Bad Design on Repeat: Spring’s Loosely Woven Bags

No doubt we all see fashions from time to time that we simply cannot appreciate. Whether the design constitutes a reminder of personal bad choices with which we dabbled in the past, or combines pieces or colors in ways that jar and repel us, there’s likely something presented as new each season by designers that doesn’t meet our personal aesthetic.

Some design ideas are bad for quite another reason – they are entirely impractical. This spring one style that has seen a resurgence is that of woven handbags. I’m not talking about tightly woven designs, such as the beautiful traditional Italian leathers of design houses like Bottega Veneta or summertime rigid wicker bags. I’m talking about loose weave, macramé-like designs. While these designs may have some eye appeal, they are remarkably impractical and can be downright dangerous to carry.

From the Spring 2021 issue of C California magazine, examples of tightly woven bags by Kate Spade New York and Maje M, plus a net “Filet Le Pliage bag from Longchamp and a macramé-embellished leather tote from Tod’s.

From the Spring 2021 issue of DuJour  magazine, a wicker bag from Celine by Hedi Slimane and a macramé bag from Fendi.

Consider you have one of these loosely woven bags slung over a shoulder or carried on your arm, and the weave catches as you walk by a store display, a door handle, the arm of a chair. . . . and suddenly you feel the tug and then the horror of knowing that your designer bag may cause damage to property if not bodily harm!  (Do I sound like a lawyer?)

The only thing worse than a loosely woven bag is a loosely woven skirt . . . . as pictured in the Spring 2021 issue of C California magazine. The look is great so long as you don’t sit down anywhere any part of the skirt might catch. When the look provides so little coverage, at least you won’t be exposing more if and when the inevitable rip occurs.

Reviewing Shoes & Handbags Plus a Style Hack: Riches of eBay: Purse Straps

One worthwhile project to tackle during these days of isolating due to the coronavirus is a review of one’s wardrobe. It’s difficult to know when it will be time to break out the fancy duds again, but the most frequently used items in the wardrobe certainly merit time and attention.

Now’s the time to check on the condition of shoes and handbags, to polish them and give them a good cleaning, and to assess what needs more significant attention and what needs to be culled from the wardrobe.

SHOES:  While shoes can be polished at home, repairs and upgrading of worn heels and the like require the attention of a shoe repair professional. Most shoe-related maintenance projects may need to wait until the economy reopens.

Now is a good time to look over your shoe wardrobe and to determine if any shoes will need to be replaced, such as much-used athletic shoes or go-to styles of shoes for work. Putting together a wish list can be helpful. Online shopping may provide an option, albeit limited, for filling the gaps in the wardrobe, since there is no substitute for trying on a pair of shoes to determine how comfortable they are. Liberal return policies are of great help.

Also useful is being able to obtain exactly the same style of shoes that have worked perfectly for you. Sadly, few shoe lines produce identical designs over the years. Be very cautious if a shoe line introduces a shoe that looks to be identical to one you purchased before if the shoe suddenly has a new style name – chances are the specifications for the shoes are not the same, and the fit of the shoes may be very different.  

HANDBAGS:  With regard to purses, along with basic cleaning and polishing, there may be an additional repair or upgrade project possible to bring new life to a favorite bag. If a handbag includes a strap to allow for hands-free use, the strap almost always can easily be replaced.

Finding an exact replacement for your purse strap may be possible on eBay at a remarkably low price. Search by the name of the designer or manufacturer of your purse to find the identical or similar styles of bags. Measure the strap you wish to replace to ensure you are finding a match, and you may be all set. If the strap is sewn on, of course, you’re back to waiting for that shoe repair shoe to open to make the switch, but if the strap clips on, you’re good to go.

Don’t forget that an annoying short strap can be replaced with a longer one; a new color strap may add pizzazz. There are literally thousands of purse straps available on eBay. Have fun discovering a whole world of style possibilities available from the comfort of your own home.

