PEER PRESSURE OF THE HANDBAG KIND

This article was first published in Womens Web.

Let us start with the basics: what is a handbag for? For me, a handbag has always been a practical carrier of my ‘stuff’.

Much as I pride myself on being a multi-tasker as I am expected to be, being a female, I cannot possibly carry multiple assorted items in my invisible multiple hands. That is where a handbag comes in, the one accessory I must carry at all times for possessions that need to be protected, objects of value like my money purse, for bits and pieces that I need through the day, for girlie gear that needs to be under wraps, for kiddie paraphernalia that needs to be lugged around and so on.

As long as a bag has plenty of pockets, inside out, a good quality zip and a sturdy strap, I am sold. That it is attractive, is a bonus, of course.

Thinking along these very logical lines, I have outlived several handbags in my lifetime. I mean, a handbag is an object after all and has a shelf life. Some bags survived longer than others, some were prettier than others. One fell victim to a pickpocket, a few yielded to zip malfunction, others managed to endure several years but eventually succumbed to wear and tear. Some refusing to wither away, were forced into retirement and now lie in the back of my closet.

Then of course, there were the impulsive buys; the ones where practicality took a back seat and I allowed the current trends to sway me into buying the latest offering in handbag fashion. Again, some of these fashionable bags lasted a few days as straps snapped, zips jammed and clasps loosened.

For some inexplicable reason some lasted months if not years. A lot depended on how I used them. If I used them lovingly, only pulling them out for special occasions, they lasted longer. If I used them everyday, lugged them along to work, stuffed groceries, toys, food into them, and plonked them about roughly they did not last long. But then again I had some handbags which defied logic. They could be the most inexpensively priced ones I bought off street stalls, the ones I practically lived in, the ones I never cared much for and yet they carried on and persisted, threatening to outlive me!

That is how it has always been over the years. When a handbag gets worn out or I have used it for too long and I’m tired of it, I go out to buy a new one. That’s it. The overriding thought is that it has to satisfy the criteria of being functionally efficient and it goes without saying that it must be reasonably priced.

Then a few years ago, a strange thing happened to me. I began to feel peer pressure of the handbag kind. Yes, something was happening around me and it was beginning to affect me. It wasn’t just pressure – it was temptation and an inexplicable mysterious curiosity. That a handbag could kindle these feelings in me was a revelation in itself.

In case you cannot fathom what I’m talking about, it is the somewhat recent trend of handbags that one has to be seen with. The glossy fashion magazines that I often browse through to amuse and put me to sleep, tell me that these handbags are a ‘must have’ in my wardrobe. Do I have the ‘It’ bag of the season? No? It is the bag that is photographed in enticingly close up detail, the bag that does not have a price disclosed or a price that is ‘available on request’, which is basically saying that the price runs into several thousand rupees.

I see these bags staring at me from the pages of these magazines, their buckles gleaming alluringly, luxurious looking material beckoning, the polished logo screaming for attention. But then, these very glossy pages also authoritatively tell me that I need to paint my eyelids a bright canary yellow this season. It is easy to brush aside suggestions that would make me look jaundiced this season, but it is not so easy to resist the lure of the ostentatious handbags on display.

It is easy to brush aside suggestions that would make me look jaundiced this season, but it is not so easy to resist the lure of the ostentatious handbags on display.
That is when peer pressure came into my life. Never did I think that in my forties, I would have to fight inwardly against pressure that had to with something as mundane and humdrum as a handbag. Yes, a few years ago, it so happened that I found myself meeting new women, new acquaintances in a new social circle, who I was compelled to mingle with due to a change in life circumstances. They were lovely women, friendly women, but from a different background, living a lifestyle that I had no exposure to.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was in awe of them; actually not of them, but of what they wore, to be specific. Here they were flaunting the very bags, shoes and sunglasses that I saw in those glossy magazines. I never thought that real women actually bought the bags that were shown in these magazines, but here was a full scale display of the latest ’It’ bags, a full blown parade of the trendiest footwear on perfectly pedicured feet and a competition of various logos on unabashed show.

