Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | Monday, 11 May 2015

My Life In Handbags. And Probably Yours, Too.  Illustrated by Ella McLean

My Life In Handbags. And Probably Yours, Too

The Debrief: From the Tippexed School Bag to the Way Cheaper Than It Looks First Job Bag – here are the bags that saw Stevie Martin through all the various stages of life.

Illustrated by Ella McLean

I define periods in my life by bags, and no, there isn't a more stereotypically girlie sentence in existence apart from perhaps 'I prefer lady shoes to sex lol' (I don't). From the first proper bag I bought myself aged 14 with two many pockets and a weird fastening that wore out within two weeks, right through to the first fake designer label bag I bought from China and regretted, behold my life in various handbags. And, unless you're already at Mulberry, yours too. Because we all have the same bags. 

NB: The life spans for each bag is how long it can potentially last - there's obviously crossover at some point. It's not an exact science.  

The I'm A Lady Bag 

Age: 12 

Life span: 1 month until you get bored

Distinguishing features: It's tiny, it has a really short handle so it basically resembles a large handbag, downsized.

This bag is too small to fit anything in it - and when you think back, you weren't entirely sure what to put in it, because 12 year olds didn't have mobile phones in the '90s. Maybe your purse from Claire's Accessories with the ice cream cone on it that said 'Lick my cone' (you weren't aware of subtext)? Oh no, doesn't fit. Probably put a fiver in there and some lipgloss from down the market. And then try to hook it into the crook of your arm like a real la... oh, the strap is too short. Probably just hold it awkwardly in front of you. 

The I'm Tortured School Bag

Age: 13

Life span: 1 year

Distinguishing features: Tippexed symbols for 'Anarchy', Linkin Park lyrics, an array of iron-on patches including the Nirvana smiley face, a rainbow, and one pertaining to the band Slipknot (you never actually listened to Slipknot). Your name written in pen on the strap, with peace signs on the 'i'. 

This bag was you sticking it to the fucking man. And by the man, I mean your parents who just wanted you to look goddamn presentable so you'd attract the sort of friends who wouldn't offer you marijuana. Thing is, you needed to express yourself and I totally get that because hey, I tippexed the word TWAT on to the bag of my pencil case due to not being strong enough to brand my full school bag. Long live the A with the circle around it, because that shit was real. As real as the patches that would fall off during the day, leaving gross glue stains that could easily be turned into a Tippex penis. Imagine defacing your current bag like this? Why does every teenager want to draw on everything so it looks shit? Nobody knows. 

The I'm A Woman Bag

Age: 14 

Life span: 2 years 

Distinguishing feature: Medium size, an absence of graffiti, usually structured, a surprising lack of content within the interior of the bag, a ridiculous fastening, a pointless pocket. Usually an interesting colour.

Yeah! You're a woman who saw a bag on a billboard and had the nous to go get the knock-off from New Look for £15 in the sale! IT'S RED! It's got a pocket you will never use because the fastening broke immediately, but who cares, because this bag looks like you're going into a board meeting. A board meeting that requires little to no preparation because, again, you haven't quite got the contents to fill this bag. Back then it was a pencil case, a homework diary, the books you need for the day, a phone and some shag bands. Which sort of left the bag billowing in the wind, but again, who cares? You're a woman now. A woman with a bag that has a weird spinning fastening that took you 15 minutes in the shop to fully understand, but the satisfaction you get from clicking it open to extract your pencil case (that still says TWAT on it, a throwback from last year) makes it all worth it. 

The Rachel Zoe Bag

Age: 16 -18 

Life span: 2 years, but you'll keep going back to it every year until you die, wondering if it's 'time'. 

Distinguishing features: Fucking massive, probably tan or beige or brown, big padlock on the front, small straps

Oh don't say you didn't go for the big bug sunglasses, huge bag balanced in the crook of your arm, long hippy skirt thing. Because you totally did. The mid noughties were about size zero, Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton flashing their vaginas when they got out of cars, and Rachel Zoe influencing us all to wander around streets with oversized accessories clutching coffee cups. I didn't even like coffee, but when I went into town with my big lady-bag and some sort of massive bead necklace, I'd ask for tap water just so I could walk around with the Costa cup. That's dedication. 

This bag was also perfect for sixth form, when you start carrying huge ringbinders around and needed room for the fags you'd started smoking/bottles of alcohol to smuggle into the pubs down the road, but not so perfect in terms of the fairly serious wrist strain.

The Knock Off Bag Round 1

Age: 19

Life span: 2-4 weeks

Distinguishing feature: From a distance it looks like a designer bag, but the logo is off-centre and the lettering is wobbly.

You've arrived at uni, or your new job if you went straight from school to work, and you want to impress because this is, like, a new phase of your life. You are now a proper person doing something with their life, so you order a Chanel bag from China on a dodgy website after spending hours on eBay trying to figure out if it's worth buying a genuine Chanel passport holder for £200 and it breaks after two weeks. Mine was a Chloe bag from Abu Dhabi that was my pride and joy - I went to Durham Uni where everyone had Mulberrys and I didn't even know what a Mulberry was - for a month before the metal bar fell off and nearly decapitated a child on the high street. 

