What Your Handbag Says About You

A friend (fellow lawyer + handbag junkie; apparently there are a lot of us out there; this is good news for Taryn Zhang) sent me this article. See Meredith Stebbins, “Your Handbag, Your Self,” Bloomberg Businessweek, Jan. 20, 2011.

To assess a lady’s character, look no further than the handbag she carries to work. “It is an absolute indicator of who they are and what their style is,” says Rachel Zoe, celebrity stylist and entrepreneur.

Stylists, fashionistas, and designers weighed in on what certain handbags conveyed about its carrier’s personality. Per the article:

Photo Credit: longchamp.com

Longchamp tote = preppie. I see that. (Btw, I really, really like the Longchamp totes.)

Photo Credit: feedprojects.com

Those burlap FEED bags = social activist yuppie.

Photo Credit: louisvuitton.com

LV monogram bags = I’ll quote the article word for word this time: “lady who luxes.” And that is a great euphemism for what I’m thinking in my head. Suffice it to say I am not a big fan of carrying monogram bags to the office.

Actually I would argue that none of the aforementioned bags are appropriate for work, unless it’s Casual Friday and you’re working in the back offices, not front. For work you really want to go for a structured bag with clean, simple lines.

I’d like to dovetail on the Stebbins article by adding the following:

High-end Designer Monogram Bags, you know, the ones from EU nations. I’m referring to brands such as Prada, Gucci, Chanel, or the above-mentioned LV. These are status symbol bags. The girl carrying this bag wants you to know she can afford uber-expensive bags. She will probably tell you something like, “Oh, I appreciate quality craftsmanship,” but really, we all know what she appreciates more is the luxe label and what flashing that luxe label around town does for her reputation. She is probably a little materialistic (or a lot) and high-maintenance. That’s okay, by the way. I’m totally a high-maintenance gal.

Sources: coach.com; colehaan.com

Coach or Cole Haan. I have always thought of Coach and Cole Haan as All-American labels. Some bag snobs refuse to carry Coach, thinking it is too “common,” but if you review objectively the craftsmanship of these bags, they’re fantastic, as are Cole Haan bags. With reasonable care, a Coach or Cole Haan bag will last you a decade at least. As for what carrying one might say about personality, I would say a younger girl carrying a Coach bag emblazoned with monograms is probably a little green to designer labels. However, an older woman with a solid black or dark brown, classic- and timeless- style Coach or Cole Haan bag, one with no visible monograms or logos, is a woman with a strong sense of values. Cole Haan, by the way, I’ve always opined to be more sophisticated than Coach.

Sources: Nine West, ninewest.com; Nicole Lee, nicoleleeusa.com; Liz Claiborne, jcpenny.com

Department Store. Department store labels, such as Nine West or Liz Claiborne, Nicole Lee, Kathy van Zeeland, or Guess, tell me that the woman carrying it is a smart shopper. She is not materialistic, probably not high-maintenance, very down-to-earth, and although she wants to be stylish, she won’t foolishly pay an arm and a leg for it. She is self-assured enough to invite you to judge her on her own merits, not on the brands she carries. Nine West, by the way, is a great brand. I love their bags! And shoes! Within this category, there is such a range of style, too. Nine West and Liz Claiborne are for more professional crowds, probably a woman with a 9 to 5 desk job, while Kathy van Zeeland and Guess are for the young, bold and loud fashionista.

Sources: ekatrinany.com (left); miss-lonelyhearts.com (right)

Independent Designer. I instantly admire any woman carrying an independent designer label. She is an artist or an artist at heart, and fashion is not for status, but rather fashion to her is truly an art form. This is a woman who supports all things creative and entrepreneurial. She is also a sophisticated shopper, one who discriminately seeks out what she likes rather than accept what is fed to her by the media and multibillion dollar advertising. Two of my favorite handbag designers are pictured above: Ekatrina New York by Cathy Lee and Miss Lonelyhearts by Jenny Yuen. Although they have different aesthetic points of view (Ekatrina = refined opulence; unsparing elegance and Miss Lonelyhearts = Jazz Age/neomodern interpretation of Depressionist irony Old Hollywood flair) both labels create absurdly gorgeous handbags!

Tibetan Handmade Wool Embroidered Bag; Happiness Floral Brocade Bag; East African Baobab Fiber and Mudclotch Bag

Sources: tangozuluimports.com (left); goodorient.com (center); swahili-imports.com (right)

Aboriginal Art or “Ethnic” Bags. How we use and throw around the word “ethnic” is terribly careless. I use it here (carelessly) because it’s the fastest way for you to get what I’m talking about. These are the shiny silk handbags with distinctly Chinese, Japanese, or Indian patterns; they’re the bags recognizably from Africa or inspired by traditional African art, made from sisal, dried grasses, bone, or with ornate, bold-colored beadwork; these are the handbags with distinctly aboriginal art inspirations, bright colors, geometric patterns, or made from materials we urbanites don’t get to see everyday. I also instantly admire any woman carrying such bags because she’s probably an artsy type. As applied to minorities, it is a statement of cultural pride. For example seeing an East Asian woman carrying a silk brocade bag while running around New York City says to me that this woman is proud of her roots, and probably not what we otherwise call a “white-washed” Asian. =)

Me... and an old messenger bag I've had since high school. High school!

