Whether you’ve fallen hard for the Fendi Peekaboo or love an XXL Birkin, both big and small bag trends come with their downsides. From painful shoulders to impractical space, two SL team members fight their handbag corner…
PRO: Small Bags
Rosy Cherrington, Features Editor
I’ll admit, I scoffed too, the first time I saw it. The Vetements Granny Micro. A black leather bag no bigger than the size of a coin purse, costing almost two grand. It does seem Vetements are having an in-joke at fashion followers’ expense (their £2,890 take on the £2.99 string bag trend also comes to mind), but the style crowd are certainly adopting a less-is-more approach when it comes to their handbags. And I’m with them.
In my view, the death knell for oversized holdalls rang loud and clear in 2010, when Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sent up their penchant on The Ellen Show. The twins’ slouchy Balenciagas and roomy Wang Roccos had been replaced with Truly Big Bags like the ridiculous Hermès HAC (Kim Kardashian also swapped her rather large Louis Vuitton Miroir for the monster style). These Big Bags were bigger than people… the problem was out of control. Even Victoria Beckham – a major purveyor of ‘the larger the bag, the thinner you look’ philosophy – sent up her own style by climbing out of a giant branded bag in the SS08 Marc Jacobs campaign. Once the ultimate signifier of wealth and status – those Hermès waiting lists are no joke – giving yourself chronic rheumatism in the name of fashion became as laughable as head-to-toe logos.
Because, seriously, the back pain. Doctors have long warned about the dangers of carrying heavy handbags – muscle pain, headaches and even degenerative joint disease have all been linked to shoulder-strap styles – and even ‘balanced’ rucksacks aren’t safe. As someone who already has back issues, I welcomed shrinking bag trends with open arms and a less-stiff neck. I looked on at the Spring/Summer 2017 catwalks – awash with micro bags from Chloé, Valentino, even Hermès – with glee. And when Olsen-owned The Row are making mini wristlets and tiny totes, you know good bags come in small packages.
If you balk at the idea of minaudières for every occasion, bear with me. There’s something so freeing about not having to lug an extra limb around, like men get to do – All. The. Time. And, in day-to-day life, is there any need to carry everything but the kitchen sink? I used to long to be that woman, the one who can conjure up almost anything from her black hole of a handbag quicker than you can say “Does anyone have any tissues?”. But now, I’ve made use of my desk drawers instead (there’s only so many tissues/tampons/painkillers you need on your journey from home to the office).
When it comes to downsizing your stuff to fit micro space, you do have to be ruthless. You're bang out of luck if you own an iPhone Plus and you will need a smaller new purse, but there’s something to be said about purging those old train tickets, crumpled receipts and even crumbs that seem to lurk in the bottom of mega-sized bags. Does all that clutter ‘spark joy’? Chuck it out. All of it! You’re a minimalist now and as zen as Marie Kondo at the tip.
Yes, oversized tote bags may be back on the runway, but logomania is having a resurgence too, and that doesn’t mean we should swathe ourselves in Burberry check now, does it?
PRO: Big Bags
Charlotte Collins, Fashion Editor
I remember a Business of Fashion article from 2016 which speculated the real reason designers were creating miniature handbags. Forget trends and practicalities – the likes of Chanel’s cross-body pouches and Fendi’s micro Baguettes (so small they attach to larger handbags like a keyring) were just a new entry level price point to encourage spenders to invest where they otherwise couldn’t. When Selfridges launched a ‘mini bag’ tab on their site the same year, overall sales of the tiny accessories rose by 100% – there’s no doubt the designers’ ploy worked.
My problem with this? It’s Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome, encouraging the fashion following-masses to spend silly money on impractical purchases. These designer minis have spurned a wider trend for tiny bags – this season’s velvet pouches, top handle cross-bodies and (most ridiculously) round bags – but for your average working girl, whichever you buy is a waste of hard earned money.
My average day simply doesn’t cater for a cutesy mini, no matter how in vogue they may be. My commute begins with a ten-minute walk (change of shoes necessary), a 40-minute train journey (kindle/iPad/headphones/magazine), plus stifling underground conditions which warrant the stripping off of scarves, hats, gloves and, on desperate days, jumpers too. First thing at the office is breakfast time (banana and oat cakes), lunch follows later (ingredients crammed into a Tupperware), plus post-work activities which nearly always require an extreme make-up overhaul and occasional change of clothes. Not forgetting umbrella, wallet, charger, keys… I carry an enormous handbag and sometimes even require an overflow tote for these basic necessities.
I love the idea of being one of these care-free, whimsical cross-body types, with nothing but a miniature lip balm and fully charged phone on me as I gander about London. But my reality is so far from that. I’m also clearly not the only one in this camp; Stella, Louis, Marni and more showcased giant holdalls for the upcoming season which, along with Balenciaga’s Ikea tote rip off, is the ultimate confirmation that big is back.
Granted, I could do without the back pain, the constant shlepping and a more streamlined everyday look, but I like to think my practical side will always prevail over my susceptibility to preposterous trends (Gucci fur loafers notwithstanding). So I’ll continue to resist a non-iPhone fitting, banana-rejecting micro for now.