Defensive Purse Carrying – The Advanced Class

I have long been an advocate of the cross-body bag. My fondness for the design stems from years of taking public transportation to work back in my student days when I lived in the Chicago area. The immediate benefit of a cross-body design is that it allows the bag to be carried hands-free. But the confidence a cross-body design conveys, in my view, goes beyond that convenience.

Having the long strap of a purse arranged cross-wise over my outerwear, the top of the bag in view and the bag close to my body, gives me confidence that no one can reach into the bag and steal its contents. With few exceptions, my cross-body bag design of choice has a top zipper to provide an extra sense of security.  It takes more effort to unzip a zipper than to turn a clasp on a flap-style bag. The cross-body bad is perfect for travel.

Reading the March 17, 2019 issue of Parade magazine, a supplement to many newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, I read a blurb that gave me a new perspective on defensive purse carrying, this in a small piece headed “Meghan vs. Royal Fashion Police.”

Noting that the fashion choices of the former actress who became Prince Harry’s wife “are a refreshing break from the style dictated by royal protocol,” the article references, among other choices, her messy bun, her refusal to wear pantyhose, and her cross-body bags.

Illustration:  Breaking with royal protocol with a cross-body bag from Australian designer Oroton at an event in 2018.

A do recall noting that Princess Diana routinely carried a clutch-style purse that matched her ensemble. I attributed this fashion choice to the refined elegance of the design and the likelihood that a royal likely needs to carry not much more than a handkerchief.

There’s more to the choice of a clutch than that, according to Parade:  “Royals often carry clutches as a way to avoid shaking hands with members of the public or to use to cover cleavage as they climb out of a car.”

While I don’t anticipate most of us need be concerned about the need to shake hands with too many people, positioning a clutch to prevent an undesired peak of cleavage might be a skill worth mastering.

Fragile Shoulders

Perhaps one of the world’s most recognizable, prestigious and expensive fashion labels can afford in an ad to promote a look that is destructive to the wardrobe of the wearer because presumably the wearer can easily afford to replace it.

Here’s the ad, which appeared in the January 2018 issue of Vogue magazine. The woman is wearing a fur coat, and has slung over one shoulder a chain-strap designer bag. The coat is white; the bag is black.

I assume the bag is color-fast. However, that bag will be rubbing or bouncing against the side of the wearer, which in time will cause the coat to show wear if not discoloration due to whatever dirt is carried on the surface of the bag.

Even more damaging is the strap. The links of the chain will be doing serious damage to the soft surface of the coat, especially where the weight of the bag pulls down on the shoulder. The damage will be immediate and irreversible.

When wearing fur or faux fur, or any garment with fragile material on the shoulders, never wear a shoulder strap bag and never ever even think of wearing a shoulder strap made of chain. What an unfortunate image for a fashion label to promote.

Cross These Cross-Bodies Off Your List

Cross-body bags are one of my favorite accessories. A beautifully designed bag that appeals to my aesthetic, combined with a strap long enough to cross from one shoulder across my body to the level of the opposite hip, is my idea of a marvelous invention.  Especially wonderful for travel and for taking public transportation, such a bag allows me to keep my handbag safely in view while enabling me to unlock doors, carry packages, wheel suitcases, or do other things that need to be done without leaving my bag unattended.

0417 short cross boddy Fendi in 0317 Allure REV

A number of high-end designers this season seem to have designed so-called cross-body bags with short straps, showing the bags worn essentially as necklaces. The March 2017 issue of Allure features a model who wears a leather bag and strap by Fendi as if she is wearing a necklace, presumably to show off the workmanship on the strap.  The look works because the model has a small bust, with no curves to disrupt the line of the strap. The handbag emphasizes her boyish figure.

0417 short cross body Dior ad 0217 Vogue REV

A current ad for Dior emphasizes the androgynous effect of a cross-body with a wide strap. Although worn to the side, the bag strap has little length to accommodate curves.

0417 short cross body D&G ad 0417 Elle REV

As for this current ad for Dolce & Gabbana, showing a structured leather bag with strap worn as a necklace, my initial reaction was “ouch!” — that pointed edge of the bag seems to be hitting in a rather awkward spot on the curvaceous model.

