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…

My lovely Cath Kidston bagThis 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 Bag phonebags 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? 


  1. mine probably contains all or some of the above,along with gloves, warm hat, etc. to allow for the vagaries of Irish weather…and who can tell at a glance if a bag is real or fake – happy to say none of my friends or acquaintances can, That reminds me, I must dig out my ‘designer’ bag bought in the Souk in Dubai!!

  2. Wonderful article and I completely agree. I have had my eye on a mulberry handbag for over a year. On my birthday after saving for ages and some generous birthday presents I went into the shop to buy one and thought, sod this, I could buy a holiday instead of this and went to accessorize and bought a fabulous giant leather one for under a tenth of the price!

    • Hi Julia – thanks for visiting H&H! Really like your Rome blog. You must be surrounded by posh handbags out there in Italy… Yes – several of my favourite large, pretty and practical bags have been Accessorize ones!

  3. Aw, that reminded me of the Sex And The City episode featuring that hideous red ‘Birkin’ bag… I’d ever heard of that brand before in my life. Or any bag brand, for that matter. OK, it’s hard to escape those fugly Gucci things with the logo tattooed all over them. Hell, I don’t even get shoes! Except for Clarks. Comfy! I’m totally and utterly doomed… sigh.

    • I’m a Clarks girl myself! And Ecco – because they’re just SO comfy… We must be proud of our practical, down-to-earth nature 😀

      • Oh yes, Ecco! Got some cracking Ecco walking boots, and I so regret not getting a pair of sandals when I saw them in that fancy retail village near Swindon, lol.
        Proud we are 🙂

      • My Ecco sandals have been worn at least twice a week for the last ten months and they are still going strong – I LOVE them!

      • You are NOT helping me get over this….!

      • 😀 Still, next time you’re passing Swindon Retail Village…

  4. pollyheath

    I’m in the same boat as you — I shudder to think what I’d do to a really nice bag.

    Also I just read “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” and the author said that handbags were the products with the most marked up prices. Not hard to believe!

    • I agree – if you can buy a lovely leather bag for 60 quid, how can you justify a price of 600 quid for a similar bag with a designer label? – the materials can’t be that different can they?? Mind you, I suppose if it’s made of dragon leather and hand stitched by an ancient Florentine artisan…

  5. Melissa Fitzgerald

    Oooohhhh, I know how you feel about the handbags. Remember when we went to Gatsby and we were standing in the foyer and I gasped at Mrs B’s handbag(name protected due to being a parent of one of our students) seriously that huge orange handbag cost about four months wages!!!!! And it was huge! It must have weighed a tonne. Even with nothing in it. However my JC wedges are a work of art and they currently adorn my bookcase and glimmer and glitter at me everyday. And you chose them Lucy, you did. If ever in my life I can afford a matching handbag you have to come with me.

    • They are beautiful shoes and worth every penny (5 AED note?). Seriously – four months wages for a handbag?? She can’t be in her right mind… I’d rather spend it on a great holiday!

  6. I like those bags which are also back packs to keep my hands free and my back pain-free. I would look a right prat with a posh bag because the rest of me does not look the part, and really, there’s more to life than dressing up for one’s bag.

    I don’t have as much as mine as you do, HH. Mainly because it’s not big enough, but also to spare my back. If I need extra stuff, I take a trendy Hessian National Trust bag my mum gave me for Christmas (she buys all that sort of bag for me, go mum!).

    I have missed out on the fashion victim gene thank goodness, and don’t give a shit if I’m not on trend. I just like clothes and shoes to fit and be comfy and look clean. I heard that Jimmy Choos are not comfy at all, or is that Louboutins…

    • Totally agree about comfiness and the joy of hessian National Trust bags. Yes – you’re right – you have to have to whole look / lifestyle to go with the bag I suppose, so you’d need to be silly rich to have the cash and leisure time to maintain such a persona…

  7. I just bought a new (cheapo) handbag and am having great fun getting to know all the new little zips and pockets that will soon be filled with useless rubbish! It’s receipt/old plaster/random tic tac free at the moment but this won’t last long!

  8. Love this, thanks for the monster chuckle 😀 As a self-confessed Tomboy, I am not a handbag fanatic. THe closest I get is my Mary Poppins carpet bag number, which is big enough to transport a baby elephant and is stuffed full of paper tissues, till receipts, mints, keys, papers, overflowing purse and all sorts of other sundries. If you’re brave enough to stick you head into its depths, you can discover mine on my blog (“Handbag Horrors”).

    • I’m evolving a theory about only trusting women with substantial handbags… Looking forward to delving into your archive to find that little treat! x

  9. My sister is the one in our family who carries a giant (non-designer) purse with everything but the kitchen sink – we call it “the answer bag” – really comes in handy especially when traveling b/c there’s never a problem she can’t solve with something from that bag. I can’t stand the designer handbags that have over-the-top branding, but I can appreciate spending a lot on one that is classic that you love b/c it’s something you use every day and it can last forever. ps- I LOVE yellow shoes!

