In our little corner of the Internet, the answer to that question is, more often than not, a foregone conclusion: yes, duh. We’re all so desensitized to the thought of paying $1500 and up for a bag, even if you’ve never done it yourself, that sometimes I honestly forget that the vast majority of the population experiences sticker shock when confronted with how much a Celine Luggage Tote or Proenza Schouler PS1 costs. When the Luggage Totes first hit stores for $1750, I remember remarking to Megs that it sounded like a good deal.

The problem isn’t just price, though; it’s also ubiquity. For your bag money, do you also want to be unique? When a beautiful bag that you’ve always loved reaches a certain point of saturation, does it become less desirable to you, or do you buy what you love in spite of what other people are carrying? Earlier this week, Buzzfeed fashion editor Amy Odell took to the Internet to express her frustration with the idea of spending four figures to carry a distinctive bag that everyone else has. She’d rather carry a designer bag that’s distinctively unique, but is Odell just trading one kind of status for another?

This subject is an interesting one, and Amy Odell is an accomplished writer and member of the industry, so I’d recommend reading her thoughts about the issue in full. In the post, Odell makes a few assumptions: first, that the main compulsion behind the purchase of an It Bag is the desire to impress others who are also “in the know,” second, that carrying a widely coveted bag automatically makes people wonder whether or not its fake, and third, that It Bags are always highly recognizable. Based on my experiences with the luxury accessories industry, I don’t think any of those assumptions are true, or at least not always true.

I’m the first one to admit that status is an enormous motivating factor for many people, maybe even most people, when it comes to buying handbags. Unlike a dress or even a pair of shoes, bags sit in front of an outfit and are often something that can be carried day in and day out, which makes them a particularly cost-effective (as opposed to, say, a full wardrobe of Rick Owens) means of conveying status. Not to mention that status is a powerful psychological drug – the difference in how people treat you when you’re dressed expensively versus shabbily is often enormous. That only increases when the bag you’re sporting is notoriously hard to locate; people assume you have an in somewhere, salespeople assume you must be a big spender, fashion people judge you favorably. It can be almost intoxicating to see yourself in the reflected glow of your fancy handbag.

What the irritation with that phenomenon seemingly doesn’t account for, though, is good design. Luxury brands with huge design departments and nearly limitless resources fail at making It Bags season in and season out; to become an It Bag, a design has to catch, and that generally happens before a bag is widely known and impossible to purchase without a lengthy wait list. Way back in the first days of the Celine Luggage Tote, I remember seeing them both sitting on store shelves and available for purchase online. It had a magnetism to it then, too, long before it reached its “it” status.

The reason the Luggage Tote was successful was because when I saw it sitting on those shelves for the first time, a little lightning bolt went off inside my brain, and I’m not the only one who had that experience. It looked fresh, distinctive and incredibly luxurious. As much as brands wish that a hit like the Luggage Tote could be all about marketing, it’s just not. An It Bag can’t exist if something about it doesn’t speak to buyers beyond its potential to convey status, and Odell’s line of thinking doesn’t take into account that even people who aren’t concerned with telegraphing status might just really love how an It Bag looks.

Odell’s alternative is to buy something that she considers unique and subtle, but within the realm of premiere designer handbags, I’m not sure that truly exists and Odell, for her part, doesn’t list any specific examples. Not only do all major brands foist their bags to the front of their advertising, hoping that something will catch, but when the Luggage Totes first surfaced, they were unique and subtle. Celine was at the very first stages of its rebirth under Phoebe Philo, the bags were only available at small luxury boutiques, the now-ubiquitous flared gussets and curved front piping didn’t have any particular association for most bag lovers. The most common version at the time? Basic black matte leather. Today’s subtle classic is tomorrow’s It Bag.

Uniqueness, too, has its own kind of status within the fashion industry. Having something that’s totally chic but not immediately recognizable tends to engender as much attention from people “in the know” as the bag of the moment, mostly because it makes people think you’ve somehow gotten one up on them and they’re hungry to know if you’re aware of something they’re not. Among bag people, finding a bag that gets that kind of reaction might actually be more work than tracking down an It Bag, and it’s likely to cost just as much. Is that lustful reaction to uniqueness qualitatively different than it would be if it happened because of a bag that everyone already wants? I’m not sure that it is.

