THE HANDBAG COMMODITY
I wanted to talk about one of my favourite topics... handbags! There is a story behind where my love and appreciation came from, and how bags have played a significant role in my career and are a huge part of defining how I dress.
It was a rainy day in the school holidays back in 1988 and to get us out of the house my mum sent my sisters and I to see a movie. We bought tickets, but had no real idea what 'Working Girl' was all about. To this day I will never forget what that movie did to me.
"Savvy New York City receptionist Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) gives her conniving boss, Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), an excellent business tip, but Katharine simply steals the idea without giving due credit to her secretary." One of my favourite quotes from the movie is when Katherine advises Tess
I watched in awe and from that moment dreamt about being a corporate woman, wearing a power suit, living in New York strutting up 5th Ave to my high rise office. The movie showed the world that a woman could be just as successful and smart as any man in business. Today that seems like a given, but in 1988 it seems like it was still pretty revolutionary. But interestingly, maybe in my imagination, "Tess" always carried a handbag that defined her place in society. When she was a low income earning, unnoticeable secretary - she had a huge worn out, unstylish vinyl bag, filled with essentially her life in it. Then when she was pretending to be the 'successful' corporate women, she carried elegantly a classic Chanel 5.0 with nothing but a credit card and a red lipstick inside. When Tess's world came undone, she pulled out the vinyl bag, almost like it was a comforting reminder of where she had come from. (If you haven't seen this movie it's a classic so please watch it!)
I remember telling my parents from that day, my dream was to be a corporate women and "carry a handbag". I obviously had no clue how expensive these big handbags would turn out to be!
My first handbag was from the reign of Tom Ford, rock star designer for Gucci. THE must have Bamboo Handle Tote, which had sold-out globally because Madonna was seen with one, was given to me as a present from my mum for my 21st birthday. Prior to that I think I carried canvas wallet with a velcro opening from a surf brand, so this was an epic gift for me. I still recall that moment I hooked it over my shoulder and looked in the mirror - it sounds so silly I know, but it instantly made me so happy. However now the bench mark was set - I really couldn't go back now.....and there began my addiction to handbags...thanks mum! There were moments, I did feel like Tess McGill and knew I could achieve anything I wanted as long as I wore this bag on my shoulder. I was in my 3rd year of fashion collage and I had a dream and the Gucci was coming for the ride.
Why am I telling you this long story about why I am addicted to the handbag? Well because the humble handbag has been a big part of my career and the perception of me ever since.
One of my first jobs in the fashion industry right out of collage, I borrowed one of mums Chanel Classic Jumbo, to wear in the interview. I vividly remember the guy who was interviewing me made a comment on my bag straight away, and talked more about the bags heritage and rareness than the 'work' experience I had. I got the job.
I also remember a few years later, a CEO who would not give me the time of day in the office saw me walking along the street after hours with the brand new limited edition Louis Vuitton monogram bag on my shoulder (clearly I was living at home and spent all my money on these things). The next day he opened the lines of communication and started to take me seriously. Once I was able to connect with him verbally, I was able to make an impact on him with my experience and knowledge and change the way he previously viewed me. I just needed an opportunity. I worked for him for over five years and became a senior member of his team. I also reminded him constantly that "what if" he hadn’t seen me with the LV!
It sounds sooooo superficial but honestly people noticed me in a different way and made an assumption about me before they even asked my name. I looked successful and that I knew what I was doing because of how I presented myself. So rather than having an issue with it, I embraced it. I realised perception was important especially when starting out in your career AND when you worked in an industry that you are required to "look" the part 24/7, it's difficult to stand out if you didn't play the game. I knew I had the skills and experience - but had to cut thru the crowd to be seen. I spent money on buying the right things - classics with core items. Was always groomed, added fashion flavour with product from high street stores and saved up for designer pieces....mainly designer handbags. Even on a low wage I could look good with planning. Looking back I do question was it really how I looked that helped me with my career path? Sadly...I think it did.
