiction that I had written during my few unoccupied hours. In a moment of mental abstraction, for which I never can forgive myself, I deposited the manuscript in the basinette, and placed the baby in the handbag…
The perils of a capacious handbag, as depicted by Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895
Do tell… What does your miscellaneous handbag rubble include?