Well-worn/Casual. Oftentimes on weekends and roadtrips, I am the well-worn/casual type. She is the woman carrying a handbag that is clearly many years old. The bag is probably made of canvas, most likely a messenger style bag, knapsack, or something super-functional. This type of bag is often accompanied by classic cut jeans and sneakers. This is a woman carrying a handbag because she has things to carry (imagine that!) and doesn’t care one hootie about status. She is the girl next door, a tomboy at heart, or a good, sincere best friend (never one of those frenemies… frenemy types never carry well-worn/casual bags, ever notice that?).

So what does the handbag I carry right now say about me?

I dunno, maybe it says “I’m a wannabe designer and I designed this bag myself but the design got totally messed up in the hands of an overseas manufacturer but I spent money on this prototype and I’m not about to admit I wasted money so now I am going to use this bag because who else is going to use it but me.”

That’s probably what my handbag says about me right now.

Speaking of work and office, here’s a peek into my day job:

I put together a production deal for my company. We built the studio kitchen that you see above, which is used to film the shows for several celebrity chefs! Neato, eh? Above were shots I took with my camera phone during the rehearsal or run-through. This particular cooking show is for Chinese cuisine, and is filmed specifically for the Lunar New Year celebrations. It’s going to be aired on a major network. Was quite exciting to see the fruition of all that contract paperwork and negotiation. Talk about an exciting entertainment law gig. I saw this project through from pitch, storyboard, and briefing to filming, production, and post-production. And will soon get to see it on national TV too.

Wonder if the handbag I carry (the messed up version of the Executive satchel brief in black) actually says anything about what I do for a living (other than “failed designer”). Swear I’m not usually this self-deprecating. Just in one of my moods.

Anyway back to the original point. Read the Stebbins article. It’s a good one.

About tarynzhang

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  • http://thereafterish.wordpress.com/ Mae Lu

    I’m emailing you right now.

  • http://thereafterish.wordpress.com/ Mae Lu

    I know now I’m a total yuppy. LOL. Between the Longchamp, LV and the Feed, I totally want the Feed bag. Esp the one on the right.

    The Executive in black as it is right there is what I want most, though.

    I’m extraordinarily serious.

    Mae Lu @ thereafterish. :: http://thereafterish.wordpress.com

  • http://thereafterish.wordpress.com/ Mae Lu

    Oh, and I think it’s really stupid if you have to carry a monogram bag for anything. LV, Gucci, Balenciaga (remember the B bag?), Michael Kors (MKMKMKMK), COACH (barf). It’s also kind of pretentious if you think about it.

    LV=status=pretentious blowhard.

    Mae Lu @ thereafterish. :: http://thereafterish.wordpress.com

  • tz

    HAHAHAHA. You said it. Not me. =X Not my words.

    I was trying to be courteous because I see the monogram bag look ALL the time. Why, WHY is it SO effing popular!?

  • tz

    hahaha I just got your e-mail.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the FEED bags actually. I like it, and I absolutely love the theory and mission behind the brand, and then other times I’m like.. really? If I were really an activist, I’d BE in Haiti or Guatemala, not buying a bag for a hundred bucks and carrying it to my posh high-end restaurants feeling good about myself because a portion of the proceeds went to Haiti or Guatemala. You know what I mean? Again, not bashing at all; just wondering.

  • Emma Yamada

    Thanks so much for the comments and you are a very Valuable Reader. You are the reason I kept blogging : )
    Sometimes it takes awhile for blogger. It runs pretty slow.

  • Emma Yamada

    I have been thinking about this post for a couple of days and I guess that My handbag says I am a goof ball that is young at heart lol. I am currently using a Harajuku Lovers handbag. That is why I say this. I also Love my Juicy Couture handbags. I don’t know what those say about me. lol.

  • Emma Yamada

    I just read Mae’s comment about the monogrammed bags ! HA ! I LOVE IT. Pretentious Blowhard… Love it !!!
    I always wondered for 1.) how the hell people afford LV bags. Oh well I guess some are more fortunate than others.

  • Asiancajuns (Lar)

    Love this post, Sunny! Yes, and you are far to self-deprecating about that prototype! I can’t wait to see one of your bags (or your whole line) mentioned in an article!
    I don’t get the monogrammed purse thing and I really don’t get those quilted Vera Bradley things- ack!!!
    Oh and congrats on the show! Entertainment law sounds/looks very interesting and very demanding!
    Hope you are having a great weekend, Sunny!

  • http://www.twistedmode.com Michelle H.

