I have a Louis Vuitton bag from the Aughties that I have been slugging around for years like an anvil. I stuff it with everything possible: my work laptop, books, packs of opened gum, various chargers, and loose change. Along with a flip-phone pocket on its side, it looks like it is from way back when thanks to its condition. Its orange-brown handle is discoloured, the plastic has poked through the piping, and the foot pegs are hanging on by a literal thread.
At the moment, I can’t be bothered to get it repaired. In fact, I’m learning to indulge in its wear and tear. As Y2K It-bags are experiencing a revival, I’ve realised I’m not alone. Friends have been sending me photos of their newly unearthed early ’00s Balenciaga City bags or Marc Jacobs Stam bags – all of which are scuffed and scratched. This past Fashion Week, I ran into writer Taylore Scarabelli, who was toting a black Balenciaga bag. She said the carryall “looks even better when it is beat up and dirty.”
This motto is a far cry from what I remember when I started my career in fashion years ago. While working at a magazine, I met a woman who stuffed her Celine luggage bag with tissue paper so it wouldn’t lose shape and rubbed dirt off of it with a spit-on thumb like she was scrubbing chocolate from a toddler’s cheek. When she placed it on a table, it was as if Zazu was presenting Simba to the world. At the time, it gave me a pang of insecurity. I could not afford a Celine luggage tote, and even if I could, I did not have the mind to treat it with such care.
But maybe the time for treating bags with preciousness is over. I’ve debated getting my Vuitton schlepper repaired, but I have also been looking at old photos of Mary-Kate Olsen and her beat-up bags, specifically her notorious Balenciaga mint-green tote from the early ’00s, which remains in iconic fashion forum history. The then boho-loving Olsen strutted around town with her Motorcycle bag stained with a bull’s-eye of red wine splotched onto its bottom. The bag’s dirtiness was so infamous that it came up in a 2005 profile in W magazine. “The version she’s carrying today was originally mint green, but it’s so dingy, covered with stains, pen marks, and even a chewed-up piece of gum, that it looks almost grey. ‘It explains my life,’ Olsen says, sighing, when asked about her beloved accessory’s sorry state.”
Even more derelict is her large black leather Kelly bag, whose bottom has faded from black to grey with scratches. Olsen has worn it universally everywhere: out and about in a pair of slacker tracksuit bottoms and in a fur jacket as she is grabbing a Starbucks coffee. In some cases, she has used it to hide her face from the paparazzi. Though the bag costs upwards of $10,000, (£7,000), she treats it like the overstuffed briefcase of a used-car salesman.
In a way, the worn-down bag is a power move, akin to the rising popularity of £19 Apple wired headphones over £119 AirPods. Even those with the funds to buy AirPods, such as celebrities Bella Hadid and Lily-Rose Depp, still opt for wired headphones. As I noted in an article from December 2019, the lo-fi option has become a status symbol. “Whatever the reason, Hadid’s choice for flaunting those classic wires feels strangely luxurious. The choice connotes that she can’t be bothered to keep up with the latest tech and prefers the simpler things in life, which is, oddly enough, the true measure of success.”
Of course, there are moments in which a roughed-up bag doesn’t connote glam insouciance. If you’re going to a job interview, you likely don’t want to wear a bag that looks like it has been chewed up by a dog. Nor do you want your bag to get to the point of no repair. There is, of course, value in taking care of a bag, but if your pochettes or totes get scuffed in the process, don’t fret: It’s not the end of the world.
Dragging a designer bag around to death gives off a devil-may-care attitude. Who can be bothered to be so careful anymore? I carry it like a flimsy tote, not because I don’t care about my clothes, but because I have a life to live, and, honestly, places to be! True luxury is wearing something costly over and over again. Besides, the point of clothes is to ultimately tell stories. Each bang-up on a bag has a history, whether that is a raucous party or a boring work commute. And all that wear and tear is earned and means the bag – and its wearer – has very much lived a life. Now that’s priceless.