    • Fair point about the classic designer bag if you genuinely love it – and can afford it! Yellow shoes are the way forward. I have some orange sandals which are also the way forward – they go with nearly everything!

  10. Rick

    Unfortunately I don’t think it would be quite right for me to own or use a handbag. However, I do have a fancy leather shoulder bag……the sort that all trendy seventy year olds are wearing these days. As its relatively new I haven’t quite got used to owning or using such a thing and because of that I sometimes forget to pick it up after a meal out or such like. The net result of this is that I am not permitted to carry anything in it of any value at all. I suppose girls and ladies get habituated to carrying a handbag or shoulder bag and so never forget them but its all very new for us men to carry shoulder bags you know. I’ll try to remember it more, then I’ll be permitted to put something in it and then I can tell you what is in the depths of my bag too. I’m looking forward to that.

    • You are indeed a trendy seventy year old 🙂 You have been in training with that bag for a little while I think… Was that the one you left in a lighthouse somewhere near Broadstairs? I am very much looking forward to finding out what you put in your bag when you are allowed to put things in it 😀

  11. Fabrice

    This was an amazing read, thank you.
    There’s only one thing worse I see in malls in Dubai and that’s men with designer bags.
    I wonder if they come with make up compartment too.

    • From the look of some of the chaps out here, I’d say definitely. And an electric razor compartment for precision stubble trimming! Thanks for reading, Fabrice 🙂

  12. My husband has a theory that when my handbag becomes full to bursting point and needs a fork lift truck to move it I buy another one and start again.
    I fear there is something in his theory…

    Visitors bought me a super Italian leather yellow shoulder bag which…as noted above…goes with everything and may encourage me to empty it rather than replacing it.
    Not designer, of course…I could not be bothered to spend hours slapping make up on my face with a trowel only to be removing it with a chipping hammer in the evening, which process appears to be essential if owned by a designer item.

    • 😀 Yes – the problem with owning something glossy and fashionable is that the rest of you has to match – and I can’t be doing with that either! I love the sound of your yellow shoulder bag – maybe you could decant the sediment into an older bag every few months to keep the yellow one in service…

  13. I love giant handbags, designer or otherwise. Like you, I am prepared for many eventualities. My purse alone is bigger than most evening’s bags!

    • 🙂 I am told my purse resembles George Costanza’s wallet in Seinfeld… (worth Google Imaging this if you’re not familiar with the episode) The wallet reaches critical mass and eventually explodes in the street… It’s only a matter of time!

  14. Bags, shoes, lipstick there are a multitude of things women are supposed to appreciate and I just don’t. I don’t think I would even if I was super rich because I’d spend it all on travel.

    • Hear hear! Travel and books and bloody good food 🙂 Welcome to H&H!!

      • Totally agree with you two! Maybe add a good massage to that list.

  15. What a great read, and I’m with you guys when it comes to handbags. I left home for an 8 month trip to UK & Europe a couple of months ago with my backpack and a bright orange oversize handbag!! Needless to say there’s something for just about every situation in there, lol.
    On another note H&H, I received a couple of nominations for blog awards recently and one of the rules is to pass it on to other bloggers we find inspiting, so……. you’re on my list! If you’d like to play along that would be lovely, if not, that’s quite okay too. I do enjoy reading your posts and look forward to seeing one pop up to give me a chuckle or make me think! Cheers.

    • Hi Midlife Traveller! Always lovely when you pop in and thank you so much for putting me on your inspiring blog list! It’s so nice to be nominated for awards, but I’d rather just have your company here on H&H every now and then! LOVE the sound of your huge, bright orange handbag 🙂

      • No worries at all about the award thing. I’m usually here lurking around, just don’t comment much – probably a good thing, when I do it tends to be a long one!

      • They’re the best comments. I’ve never been one for concision 🙂

  16. Hi! I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! Click on the link below to read my post about it and learn the rules you are asked to follow on being nominated. Nothing is obligatory of course!

    • Hi Liz – thanks so much! What an honour to be mentioned! It’s a great way to discover lovely new blogs too – as an ex-luvvy myself, I’m really looking forward to having a mooch around After the Final Curtain 🙂

      • You’re very welcome! 🙂

  17. Italy is the land of posh handbags. Mrs Sensible loves shoes and bags, I trip over them every day. She doesn’t do the high spindly heels, but she does love shoes and bags.

    By the way, you didn’t mention man bags.. Every Italian man has a man bag, even some English immigrants have a man bag (although they leave them in Italy when they visit the UK) DO you have man bags in the sandpit?

    • Yes – I suppose a lot of the men here do, but not the locals – they just float around looking cool and handsome and smelling of wonderfully expensive aftershave… I think man bags can be good – not very blokey, perhaps, but certainly much better than the old square buttock effect of a wallet in a back pocket. Do you have a posh Italian man bag?

