Chapter One: The Greatest Handbag in the World; Chapter Two: I Hate Myself

If it weren’t for movies and magazines, I’d probably have no idea that women were supposed to covet handbags and shoes. The former accessories are for transporting lip balm and the latter function as barriers between feet and dog poop. One of the opening lines uttered by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City: The Movie made my eyes roll into the back of my brain (where I was also frantically stuffing popcorn to drown out the embarrassment of being in the theater in the first place):

Year after year, twenty-something women come to New York City in search of the two L’s: Labels and Love.

Are you kidding me? Are you seriously trying to tell me, as a woman, and for the sake of alliteration, that all urban females are man-hungry label queens? Is that true for anyone but Lauren Conrad and Carrie Bradshaw? I’ve been to Manhattan plenty of times, and my trips could be described more like epic quests for cheap beer than for name-brand clothes.

Let me spell out the obvious: glitzy fashion houses buy ads in womens’ magazines, thus the magazines feel financially obligated to name drop and to feature pictorials of So-and-So’s favorite Too-Expensive purse. It’s a purse, people. You put your crap in it because you weren’t born with a big pocket like a kangaroo. So these fashionable names start to plague TV and movies and then, horror of horrors, books. And suddenly chick lit is a competition to see who’s most knowledgeable about flip-flops and scarves.

I’ve seen Sex and the City. I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada. I can stomach things in movies that I can’t stomach in books. I can try to worship a closet for two hours if that’s what it takes to enjoy a film. I just suspend my disbelief and assume fashion to be a weird subculture that only exists in Hollywood. In film, fashion affords a cool soundtrack, plump lips, windswept hair, and bottomless, guilty bins of popcorn. In literature, fashion is a turn-off. It’s a reference both transitory (the same brands revered today will be out of style tomorrow) and elitist (how many readers can visualize a Birkin bag from the mere mention of the word?). If authors want to evoke wealth and privilege, they should work a little harder and not simply plagiarize the “what to wear” pages of US Weekly. Literature should be held to higher standards than tabloids and cinematic escapism. It’s probably old-fashioned, but I still think that literature should be written to last.

But I realize there’s a market for these fashion-driven books. A paperback novel costs about $14, whereas buying the same hours of reading material on the newsstand might cost you $30. In the first case you own the imaginary lives of the people in the glossy pictures, and in the second you just own the glossy pictures. But in both cases you’re still just buying coasters for my beer.

You know what’s a good book? Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. It’s about a poor English woman in the 17th century who becomes a whore and a thief because she worships money. She covets expensive clothes and silks and baubles to the point of stealing from naive children. And she’s always denoting how much things are worth. She doesn’t pickpocket a gold watch; she pickpockets a gold watch worth 20 guineas. In her fictional narrative there’s no “Feast your eyes on ye-olde Hermes purse” or “I will presently lift a Harry Winston diamond from the Queen of England.” All flashy objects have their direct equivalent in cash money. Moll Flanders doesn’t pretend that they have intrinsic value as objects.

These fashion-conscious authors should tell it like it is. Their protagonists aren’t worshiping labels; they’re worshiping money. I’ll read a book about money any day. But I won’t read a book about some asshole handbag. I have more important things to spend my $14 on, like popcorn and beer.

7 Thoughts on “Chapter One: The Greatest Handbag in the World; Chapter Two: I Hate Myself

  1. Vacation getting to you?
    Meanwhile, word up! Nicely done.

  2. Lisa on July 25, 2008 at 2:36 pm said:

    Hilarious! I have always thought I might be a loser since I wear three pairs of shoes regularly and my handbag basically needs to be large enough hold my crap. It might be 90 degrees out and I am still carrying my velvet “autumn” bag since I forget how fast time flies.

    Pretty sure you like Vanity Fair – did you ever see this:

  3. baconfat on July 25, 2008 at 3:31 pm said:

    You don’t get to say bad things about Lauren Conrad. Talk all the smack you want to about Heidi, but leave my precious LC out of it. Thanks.

  4. I’m grateful to have friends who hate fashion as much as I do. Except you, Baconfat. You and your closet full of strappy sandals that don’t even fit. You could have fed 100 orphans with all your distressed leather.

  5. You forgot to say that women have to carry handbags because women’s clothes don’t have motherfucking pockets big enough to hold anything. Stupid women’s clothes.
    Also, pocketbook is a good euphemism for vulva.
    Also, you’re great.

  6. We don’t have kangaroo pouches – dually noted….hahah

  7. Pingback: The Blog of Wistar Watts Murray » Skinny jeans don’t get caught in bicycle gears: In defense of the hipster

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