Of course, all of that assumes that the vast majority of people who buy It Bags live the kinds of lives that regularly bring them in contact with people who can recognize a Celine or Proenza bag on sight, which simply isn’t the case. Our forum is full of literally tens of thousands of members who live in places where no one is likely to take a second look at their Luggage Totes or PS1s, and still, they find themselves drawn in. Outside of major urban areas with fashion-conscious populations, the issue of recognizability and status almost entirely evaporates, beyond someone simply noticing that you’re dressed nicely.

Odell seems to have internalized a bit of New York exceptionalism; we’re not the only ones who buy expensive bags, not by a long shot, but the fear of a non-logo bag being too recognizable is indeed unique to NYC and a small handful of other places. The scarcity of Celine bags can’t be attributed to shoppers on this island alone, so people must be buying for reasons beyond what amounts to fashion exhibitionism. I bought my first It Bag, a Balenciaga Motorcycle Bag in the mid-2000s, while living in a rural Georgia town of about 125,000 people. No one in my town ever recognized it, as far as I know, and even when I went to Atlanta, it was only employees at Neimans and Saks that seemed to care. Telegraphing status is a very limited thrill when no one around you cares to receive the message, as is the case with the daily lives of a huge number of luxury handbag buyers.

And then there’s the issue of fakes. Odell asks why someone would spend a ton of money on a bag if everyone might think it’s fake, which is a question that honestly caught me by surprise in this context. I’ve heard people make the same complaints about Louis Vuitton monogram bags, which are the most widely counterfeited in the world, but about a Celine Luggage Tote? What kind of insecure person is going around convinced that every Celine or Proenza bag they encounter is a fake? People used to ask me all the time if the Louis Vuitton tote I carried during college was real, but I’ve never heard a peep of curiosity from anyone about anything non-monogram in my collection. I’m tempted to say that it’s a concern that exists entirely in Odell’s head, but even if it doesn’t, the thought wouldn’t come close to entering my mind when trying to decide whether to spend thousands of dollars on something I love. What’s that saying again? Oh yes: haters gonna hate. If a stranger thinks my PS1 might be fake, that’s their problem, not mine.

I do think that Odell makes a couple of good points, though, namely that it’s not much fun to carry exactly the same thing as everyone else you encounter. Because of that, I tend to prefer bright colors, prints and nontraditional materials when I’m picking which version of a bag that I want. Not only do they fit my personality better, but they relieve a bit of the ubiquity. As for the question of worth, I think that’s entirely personal; $1500 means a whole host of different things to different people, and how much it means to you is a personal decision. When people ask me for my opinion, I generally tell them that if they love the bag and they think they can honestly afford it, they should buy it, regardless of prevailing trends or the bag’s relative popularity. You, after all, are the one who has to carry it.

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susan
susan
10 years ago

I believe that every bag is not for everyone. Some of the IT bags I have seen I have thought not in a million years and other ones I have bought. I prefer a bag that no one knows…these days. It was not always like this I did my fair share of LV and Coach. I still own both but I really prefer to carry my Bottege Veneta.

Sandra
Sandra
10 years ago

I have yet to see a replica bag that comes close to the materials and craftsmanship, so you can always tell. The replica bags are disappointing in every way. Don’t get me wrong, just because I chose to purchase designer bags does not mean that I think everyone who loves fashion should too! You do not have to purchase full out designer to be stylish and I have seen Marc by Marc Jacobs, Michael Michael Kors, Coach, Alexander Wang that are very cute and stylish for a fraction of the price. I do believe that most designers such as YSL, Prada, Gucci, Chloe, Celine, Dior, Chanel produce beautiful bags and to me for a reasonable price for the product. One thing I am not sure I understand is Hermes, The Row, VHB bags that charge a crazy amount of money, at some point the craftsmanship and materials are the same and you are simply wasting your money. I live in Salt Lake City and believe me the general population has no idea that my bag is YSL….

Judy Banks
Judy Banks
10 years ago
Reply to  Sandra

@Sandra, how many replica bags do you own?

