« Dr. DressMe asks who’s your ‘Style Icon’ ? | Main | We are interested in your love »

Eulogy for the ‘IT BAG’:


Have you ever noticed the hint of panic and irritation that comes over a man when he has to look for something in his wife/girlfriend’s handbag? It is all too much of a mystery- a bit too overwhelming – This form of contemptuous familiarity tends to come with the distance of years - sometimes months-  from ‘the girl they once knew’. Think about it: what woman in her right mind takes a holdall or a rucksack on a first date?


Freud famously wrote ‘What does woman want? – usually the front door keys!


It’s not really that much of a leap from Pandora’s box to a Birkin. This is interesting stuff in terms of psychoanalysis and particularly in terms of gender because bags, like certain other accessories: shoes, hats etc., are signifiers of the ‘mysteries’ (from a masculine point of view) of female sexuality. The myth of Pandora’s box is a popular allegory for the ‘dangers’ of female sexuality desire etc. – obviously it is a tale told from a male perspective.


SO . . . without running the inevitable risk of being too literal about this!. . . a woman with a big bag . . . well . . . she might just be a bit to powerful and dangerous – what in psychoanalytic terms is called phallic. A woman with a nice neat little clutch containing a lipstick a powder puff and enough money for a taxi home is the woman who conforms to your notion of being nice with emphasis on the nice. She is a neat and organised person who is, on the one hand, in control and on the other unthreatening to the opposite sex in a way that a woman with a briefcase containing and even more powerful laptop than theirs might be.


The image of a women as someone in control of herself, as opposed to anyone else, and thus rather unthreatening and also with not too much to hide (as in baggage) is really a pre-feminist model of what a woman is supposed to be, typical perhaps of the 1950’s with its small handbags containing a hanky and a compact and a bit of 'mad money' worn neatly in the crook of the arm.


This fits alongside the corseted and prim fashion revival of the last four or five years, now on the wain thanks to the 80's revival. Apparently ailments of the elbow joint aggravated by the carrying of handbags have gone up tenfold in the last few years. Compared to this image of the stylish bag carrying woman, the woman who lugs around a great tote full of junk or an ugly. unfeminine ruck-sack is either itinerant: not a settler wife and mother, in the sense of hippy dippy freedom from ties and commitments be they sexual, economic, or domestic, or just down right uncontrolled and uncontrollable – ergo male terror when faced with the danger of the cavernous and cluttered handbag.


From a much more straightforward psychological perspective I would say that the junk you weigh yourself down with reflects anxieties about need, possession and coping in the big wide world. Anxieties about separation from home: the unconscious maternal space or more literally your nice semi-detached residence in Fulham. This is obviously also based on fear of being left without something for any and every eventuality as well as laziness about having to decide what you actually do need.


As a final point re. styling: the bigger you are the bigger the bag you can carry off without looking odd. Smaller bags suit small people and, I am afraid, they seem to have related psychological effects on viewers. People all to often assume small women (I mean in the sense both of height and width) are neat feminine and take up less space in the world and big ones are frankly slovenly and/or a bit masculine and threatening and their bags reflect this accessorising malaise. They bash you on escalators. Actually it is likely that the real uberwoman of the future would produce her diamante clutch from inside the giant tote bag or ruck-sack. This would be the ultimate work-to-evening coup de grace, the accessorising equivalent of Superman ripping open his suit in a phone box.


Reader Comments (4)

I left a comment earlier but it vanished... Worth trying again! How fabulous, I love the style of this blog, especially the rather sinister but wittily crafted use of the word "cavernous". What about man-bags? I am a man-bag user (as a man) but I struggle between having a capacious, fathomless bag I can put my man-junk in (you know, electronic devices, keys, more keys, coins native and foreign, receipts, etc.) and having a light, unburdensome funky pouch-style marsupial thing that does everything but doesn't feel as if it's there. Dilemmas, dilemmas. Please, we want to see more of this "fashion-meets-modern urban life-meets-psychoanalysis-but-with-irony" type blogging.

June 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRicard

Ah! yes that contentious object the 'Man Bag'. . . .

From the mini clutches with the wrist strap of the 80's to the Mulberry shoulder bag, the 'man bag' has always been viewed with contempt by hard line sartorialists (most especially British ones) as foreigh in spirit, effete in nature or a combination of both.

The rules are as follows: if you are a professional you can carry a brief case or a structured lap top carrier with a shoulder strap if you are blue collar worker (or gong to the gym) you carry a Nike, Adidas or similar sports bag or ruck sack. There is virtually no room for fashion or luxury branding here .

To have conspicuous 'man junk' and to actually want to draw attention to it by making it look nice is behaviour viewed by men accross the social spectrum as intrinsically girly. However real the aesthetic need and the obvious practicalities of a sexy hold-all for your stuff is, the urge to possess such a bag tends to get repressed.

That is why, as its female incarnation is passing into fashion history, the male 'it bag' has yet to be born into the fashion vernacular even though it has been hanging round as a trendy concept for a while.

So so wear yours with pride Ricard . . . size doesn't matter (yet) you are still a revolutionary and a pioneer, - desublimate your repressed urge to accessorize!

June 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterAnne Hamlyn - DressMe

This is more than sound advice - this is far-reaching, penetrating insight with an avant-garde therapeutic dimension! From a cultural perspective, I am somewhat saddened to hear, from an authoritative voice none other than Dr Hamlyn's, that the man-bag is "viewed with contempt by hard line sartorialists (most especially British ones)". I am not a sartorial Taliban, but I do think style is *vitally* important, as did my all-time hero and guru Quentin Crisp, and a lot of it has to do with individuality and caring nothing for what the prevailing culture dictates. After all - these dictations or dictats are nothing more than expressions of repression and fear. As for myself, dear Anne, my urge to accessorise is not remotely repressed - it is very much "out". I adore accessories - and those things that are essential, such as shoes, or man-bags, or scarves, should aspire to being accesorial.

I'm loving this blog.

June 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRicard

This is a good article,thank you for your share,I like it very much.Our products are superior in quality and moderate in price and are sure to be saleable in your market,by virtue of this superior quality, this product is often sold out in many areas. This new product is really much better than the previous one. You have to try it to believe it.
-Tods fashion shoes

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTods fashion shoes

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>