Bags with shorter straps, such as the Dolce & Gabbana, can be worn as classic shoulder bags, draped over one shoulder, the bag falling to the side of the wearer. Wearing a bag in this fashion likely requires some adjustment from time to time to keep the bag strap up on the shoulder, and, since the bag can easily be slipped off, this style is much less secure for travel.

To find the perfect cross-body purse, do a bit of planning. Determine the ideal length of a strap for a cross-body bag that fits your body, and use this strap measurement when selecting a new bag. You can confidently cross the other “cross-bodies” off your list.


A Season of Elegant Handbags with Small Scale Detail

This season, more than any in recent years, designer have foregone some of the logos and labels and extraneous buckles, straps and accoutrements, that have made handbags (and other accessories) chunky and sometimes downright unwieldy. This is the season of the return of the elegant, ladylike handbag.

If you have small to medium bone structure, rejoice!  Image consulting principles suggest that the appropriate scale of the construction details of your accessories, including handbags, shoes and jewelry, is most flattering to you when they relate to your physical features. Small to medium size wrists suggest that the  hardware and other details of your handbags are most attractive when they too are not overly large in size.

Small scale handbag Hugo Boss ad 1014 REV

A current ad for a Hugo Boss handbag presents a bag with a smooth surface, a small clasp, and minimal hardware on the bag’s handle. Notice how these relate to the small wrist of the model holding the purse.

Small scale handbag Amy Adams w Max Mara bag 1014 REV

In a current ad for Max Mara, actress Amy Adams is pictured with a bag of beautiful smooth surfaces and minimal hardware, and a medium-width strap, which looks perfect with her average-size wrist.

Small scale handbag Coach ad relatively 1014 REV

A current ad for Coach also reflects restraint in the size of handbag details, although there are significantly more “bells and whistles” on these casual designs with their studs and hangtags and relatively chunky hardware.

Top-Handle Bags: Vintage Inspiration & Vintage Options

Mid-Century style is providing inspiration for designers this season in the return of ladylike accessories. The style influence of handbags dating to the 1950s and 1960s is particularly evident.

top handle bag trend 0913 HB REV

The September 2013 issue of Harper’s Bazaar identifies the top-handle bag as one of the 10  key pieces of the season.  Picturing an $1,895 bag from Balenciaga, a $2,455 bag from Giorgio Armani and a bag from Reed Krakoff (similar to other styles sold on the magazine’s retail web site for upwards of $800), the magazine reports: “The front-page news is that there’s no single defining model this season. All that matters is that your arm candy is discreet, elegant, and top-handled.”

Marc Jacobs patent leather vintage style bag REV

Designer Marc Jacobs was one of the early adapters of the vintage look, introducing in his spring 2013 collection the “Shiny Teds Camden” made of Spazzolato leather, with a high-shine look similar to that of patent leather, and a price tag of $1,295. An ad featuring the bag is pictured above.

Black patent Lucite handle bag 2

You can find similar 1950s-era handbags, such as the vintage black patent leather bag with a clear Lucite handle that sold on eBay in July 2013 for $39 – roughly three percent of the cost of the Marc Jacobs design.

Charlotte Olympia metal weave & plastic bag 0713 Elle REV

Designer Charlotte Olympia has created a handbag made of metal and Perspex (a type of plastic) that was featured as “one of the season’s freshest bags” in the July 2013 issue of Elle magazine, price on request. The handbag has a geometric shape; the metal is a pattern of woven strips; the top of the bag is flat plastic with a molded plastic handle. Charlotte Olympia bags tend to run over $1,000.

Metal woven basket purse 1

Here’s a similar woven metal 1950s-era handbag with a Lucite top that sold on eBay in June for $20.

At vintage clothing expos, you can expect to find Lucite and woven metal mid-Century bags for $100 – $300, and on eBay, a savvy shopper will do ever better.  Snag a fashion-forward top-handle bag in good to excellent condition at- a fraction of the cost of the new designer options, and ever so chic.