Bags are to me, what shoes are to the characters of Sex And The City. Never mind, shoes, make-up or even clothes. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a beautiful, comfortable, roomy bag to dump all my stuff. I’m a regular packrat and on a good day, I can pull out water bottle, mirror, hairbrush, hand sanitizer, face towel, book, notepad or pen from my bag, in addition to the mandatory stuff.
Bags have become more and more of a style statement in the past few years. But I find a lot of people I know who are not fashionastas/ are regular people with regular incomes & lifestyles don’t know the ‘with it’ lingo. So here’s a list of popular bag styles:
- Hobo: This is probably the most common handbag design available. It’s a a medium to large sized bag, usually shapeless and with a handle long enough to hang the bag from your shoulder. My only problem with this design is that it puts all the weight and size on one shoulder, which is a problem while travelling in crowded places. But otherwise, it is a versatile design and allows for a lot of storage, along with the safety of having the bag under your arm.
- Tote: This is a design I really don’t like but appears to be gaining a lot of popularity. A tote is just like a hobo but has shorter handles. Hence it can only be hung off the elbow, which means one arm has to be crooked at all times. Also, if you’re used to carrying around a lot of stuff, this can be really painful on the elbow. Some women just hold the handles in their hand. This works only if the bag is really small, else it trails on the floor. And even if it is small, you run the risk of being easy prey for bagsnatchers.
- Backpack: Remember the felt/cotton/plastic bags that we strapped to our shoulders every morning, before school? Backpacks have evolved to a literal state of ‘too cool for school’. The advent of portable laptops and their cases brought these back into style. It’s not uncommon to see a corporate professional tote a sleek backpack now, instead of the more impractical briefcase. Women aren’t sporting as many of these as I’d like to see. Still, women’s backpacks were all the rage around a decade ago. I remember carrying a newsprint patterned mini-backpack to college and I was very proud of it. It would be good to see more patterns, prints and accessories for this wonderful design.
- Clutch: As the name suggests, this is a bag that you clutch in your hand. This is the most impractical bag design of all and screams ‘High Maintenance’ louder than any feminine accessory can. You can’t store much in it, you’ve lost the use of one hand to it and most women look awkward carrying it. Still, if you don’t mind Princess style, this really is the finishing touch to a great evening outfit. I have a selection of these. Some are bright neon coloured ones in plastic and they come with a chain, which I do use when I’m travelling. There is the basic black that’s a must-have for any woman.
- Fanny pack: This is a bag that goes around your waist. For some reason, these have come to be associated with tourists only. Again, like the backpack, I think this is a much-neglected design. There’s no reason on earth that a fanny pack or belt purse should be bulky, unwieldy or ugly. Here are a few glamorous ways in which they can be worn. I’ve been looking for a good piece myself but can’t seem to find one in Mumbai. Maybe the only alternative is to make one (and here’s one of my experiments)
- Slingbag/ Jhola: The word ‘jhola’ may conjure up visions of 70’s bohemia, impoverished artists, straggly bears, cigarettes and intellectual conversations. It is just a bag with a really long handle which makes it hang down below your waist. Slingbags are really comfortable if you’re going to need to keep taking things out or putting them into your bag, which is probably why they’re popular with students. At that level, it’s reasonably safe to keep the bag zipper (if it has one) open, without worrying about things falling out. The only problem with this design is that it is usually single compartment which means things mix up in a jumble inside it. Don’t carry string, long scarves or anything else that could unravel and wind itself around everything else. I like wearing mine across rather than down one shoulder since it keeps the bag from swinging out and bumping into things. Also, the diagonal line that it adds to the visual, is quite unique.
- Pocketbook: This is only slightly different from a clutch, because of its size and shape. Pocketbooks are sort of extended wallets for women, usually rectangular in shape and have multiple compartments & pockets. A pocketbook can store your money, cards, keys and even mobile phone in some designs! Most women carry pocketbooks inside their bigger handbags. But a pocketbook is a little like lingerie for bags. It’s not always appropriate to be seen on its own but if its really pretty, you could take a chance on it.
I think my love affair with bags as a style accessory really began with Esbeda. Imagine a shop that sold only bags (and not the suitcase/aunty handbag or all leather goods variety)! My pick was a dusty pink suede soft handbag with a folding flap and brown leather lining. I loved it to distraction and carried it to work, parties and nights out. It wore out in a year but it took me right into bag land.
I’ve owned many other Esbeda bags over the years and even a pocketbook or two. The designs have gotten glitzier, blingier and pricier. Sadly, the quality seems to have dropped. Where I could run a soft, suede handbag for over a year of rough use, now even a faux-leather pocketbook, which sees minimum use frays or chips off in a matter of months. My pre-winter cleaning sees me discarding the last Esbeda pieces I bought (a pocketbook and a handbag) and it looks like they’ll be the last ones I’ll ever own by this brand.
Rhysetta piqued my interest two years back and I came home with this brilliant lime-green tote. It’s fair to say that it’s been a decent bag, looked great and carried a lot of stuff, including my Netbook. Still, it’s started fraying in that Esbeda-esque way and I’m not at all happy. It’s too expensive to replace every year or so.
The brand I’m really happy about, currently, is Baggit. This red tote/shoulder bag was an impulse buy, given its startling colour. I’ve never had a reason to regret it. Wash after wash, it turns up looking as good as new. I’ve used it across seasons and occasions. It is actually older than the above mentioned Rhysetta but is still going strong.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind while bag shopping:
- Be realistic about the size you need. If you’re someone who likes carrying a lot of stuff, don’t force yourself to fit into a smaller size, just because it’s ‘in’. An overstuffed bag is a bigger faux pas than a non-trendy design.
- Don’t compromise on quality. Look for sturdy materials, good stitching, firm clasps and strong handles. Shoes can be patched up, even a dress tear can be sewn up in an emergency. But a bag breakdown is disastrous since its private contents could suddenly be exposed, their safety may be compromised and result in a lot of stress.
- These are special focus areas to check in a bag:
- The base: Ensure that it’s not just cardboard at the bottom or the slightest hint of humidity and your bag will fold.
- The handles: Check their entire length for stitch runs, tears or weak points. Most importantly test the places where they’re attached to the bag as these are the weakest points.
- The sides of the bag: Often the front and the base of a bag are strong while the sides are just soft leather/cheap material. If you get a cut or tear in these, things could just as easily fall out.
- The zipper: Check it works a couple of times. At point of sale, the zipper should slide smoothly. Zippers do not get ‘tight’ over time so don’t let a salesman palm you off with one such.
If you enjoy looking good and if you take pride in your appearance, ladies, please don’t neglect this vital part of your attire.
* Cross-posted to Divadom.