Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Psychology of...the Handbag!

'No, Alan, not like that, hook the handbag over your wrist and keep your palm turned upwards.'
Of all the directions I thought my career might take me, teaching Alan Titchmarsh to carry a handbag was not one I had imagined.
But I found myself doing just that recently, when recording a piece about handbags for the Alan Titchmarsh show (on ITV today, 3pm). 
Alan was such a good sport and minced onto the set carrying a gorgeous little snakeskin number, one of many designer and vintage handbags featured whose extortionate prices raised a few 'ooohs' from the studio audience.

We live in a time when the handbag has become the ultimate statement piece for women. And even in these days of austerity many women seem reluctant to ditch the designer bag. In fact for many, a touch of regulated self-indulgence feels more necessary than ever.
Here are a few of my theories. Or what I call my 'handbagology':

Status symbols
“I loved all the admiring glances I got from my friends when I walked in with it.”
It used to be men who advertised their status,  with the flash car or expensive watch. Now women are earning more and competing at the top they too are signalling their status to others. They choose a bag  - usually a huge in-your-face tote - that says, I’m successful, I’m expensive, I’m chic. Many women at the top assess their own and other women’s status by the handbags they use.
Rule No 1: Your bag shouldn't weight more than you do.
Compensatory consumption
My research has shown that women spend more when depressed, believing a purchase will cheer them up. They might get a brain ‘buzz’ from buying it, but it may be short-lived and will not eliminate the cause of their negative emotions. Ironically, the harder the times the more women will seek solace in this way. And probably the bigger the bag the greater the void in their lives.  But beware. In the words of my friend Jessica Chivers, ‘Happiness is NOT a handbag!’

Celebrity worship
“I saw Beyonce with it in a magazine and so I had to have it.”
We’ve seen a huge rise in the cult of the celebrity and in the desire of women to emulate them. You may not be able to get the Beckham figure, millions or footballer husband, but you can get the bag. Or one like it. Some designers are cashing in on this and using celebrities to advertise their handbags, like Coach using Gwyneth Paltrow.
Rule No 2: Don't believe if you buy the bag you'll look this good

Believing a bag is an ‘investment’
I once heard a fashionista on Woman’s Hour declaring that she ‘invests in a designer handbag each season'. We delude ourselves if we view high-priced fashion items as an ‘investment’. Most aren’t. (Just to be safe, in case the bottom drops out of the handbag market or there’s a world clutch-bag crash, I’d recommend an ISA.)

“It’s a kind of passport into the business world. It says, ‘I’m worthy of a job in fashion’”
Humans have evolved to belong to a group, we crave to be seen by others and feel part of something. An expressive wardrobe is a way of signalling not just which group you belong to (teenage groups have their own cool trends which distinguishes them from others) but which you aspire to. Many feel a designer bag makes them seen and sends a message to others: I want to be one of the Gucci crowd, I’m a Prada girl. There’s even an optimal way of carrying it to show it off to the max. The logo is always displayed, the bag hooked over the wrist, palm held upwards.

Feeling fat? The bag always fits…
If women feel the urge to shop but are feeling fat they can buy a bag and it will always fit, whereas clothes are very figure-dependent. The same goes for shoes.

The power  - and cost - of the brand
"I know a lot of women who will starve to get a handbag. I’ve got a lot of friends like that.”
I came across the comment above on an online site ( Millions of pounds of clever marketing go into promoting and advertising designer handbags, and some women will even go into debt to have their bag of desire.

Creating scarcity
Luxury brand items are now more available – at airports, on the high street, online. So the marketers create a sense of scarcity by limiting the availability of certain items. This stimulates even more desire. Brain research shows we get huge pleasure not just from getting something but from anticipating having it. The luxury brands cash in on this by creating waiting lists, making women want it more and obliterating the difference between want and need.

All goes to show that a bag is so much more than somewhere to keep your purse and your keys!

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