    I love the Longchamp bags. They are great for traveling. To me, the most important aspect of a handbag is space. It has to be roomie enough for all the crap I carry with me. LOL.

    Btw, I posted a great interview on my blog with a former Liz Clairborne Accessories Merchandise Planner and I thought you might like it.


    Michelle H.

  • http://sololisa.com lisa

    My work handbags are Coach (newish and vintage, and yes, even a monogram one in there–don’t judge, monogram canvas is super low maintenance!). Sometimes I’ll carry my Chanel 2.55 or the vintage Saks bag. So what do my handbags say about me? Hmm…indecisive? Schizophrenic? Lady who aspires to luxe? Hehe.

  • tz

    hahaha aww! Well you can carry anything and it’s okay because I love your style and personality (or at least the persona your blog gives off). some of the vintage coach bags — I will admit — are pretty cute. =X

  • http://www.popchampagneblog.com pop champagne

    I have a couple LVs, I guess I’m a lady of luxes? Kind of I guess, back in the days when I didn’t have a mortgage to pay I was buying the LVs, now with a house and all I havent bought that much expensive bags lol

  • The Versastyle

    lol.. i love your super run on about your bag. Hmm… i have no idea what mine says about me … currently carrying a Proenza-like satchel. i actually am looking for something that is not too big, but big enough for my SLR but nothing too slouchy that i lose everything in… sigh.

    you have an awesome day job! share more!


  • http://minusthepixels.wordpress.com/ Danielle

    Haha, I’m pretty sure all my bags just look “young, ” and possibly also “vaguely artsy.” They still work for me because I’m in college, but I’ll probably have to switch it up sometime soon, at least once I get a more serious job. I seriously want to get one of your Workaholic bags at some point.
    On a different note, I just wanted to say that I find your blog and story to be very inspiring. I recently started designing and selling cutesy acrylic charms (horror movie villains made to look adorable and cartoon owls, mostly), and I would love to eventually expand my business into other accessories. I love your work ethic and style, and your blog is a very interesting, informative, fun read. It’s very cool to see the different stages of design.

  • Emma Yamada

    Hey Sunny I forwarded a stylish blogger award to you on my last post. Hope you are going well.

  • http://www.maxwellscottbags.com Hannah from Maxwell Scott

    Great post. I think handbags do say a lot about a person! However, if you choose a classic handbag in neutral colours I don’t think you can go wrong. It gives the right impression of sophistication for the office and will look timeless for many years. Longchamp totes are quite ‘preppy’, however I love the simple look of them! In leather they would be great.

  • tz

    So true! I love me a nude-toned structured sleek bag for the office too!

  • Charlotte Ann Hu

    If I buy a Dooney & Bourke purse, can I carry my Coach wallet in it? Does it look odd to mix and match brands? Thanks!

  • grace

    Be yourself
    Make a personal statement with the bag you carry
    Why follow the crowd and look identical
    Always remember you are an unique individual
    Be confident
    Be wise
    Spend within your means to look gorgeous
    Its your personality and character that matters most
    Above all
    Be happy and contented with your investment in that special purse/bag you enjoy carrying and using
    It has to match your outfits and also functional :)

  • Gloria Boone

    I have a monogram LV neverfull tote that I bought two years ago and no one has ever called me pretentious or a blowhard in person, and I haven’t even heard rumors that other people call me that behind my back.

    I work for a furniture store and often have to go to a client’s home to measure, bring fabric samples, catalogs, etc and my other tote bags just weren’t cutting it when it came to carrying everything and holding up to the wear and tear. I have longchamp totes but the opening isn’t as accommodating or easy to access as the neverfull. Other tote bags I’ve used for just a few months have ripped interiors, ripped handles, etc but the neverfull still looks pristine after two years and I use it at least 3 days per week.

    I’m not wealthy, but I’m not poor either. I saved up for several months to afford it. I bought it after several clients told me how durable the Louis Vuitton canvas is. And after researching it extensively online I ordered it online.

    I live in a small town of under 100, drive 30 minutes to work in a town of 2500, the nearest city is over an hour drive away, and the nearest Louis Vuitton boutique is about a 4 hour round trip. I don’t know anyone personally who owns a LV neverfull, but I have always admired the Louis Vuitton monogram. I think it is beautiful. My mom always taught me that quality is the best economy, and even though we weren’t wealthy, she would save her money and buy the nicest best quality items she could afford. That idea has stuck with me.

    So ok, maybe I’m provincial and have bad taste (since you think the LV monogram is so hideous), but please, explain to me how having an LV monogram neverfull makes me a pretentious blowhard.

  • Gloria Boone

    And obviously I’m really late to the party since the original post was 7 years ago. But, people apparently are still reading your witty comments and some easily led individual may accept your witticisms as reasons to stay away from something they otherwise would like and purchase for themselves. I want to be the the voice of reason (maybe the lone voice of reason) and say if someone really likes something and it serves a purpose in their lives to not let someone else’s bitter comments poison their fun.