      • I bought one 2 years ago, I was trying to be very Italian. I just looked like an crazy Englishman with a handbag 🙂

        Normally I just throw my car keys, phone etc into Mrs Sensible’s bag.

      • Yes – this is the masculine way. I am frequently further weighed down by Mr Heatstruck’s various iProducts…

      • Its a hard life being a wife, or so Mrs Sensible tells me

  18. Wonderful post – so glad to know I’m not alone in the I-just-don’t-get-the-handbag-thing (or shoe) department! Thanks for letting us all come out of the closet! p.s. My Eccos were indispensable in the Cypriot climate!

    • 😀 Yes indeed – the shoe closet! Thanks so much for visiting. Loved reading about deciphering Greek…

      • Thanks – and thanks for checking out our blog!

  19. Susan

    Love it! But not as much as I love designer handbags (quite a few purchases from Karama but quite a few real ones thrown in the mix) I have massively impractical ones and fab huge ones which could hold the kitchen sink! (My dog has been in a few too! But only for hiding purposes as taxis will not allow dogs! Lol) I have to say transferring junk from one mulberry to the next is so much nicer than transferring to a lesser bag! I don’t buy bags for fashion and I don’t think I would ever purchase an accordion bag…. My name is Susan and I am addicted to handbags

    • Thank you for your honesty, Susan – well done. And welcome to Handbags Anonymous… 🙂 I’m pretty sure I don’t have a dog in my handbag… although I haven’t cleared it out for a while, so you never know…

  20. I love The Importance of Being Earnest!
    I’m with you on the designer handbags – I can think of lots of other things I’d rather spend the money on! In my handbag you will find keys, handcream, tissues, old receipts, lip salve, Wet Wipes, headache tables, band aid, money, credit cards, notepad, 2 pens, two pairs of glasses, sunglasses, phone, umbrella, 2 folding re-usable shopping bags (fold up really small), chewing gum, hairbrush. There are probably some other ‘useful’ things, but they are hiding! 🙂

    • Oh yes – I forgot about the paracetamol… And sometimes (when I remember to be green) I take a reusable shopping bag too! My husband doesn’t seem to understand just how ‘useful’ all these things are…

  21. I completely agree with you! I am a tad ashamed to admit this, but I have a Paul’s Boutique bag that is utterly gaudy and colorful, and I just love it! Most designer handbags DO seem so plain… I don’t understand it. if you’re going to pay that much for an accessory, wouldn’t you want to call attention to it?

    Rich people – i don’t understand them! Probably why I’ll never be one 😉

    • 🙂 I definitely don’t think like a rich person either… Maybe that’s the secret though – maybe if I start thinking like a rich person and spending money on this sort of thing… Hang on. Nope, that would just leave me stony broke…

  22. Hi! I wanted to let you know I have given you the Versatile Blogger Award. The rules are in the post and you can see it here: http://fromcasinostocastles.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/versatile-vegas-frau-part-zwei/
    Congratulations! 🙂

    • Thank you!! So lovely to be nominated 🙂 Really enjoyed looking through your blog today.

      • You’re welcome! I look forward to reading your 7 things and thanks for checking out my ramblings! 🙂

  23. I also never understood the expensive handbag thing. Then again, I don’t think I ever hung out with the right crowd for that sort of thing either. To me, that was the type of stuff celebrities worried about, along with shoes. Although, I understand shoes just a little better. Since fancy shoes are always impractical whether they are cheap or not, so I can fathom why someone would want various designs, some that happen to be brand name. I guess there’s also a sort of prestige to getting brand name? I don’t know about fancy bags, but I like brand name stuff if it means a quality (sturdy, detailed, functional) product.

    Purses though, not my thing. I only take one so that I can carry stuff with me when I’m going out. Even then though, if I can manage with just my pants pockets, I go without altogether so I don’t have to carry anything.

    • Hi Lehst, Ah the humble pocket! I’ve recently acquired a pair of work trousers with lovely deep pockets and am thoroughly enjoying keeping things in them and jingling a few coins around. Yesterday I pulled out a large bank note I’d forgotten I’d put in there – what a lovely surprise 😀

  24. Tom

    Wow! You must have hit a nerve with this post! Look at al the comments…

    Although I’m a guy, I have gone through — oh, I dunno — six bags in the past three years, searching for the perfect bag to carry while traveling. While I’m not distracted by designer bags (I’m a guy, remember), I’ve tried “man bags,” messenger bags, and who-knows-what-else. I’ve finally settled on a backpack with LOTS of pockets, but I find that I have to guard it religiously in places like Barcelona where it’s oh-so obvious to would-be bag snatchers. Although I loop its shoulder straps over a leg while I’m seated at an al fresco restaurant, it does the job, and cost less than $35 USD, which seems to fill the need at a justifiable price..

    I do admit, however, that I continue to look in shop windows at bags for men. Must be my feminine side…

    • I think you’re just searching for the perfect man bag – the right blend of masculine style and practicality. I do love lots of pockets! I wish you luck on your quest! 🙂

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