Opinion

Are You a Fan of See-Through Bags?

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!

With the Barbie movie hot on our heels (is it just me, or is July taking forever this year?) and all things Barbiecore infiltrating our feeds, now is probably a good time to ponder the plastics issue. For a relatively recent invention, it’s really remarkable how the material has managed to pervade all aspects of our lives. Clothing? Packaging? Toys? Homeware? Plastic is everywhere!

So, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that plastic purses exist. Even aside from your average gallon freezers, literal handbags, crafted entirely or partially of the transparent substance, have cropped up over various timelines within the past century: during certain times necessitated by conditions, during others simply because they were en vogue (do I espy a Y2K jelly bag stashed at the back of your closet?) And to state the obvious, clear plastic purses, owing to their non-biodegradable construction, are far from conducive to mother nature.

Despite all of that (plus, can see-through handbags be deemed elegant, to begin with?), why are we witnessing a resurgence of the style in 2023? Is it time for us to start bawling in collective horror yet again?

Born Out of Necessity

The closest I’ve ever gotten to sports (aside from idly milling about during middle-school gym classes) is admiring the various high fashion Adidas collabs, making it rather unlikely for me to ever be seen in the vicinity of a stadium.

Whats in my Hermes Kelly Beach Bag 1

For those of us who do, however, you might be aware that onwards of 2013, the NFL enacted a clear bag policy, where attendants are only allowed to carry transparent purses measuring up to 12” in width and length, ensuring their contents are clearly visible. Growing security concerns have further propelled the instrument to encompass concert and theater-goers and even certain schoolchildren within its jurisdiction. And that has perhaps been the biggest driver of the transparent trend in recent years.

But arguably the first notable clear purse of high fashion, the Hermès Vinyl Kelly of 1996, conceived by then-Creative Director of Hermès, Martin Margiela, and sent as invitations to the attendants of the brand’s Spring/Summer Show in response to security checks following a deadly terrorist attack in Paris. The style went on to gain such popularity that Margiela released several more versions between 1997 and 1999 as a part of a traveling exposition in Japan, which, coincidentally, served as the perfect piece to commemorate the brand’s 160th anniversary too!

Celine Plastic Shopping Bag
The Céline PVC Warning Tote image va www.hypebae.com

A Tongue-in-Cheek Trend

Hermès paved the way, and Chanel followed suit. Clearly (*giggles*), that’s how it’s always been! And once Margiela opened Pandora’s box for clear carryalls, Lagerfeld got to spearhead the movement. However, even before Chanel had introduced the concept of an haute plastic purse, see-through bags were having a moment of their own in the early aughts, with an expansive array offering mesh and Perspex alongside their PVC counterparts (after all, how could we forget – and shudder in mild terror – at the thought of the viral Furla Candy Bag?)

But while most transparent totes of the Y2K seemed fit for a tween (and that’s a generous estimate), the trend went into overdrive in the 2010s. In fact, rarely has a trend been so omnipresent – and so annoyingly persistent – as that of clear purses, with nearly every designer under the sun, from heritage houses, like Burberry, Valentino, and Prada, to more avant-garde ones, such as Maison Margiela, Helmut Lang, and Staud, rushing to launch their takes on the see-through bag.

Coperini Glass Handbag

Rimowa, the zeitgeisty luggage label, even launched a clear suitcase in partnership with Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, who, in turn, conceived his own batch of clear Keepalls at Louis Vuitton. Phoebe Philo’s final creation for the venerable Old Céline, a “warning”-emblazoned PVC tote, proved to be similarly subversive. But perhaps no one executed this what’s essentially a high-fashion prank better than Chanel’s Lagerfeld, whose SS18 runway consisted almost exclusively of transparent raincoats, hats, boots, and bags. Most recently, Balmain, Gucci, and Coperni (with its Doja Cat-approved Glass Swipe) have been the latest to jump onto the bandwagon.

For Clarity’s Sake…

But for a seemingly perplexing and downright childish trend, see-through purses, under an apparent façade of having nothing to hide, raise some pretty unpleasant questions. Paring down to your bare essentials and essentials that you’re comfortable showing off to the world is no easy feat. And that means no outdated snack packets, no tangled mass of wired headphones, and no parking tickets from yesteryears for you!

STAUD PVC Bag
image via @rsbee_

What this also means, however, is that your handbag is no longer your trustee repository, your dependable companion, but, akin to the curated world of social media, yet another outlet for the world to scrutinize you from. Every little blemish we so easily filter out online now translates to the real world too, and privacy, much like on the Internet, becomes a real-life commodity. And that’s on top of the original reason why we’re being made to carry a clear bag in the first place. As unfortunate incidences of undue violence become more commonplace, such measures only provoke the perpetrators to be more vigilant in their undertakings. Plus, the increasing prevalence of transparent PVC bags, with severely limited eco-friendly alternatives as of now, places the burden of decision-making on us consumers to prioritize between the preservation of self versus that of nature.

At the end of the day, though, a see-through purse also has its advantages. Not only can you breeze through security checks, but also weather less-than-ideal climates, never forget your keys again, and simultaneously make an ironic, voyeuristic statement, an act of exhibitionism that’s the antithesis of all that high fashion stands for. The only question remains, is it okay to look cool at the expense of the environment?

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Lala
Lala
1 year ago

I bought a cute clear bag from Amazon, but it’s only for concert/event venues that require them. Not really a fan of the trend, myself.

HeatherTweedy
HeatherTweedy
1 year ago
Reply to  Lala

Agreed, so many venues require clear bags now, that it feel like it’s a closet requirement, but it’s not something I wouldn’t carry for any other purpose. And I have a hard time believing that these bags have better quality. At that point, it feels like a vanity exercise.

For concerts or sporting events, I want a bag that I can put on a sticky floor or risk having a drink from the row behind spilled onto it. For me, that’s a cheap bag purchase, not a Chanel.

CC4Babcck
CC4Babcck
1 year ago

Not a fan for myself. I don’t need to give anyone a reason to look at my bag and its content.

Gayle
Gayle
1 year ago
Reply to  CC4Babcck

Same. I tried it once. I bought a cheap no label bag same style as the chanel flap. I get conscious about how jumbled up my things get inside and you can see it from afar that its messy. Not for me. Eventually gave the bag away.

Terri
Terri
1 year ago

Coperini Micro Swipe Glass bag is eye candy!

vnex
vnex
1 year ago

I’m not a fan, I do not like them.

Laura
Laura
1 year ago

I’m not a fun of clear bags but I was at Neiman Marcus and saw the Christian Louboutin Cabata tote in translucent pink and fell in love with it but was concerned about the same thing everyone mentions – people looking at what i have in my bag. I went back a month later, just last week and it was on sale. I had to get it. I love it and since it’s pink it’s not too see-through

FashionableLena
FashionableLena
1 year ago

I own several clear bags, but I don’t use them unless I have to do so. This will never be an everyday bag for me.

Slim
Slim
1 year ago

Not a fan!