I hid my own modest handbag just as I tried to conceal the chipped nail polish on my toes. Here were these women, casually carrying around several dollars worth of bags, toting them about, changing them often, replacing them with newer bags of the new season. Sometimes, a bag would be left open unconcernedly to reveal the inner lining to all, so that one was left in no doubt about it being the ‘designer’ brand that it was. One could tell from the checkered or monogrammed lining what brand it was. Soon I could recognize the ‘brands’ and sometimes I did not have to guess at all. The shining logo said it all, the glitzy initials pronounced it all, the emblazoned symbol asserted it all- above all, these icons screamed out the price tag, loudly.

A bag to flaunt, a bag that wouldn’t just carry my belongings , but one that would carry my self esteem to new highs.
It was this pressure to blend in with the new crowd that had me seriously thinking of going out and buying a ‘designer’ bag. A bag to flaunt, a bag that wouldn’t just carry my belongings , but one that would carry my self esteem to new highs. A bag that wouldn’t just be an accessory, but one that would accord me a status. Yes, now I understand, I wanted a status symbol. A certain something to proclaim that I had ‘arrived’! So that I could be part of this group of women.

So after a huge debate with myself, a brief discussion with my husband who agreed to go along with what made me happy, I set about buying for myself a bag. A bag to make me happy. Yes, it would make a huge dent in our collective pockets but I was ready for this.

I stood outside the designer store, strong-willed and ready to make the purchase of my lifetime. As I looked inside the glamorous store, I saw expensively dressed women being shown various equally glamorous handbags by gloved, haughty looking, expensively dressed shop assistants. The way they were handling the bags, one would think they were handling gold or diamond jewellery or platinum. I don’t think they were bargaining, but I think they were discussing the luxury features of the bag. By the way, even the window displays did not have any prices displayed on the bags.

Call it my middle class upbringing, call it my practical mind taking over or call me old or just plain miserly, I am proud to report that I did not even step inside the store.

At that moment, nothing or nobody could have convinced me that I needed that bag. Yes, I had wanted it, but did I need it? No. At that price, I began to calculate the other things I could buy. The result was shocking. At the price of such a handbag, I could feed an entire village in India for a month or more. At that price, I could fund a child’s education including my own. At that price, I could arrange an operation for someone who desperately needed it. Above everything, at that moment outside that shop, I thought of the sweat and toil that my husband and me had put in to make that money. Was it worth just a bag?

Why was I so desperate to buy something that was ‘arm candy’, but would cost an arm and a leg?

Why did I want to hang a bag on my elbow so that I could wear my status on my sleeve?

It was a proud moment to do a full U-turn at the door of the store and never ever think of buying a bag that shook the shackles of the earth for me.

It made me really think of myself and how I want to appear to people and also about what makes me happy. Call me old fashioned, but I know that if I’d bought the ‘It’ bag, I would feel guilty forever, I honestly would. I still haven’t heard a convincing enough argument that would make me buy a bag that costs the earth.

People say the quality is impeccable, the luxury factor is something else. Well, perhaps they are right, the bag will last forever. But do I want to lug the same bag forever? Besides any object when used will show wear and tear, so in theory, can it really last forever? Yes some of the bags come with a glamorous looking lock. But you could still get burgled for the bag itself, wouldn’t you? My argument is that the cost of the ‘It’ bag is always going to be more than the actual contents of my bag. Also I have a question: if do buy this kind of bag, am I allowed to wear ordinary shoes, clothes and watch with it? Is that allowed? Maybe I need to refer to my magazines again.

I think I’m going to be the practical person that I am with a little bling thrown in for some fun.
I think I’m going to be the practical person that I am with a little bling thrown in for some fun. Fashion and trends are all very well, but not at the cost of my peace of mind.

So, no logos, designer brands, signs, crests, monograms or symbols for me. I certainly don’t need any emblems of status to add to my personality. It’s enough if I have an invisible stamp of ‘VJ’ on myself, my clothes and my accessories. I

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