Camila
Camila
10 years ago

Well, I read your article and Odell’s; I must say Odell’s concern about “impressing” with a bag is something that doesn’t go through her head only, neither is the doubt one might sense when coming across a luxury piece. Living in Santa Fe, Argentina, where no one carries LV, Mulberry, Proenza, Givenchy, Céline and most definetly not Hermés and almost no one could recognize such an item, I can confirm the fact that wanting an “It Bag” isn’t an attempt to get noticed. Of course not everyone sees it this way, ususally people who aren’t concerned about fashion (or high fashion atleast) think that the only reason one could splurge on a bag or a pair of shoes is to flaunt thier wealth. As for fakes I wouldn’t know what to say, if I saw an LV here I’d probably take for granted that it’s not original. Then again, all the top argentinian labels evidently copy from the brands I mentioned before, but who notices; me.

bryologue
bryologue
10 years ago

While the original article by Odell has interesting points, I just find the overall tone to be bitchy and obnoxious. I find it difficult to believe her assumption about ” [it bags] knocked off so much that fashion savvy people who observe other people’s purses… are probably going to end up wondering if what you have is real or not”; because methodologically speaking, how can she arrive at that conclusion when she is “not an “It” bag fan” herself. Personally, I think that article reek of high-handedness on how she was smart not to be deluded by all these status associations to an accessory. What people do with their money is none of our business.

Oh and I’m not entirely familiar with the author, but if that’s her on Google Images, the one with the Chanel bag: you, my friend, are also carrying a who-knows-how-much bag, with the fashion savvy people wondering whether it’s fake or not. It may not be an It bag but a classic, but still, people may still wonder if it’s fake. And the huge sales from accessories, especially bags, from fashion houses like Miu Miu allowed Miuccia to produce your F/W 2011 glitter booties… which were few seasons ago, “It shoes”, ironically.

End of rant. I just don’t like people raining on others’ parade.

bryologue.wordpress.com

connie
connie
10 years ago

But there is also that strong sense of satisfaction knowing that you are carrying a fine handbag, no? My very own masterpiece is how I sometimes think of it.

crazybaglady
crazybaglady
10 years ago

Amanda, what a great blog today! You made some really good points about owning an IT bag. I thought Odell made too many generalizations in her article. An IT bag means different things to different people- & honestly, who cares if strangers assume you are carrying a fake (I agree it’s their problem!) It’s the fine craftsmanship, details, & materials that count; these bags are like works of art. I’m glad you wrote this today as I just bought a Celine Luggage Tote & wasn’t sure whether it was worth the $. For the avg. person, to spend thousands on a bag, is really an investment. For me, It needs to hold its value & the joy it gives me in carrying it.

vm
vm
10 years ago

GREAT GREAT GREAT piece of writing here. I agree with most of the points you’ve made. I come from a small island in the Caribbean where MOST people do not care about designer handbags and although I do spend a lot of money on designer bags it’s for no other reason than I adore them, their construction, their functionality and their BEAUTY. I don’t care if people know what I have on my arm I’m not there to impress anyone and while there may be SOME truth to the notion of status and a handbag as a symbol which can alter someone’s perception of you. I think that most “IT” handbags are only recognised by fellow bag lovers….unless you buy the LV/ Gucci stamped bags (actually most times I feel the people who want the sort of attention that Odell references actually seek the monogram heavy bags) either way, I agree with you and love this article! Will definitely be sharing it with others 🙂

Judy Banks
Judy Banks
10 years ago
Reply to  vm

You “love designer handbags for their construction, their functionality and their BEAUTY”?? Are you real? You can find constructed, functional and beautiful bags without the price tag, for example copy bags. You know, the ones you can find at Zara, Nine West…
Since you “don’t care if people know what I have on my arm I’m not there to impress anyone”, why don’t you wear a plastic bag? Or a replica bag?

CA95616
CA95616
10 years ago
Reply to  Judy Banks

Why so bitter? Lighten up. I buy designer and non designer items if I like the design and quality but frankly i find buying on the high street a waste of money. I bought two Chanels years back and recently sold one for double the price.

