Why Are All of Our Bags Shrinking?

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Lizzo took the tiny bag trend to the next level at the American Music Awards this past weekend. In a vision of shocking orange, the singer accessorized her custom Valentino ruffled minidress with an extra-small Valentino Garavani bag made in partnership with Obvious Plant (only three of the bags exist). The toy-sized purse once again begs the questions: What even fits inside? And why carry a bag so small at all?

In order to answer the latter, CR tracks the evolution of the mini bag.

When Simon Porte Jacquemus first introduced his miniature 3-inch top-handle purse, the Le Sac Chiquito, on the Spring/Summer 2018 runway of his namesake line, it was met with instant adoration. It had all the makings of a viral accessory: it was cute, trendy, and highly Instagrammable. Rihanna was a fan, as was Kim Kardashian—both toted the teeny-tiny bag last year.

But for his Fall/Winter 2019 show, the French designer outdid himself with the debut of Mini Le Chiquito, a microscopic small purse that was shrunken down to a wee 2-inch height. Not only did it dangle from the fingers of models, but it also encased quite possibly the littlest show invite in recent memory, which warranted a magnifying glass to read.

Comically small, the bag was immediately declared “ridiculous,” with claims that it could only fit one Tic-Tac or a single Air Pod. But not everyone were haters: “His accessories, on the other hand—bags macro and very micro, earrings with clips to hold hankies or postcards —were clever,” one critic wrote.

The realist in me actually wanted to know: What can you fit in there? When I asked this of a friend in the industry, he facetiously remarked, “Like literally, only drugs.” But all jokes aside, what is the point of a very, very small bag when function is out of the question?

Of course, Jacquemus isn’t the first designer to toy with the idea of impractical, doll-sized purses. Most recently, an onslaught of diminutive bags (granted, not as small as Jacquemus’) took over the Spring/Summer 2019 collections. They were seen as necklaces—or very, very chic lanyards, depending on how you looked at them—decorating the necks of models that ended with vintage-style kiss-lock coin purses at Erdem or miniature boxy totes at Gabriela Hearst.

Out came a minuscule cross-body at Givenchy, cute purses with loop handles were slung around the wrists of models at Marc Jacobs, ornamental little lunch boxes were seen at Versace, and the strap of a teeny-tiny pouch was laced all the way up a model’s arm at Maryam Nassir Zadeh. At Brandon Maxwell’s Western-themed show, for every giant Plexiglass hat case, there was an itty-bitty bag that was so small, blink, and you’d miss it.

Two years previously, models at the Coach 1941 Fall/Winter 2017 show doubled up on bags, with a tiny duffel in their clutch and an even littler bag as a cross-body. Prior to that, the micro bag-as-necklace concept was seen at Valentino’s Pre-Fall 2017 show, on the Hermes Spring/Summer 2017 runway, and layered atop extra-large geode pendants at Givenchy Spring/Summer 2017.

It was Karl Lagerfeld who saw the appeal of the micro bag before anyone else: For the Fendi Spring/Summer 2015 collection, he shrunk down the brand’s signature Peekaboo top-handle style and affixed fluffy outsized charms that appeared to be bigger than the bag itself.

All of this is to say, small bags are prolific. Designers haven’t been able to resist playing with size and scale, swinging from supersized proportions one season (see: Victoria Beckham and Acne Studios Spring/Summer 2019 shows and the Balenciaga Fall/Winter 2017 collection) and then doing a complete 180 the next.

If we were to take a look back—past the runway—at vintage photos of high society, of royalty, women rarely carried purses larger than their hand. It could be argued that a bag’s size is indicative of status: The smaller it is, the more it functions only as a form of ornamentation, implying that you have hired help to lug your belongings. (It’s a popular belief among royal enthusiasts that modern-day duchesses, like Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, don’t even carry anything in their clutches.) In fact, from the 1900 to the 1920s, „reticules“ were in fashion, while working-class women were often seen bearing larger shoppers.

The mindset shifted when Hermes introduced the Birkin bag in 1984, the iconic style designed for (and named after) Jane Birkin after a serendipitous encounter with Hermes‘ Jean-Louis Dumas during which the actress spilled all her belongings from her straw tote on a flight, prompting the chief executive to create a holdall for her essentials. It became the ultimate status symbol and the birth of the „It“ bag era. But as recently as two years ago, Birkin was quoted saying that she has ditched her namesake purse, because if you fill the bag with „junk… and half the furniture from your house, it’s a very, very heavy bag. Now, I fill my pockets like a man, because then you don’t actually have to carry anything.“

And that brings us to our second point: A feminist argument can be made here. For the most part, men don’t shoulder bags. And so with a tiny purse, it can be liberating to be unburdened by the weight of catchalls crammed with weeks-old receipts or abandoned tubes of lipsticks (or at least that’s the case with mine and, evidently, Birkin’s). Throw a cross-body silhouette into the mix, and its empowering hands-free feature promotes mobility. Freedom. Small, dainty bags emerged in the ’70s for this exact reason. During the sexual liberation, skirts were shortened into minis and bags shrunk in size as well.

Yet, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a degree of infantilization associated with a tiny bag. It’s cute and adorable, and by carrying it, the wearer also feels cute and adorable. And as millennials age (and continue to face problems that no previous generations have had to experience, like widespread debt and low wages during a shot economy), the industry has observed an emerging behavior: a pull toward nostalgic fashion—reminders of childhood relics—as a way to prolong youth.

“We are all suffering from mental exhaustion from technology and other focuses around us,” Susan Korn, the designer behind the beaded bag brand Susan Alexandra, said in a recent feature. “Things used to be simple and fun and about being present. I think we’re longing for simpler times and I think most people do look toward childhood for joy.”

Regardless of how you want to slice and a dice it, owning a miniature purse does come with one useful attribute: It forces you to edit down your belongings to only essentials—even if it is just one Air Pod.

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createdAt:Fri, 15 Mar 2019 08:56:29 +0000
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