The Charity Shop Bag

Age: 21

Life span: 6 months (due to wear and tear)

Distinguishing features: Mad detailing, a label that says something like 'Gary's Bags', worn out zips 

You had one of those long-strapped vintage leather patchwork bags that look a bit like tapestry, didn't you. Or, at the very least, a charity shop bag that looked way more expensive than it was and had holes in the lining. The vintage trend meant that the more granny-ish your bag, the cooler you were, and this was grown-up sticking it to the man, because people would say things like 'Oh my god I love your bag!' and you'd know in your heart that it cost 90p. 

The Uni Mini-bag 

Age: 19 - 21

Lifespan: Unclear, due to constant replacement and being drunk a lot 

Distinguishing features: It's small, with a long strap.

Once you learn how to go out and get absolutely battered, you learn that you can't be weighed down with minor things like bags to keep your possessions in. That kooky charity shop bag that fits all your lecture notes inside requires a cloakroom, and nobody's got time to spend two minutes checking in a bag in a cloakroom when you could be downing Jager and doing whatever else you were doing in a student club. Clutches, on the other hand, are too risky because you might leave them somewhere - plus you can't do wild dance moves while holding a clutch bag. Instead, we got to uni and immediately hunted for tiny bags with long straps which fitted your lipstick, cards, dorm keycard and fags in. I owned seven, of varying colours and styles for different occasions (black tie balls, black tie dinners, night at the pub, night dancing, night getting drunk and running around campus nude, that sort of thing. I've still got them all in the back of my wardrobe at home and they look so nice until you open them up and see the lipstick marks, fag burns, and inhale the scent of years-old wine stains. God, I was disgusting, but I was also a right laugh (unless my cards dropped out of my Mini-Bag. Then I'd spend the night sitting on various steps and crying).  

The Unemployment bag

Age: 22 - employment 

Life span: However long it takes

Distinguishing features: It's shit

Who cares, you don't have a job/are working part time as a waitress and have literally nobody to impress. You use this on a daily basis, and it's probably some sort of naff bag your mum didn't want any more because you can't afford to actually buy one. Or don't even think to, because you're too busy being sad about your unemployed life. When you go out to see friends, you drag out the old Uni Mini-Bag but it just doesn't feel the same.

The First Job Bag

Age: n/a

Distinguishing features: Fashionable, black, structured

Life span: 2 years

This is way cheaper than it looks, and probably as plain as possible to maximise the chic; if it had any gimmicks, then someone could identify it as Primark. It's roomy, goes over the shoulder - so you can swing it on when you've clocked off, like a real working woman - but doesn't have any inner pockets due to being essentially cheap. Which means you spend half an hour after leaving any building, rummaging around to find your car keys, bus pass, etc. You usually end up taking everything out and then putting it back in again, after discovering it was in your pocket. While the First Job Bag looks good, you can't wait to find one that will actually be practical and less like a vortex with handles.  

The Knock Off Bag Round 2 

Age: n/a

Life span: 2-4 weeks

Distinguishing features: From a distance it looks like a designer bag, but the logo is off-centre and the lettering is wobbly.


The Disappointing Bag 

Age: n/a

Life span: 4 months

Distinguishing features: It looks fucking excellent 

You spent all your salary on this, it's a designer but not one that the average person-on-the-street would know about so you find yourself prefixing your response to 'Where's your bag from?' with 'It's this designer called...' just so everyone knows it's expensive. When the strap breaks the first time, you get really upset because this was your first proper bag and how dare it break - before taking it to a shop that fixes bag straps. When the zip goes, you throw it out in a blur of tears before realising you now don't have a bag and are forced to use a Temporary Bag (see below) which really sets your life back by about 50 Sophistication Points. 

The Temporary Bag 

Age: n/a

Life span: 150 million years

Distinguishing features: It's dated, and experienced some wear and tear. There is usually one characteristic about it that makes you embarrassed. 

Everyone's got this bag. It sits at the back of the cupboard for when your actual bag breaks and pops its head out with a knowing grin, cheap-looking diamantés glinting in the sunlight. It's not a bad bag - in fact, judging by the lifespan of your other bags, it's essentially the Jesus of bags - but it's just not something you'd want to be seen wearing. Maybe it looks great, but has a big gold buckle at the front that makes you shudder. Or the strap is just slightly too short. Or it has a silver dragon on the front so you have to wear it backwards. Every time you're between bags, this dude is there for you until you spot a better one in a shop window and back to the cupboard it goes. 

A Great Bag 

Age: n/a

Life span: 30 years 

Distinguishing features: It looks like a dream you once had 

A bag that, whenever you go into it, a little voice says 'Well done you' at the back of your mind. A bag that has pockets for phones, nooks and crannies for various other important things - completely eradicated all 'Oh fuck where did I put my - hang on' moments. A bag that goes with all your outfits, without pulling focus and yet quietly collecting admiring glances. I have never met this bag yet, but I have faith that one day, it will happen for me. And when it does, I'll never let it go. 

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Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM

Illustrated by Ella McLean

Tags: Fashion So-Called Rules