Miles
Miles
10 years ago

Odell made some good points, but at the end of the day I will buy a bag (“IT bag ” or not) because I love the design and it makes me happy – most times, regardless of price (as long as I can afford it of course ! ) People see value in things differently – some people may pay 1000$ for a star trek collectible…..

Jessica
Jessica
7 years ago
Reply to  Miles

I agree to it . If you love the bag and truly afford it ,willing to pay for it then buy it. I have a friend who makes 500k per year income but does not want to spend more than 100$ for a Handbag. It is more of a personal choice as to what you think it is worth to spend your money on. 1500$ is a huge amount of money for me,which I would not want to spend on a purse. I settle with coach or Michael Kors purses which I can get in that price with discounts and m happy carrying them. They are affordable mid luxury items which are of nice quality . So it entirely depends on what you want . No one can answer if luxury bags are worth or not.

Luluhalabaloo
Luluhalabaloo
10 years ago
Reply to  Miles

Excellent point!!! I have been rangling with spending $3K on a bag, but I would I dropped $3K on something I considered a collectible and never use. Thanks!!! I am going today to buy it. Talk about web redemption!

Nívia
Nívia
10 years ago

how hard is to carry a fancy itbag…oh my God.
that´s a very good artical
i buy it , frist becouse i think the bag is beautiful, elegant, and so, second, becouse I want to buy it, and I never ever think about what people are usuing or carring, and everything, and last of all I never think about every one else opinion, in spite of what other people is carring.

Karlien de Smet
10 years ago

I feel like I’m wearing a piece of art when I’m carrying my Luggage tote, and that’s what’s worth the money for me. Some people spend on their interior, on their car, on their hair, on their online gaming, people spend their money on the craziest things. A lot of people think of me as crazy to buy these expensive bags, but I’m sure they have spending habits that seem insane to me too. Who cares?! It’s MY money.
I do understand the issue with fakes. I live in Antwerp, where there are many, many fakes and it irritates me sometimes because many people automatically assume you are wearing fake. I really appreciate the craftmanship of the real deal, and I would not buy or wear a fake, so I don’t want to be seen as someone who would. Still, the most important thing to me is that I know it’s the real deal, and that it gives me that happy buzz that only something absolutely beautiful can create 🙂

thefabmachine.wordpress.com

Judy Banks
Judy Banks
10 years ago

An authentic bag gives you a “happy buzz”? 🙂
Nobody is telling you how to spend your money, but don’t you think you’re being a little shallow? Instead of paying huge amount of money of designer bags, you could try replica bags and with the rest of the money you can help a sick child. Than you can talk about what gives you a “Happy buzz”.
Replica bags are also made of real leather, it can last as long as the real deal and if you buy these bags from a reputable site, like this one http://iker.co/qk, you can even return it if you don’t like it.

BWB
BWB
10 years ago
Reply to  Judy Banks

Judy Banks, why are you so bitter about us owning the real IT bag? It is our money and how we spend it, it’s none of your business. On the other hand, if you buy replicas, you are stealing from the creative people who come up with the designs and work hard to make them into reality.

Judy Banks
Judy Banks
10 years ago
Reply to  BWB

I’m not stealing anything!! I’m just buying the handbag that I like at a decent price, nothing more, nothing less. Do you even know how they come up with this high prices for these bags? You pay the name, the “people who come up with the designs”, the rent for their spaces, the advertising etc.. The materials they use is just a small part of the price.

kamo
kamo
10 years ago
Reply to  Judy Banks

how do you know she isn’t helping sick children with the rest of the money she has left after purchasing an expensive designer bag???

Judy Banks
Judy Banks
10 years ago
Reply to  kamo

I never said she isn’t. I’m only saying there are other things in life that can give you a “happy buzz”, not buying a bag. That’s why we are here, people forgot about the simple things and started wanting more, so they can brag about it to their “friends”. A bigger house, a bigger car, a more expensive bag… A fake life. Then the crisis came and now they buy fakes but they don’t admit it. But it’s the same fake like.
At least I;m being honest about it! I buy the bags that I like without paying a huge amount and some of them look even better than you might think.

GG Pastel