Cut to 20 years later and things are a whole lot worse! Back then we didn't have social media. We were lucky to have a mobile phone, and it only made phone calls (I am not that old promise...it was only a few years ago!). So now this pressure and perception is intense as everything we wear or do, is live for the world to see. Our visual private life is now part of our work life. It is a very competitive landscape just to keep up! And the costs of designer labels are significantly higher than when I was trying to impress my peers and bosses. We are expected to be at everything, living an amazing life, whist holidaying in exotic locations and having very instagramable experiences!
So when I get countless messages and emails from young girls wanting to 'be like me' or women asking what designer handbag they should be buying, I really have had to think about how I should respond.
These questions remind me of when one of my assistants a few years ago, came to me after eight months of working very efficiently by my side, asking when she would be promoted to a manager 'like me'. I recall being very confused and shocked that her expectation was to fast track to manager level, after such a short amount of time. But in her eyes she wanted the same job and salary as I had....just because she wanted it, not because she earnt it. So I explained to her, amongst other things, she had to wait. Time would be her friend.
Whenever I buy a handbag - I save up for it. I decide what I want, find out the price, set the goal and work to buy it. For me buying a handbag isn't like buying a shirt or pair of jeans. It's a special moment and if you cant afford it - don't buy it. So like my old assistant who wanted a promotion straight away - you need to wait. The good thing about handbags is if you buy the right one, they don't really go out of fashion, so time is on your side.
My other advice, although difficult to admit, whether you like it or not, your clothing communicates — and it can have a serious affect on your ability to achieve success. The ultimate reality, what you wear neither defines who you are as a person nor determines your value as a human being. However, us humans, fair or not, judge us by the way we look and that includes the way we dress and what brands we are wearing. Especially in the workplace, clothing significantly influences how others perceive you and how they respond toward you. Researchers in Canada (NRCC) found that your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire or promotion. So how can you communicate with your clothing, all of the above if you have a limited income or budget? You invest in ONE item that has longevity and is perceived as a commodity. THE HANDBAG! In terms of an investment it is a good one - as you can literally wear it every day and no one has an issue with it....but they do notice it! On the other hand - wear the same blue printed dress every day and this will look weird.
Here are a few things to remember when buying a designer handbag. Mainly as they can be expensive and you need to consider the process.
1. Stop buying lots of cheaper handbags. If you were to add up how much all of them cost, it would equal the same as one really great designer bag.
2. If you can't afford it - wait until you can. Save up, make it a goal. It will mean more to you if you do it this way. Don't buy it if you will be in debt.
3. My dressing philosophy is wearing high end with high street. You can get a lot more out of your wardrobe this way. Style your designer bag back with cheaper clothing options. Your bag will become your core piece so when you choose it, make sure it can go with everything. Prints or plains, for casual or work, office to bar.
4. Try before you buy. So many of my clients are too scared to walk into a designer store. You have every right to walk in and ask to try a bag on. You have to see if it suits you before you begin the dreaming process. If you look at other people wearing it or in magazines - it may not be the bag for you. You must try it. And if you need to - try it multiple times before you decide.
5. Define the purpose. Do you need it to carry things for your children in it? Is it just for work? Do you need your partner to be able to carry it (this is for baby bags)? Do you want it to be classic or fun?
6. Love vs reality - I have bought handbags that look amazing but are totally impracticalto use.
- Do you need a long strap so it can be worn cross body so you can be hands free.
- Security - does it need a zipper so it can be safely closed (think about this for travelling).
- Is it too small to fit everything you need a bag to carry? Or is it too big for what you need.
- Comfortable or uncomfortable? Does the strap hurt your shoulder, is it too heavy?
- Does the leather or fabric suit your life? Will it be too precious to use?
- Does the colour/size/design really allow me to get lots of wear out of it?
- Does the bag actually suit me or are you buying it to fit in?
7. Do not buy it if you are only going to wear it for special occasions. You MUST wear it all the time, and don't be too precious about it. Enjoy it!
I hope you don't think I am being superficial giving this advise about handbags. This one item has had a positive impact on me. I confidently would be happy to only invest in designer handbags over any other clothing or accessory item. It has taken me many years to realise this. They are not 'just a handbag' - they are a commodity and an universal language at the same time.
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The Hand Bag Guide
From all the bags and brands available, here are some of my favourites.
From affordable, functional, fun, classic to dreamy.