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February 25, 2009

The Shame of Shopping

By Spear's

The times, as even the dullest Birkin-wielder slouching down Sloane Street will surely have noticed, are recessionary, so when buying a new wardrobe, it is very much bad form to be seen acquiring it, hence a new trend: White Bag Syndrome.

The times, as even the dullest Birkin-wielder slouching down Sloane Street will surely have noticed, are recessionary. The clothes of conspicuous consumption have come off, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped shopping (although they are flocking to the boutiques with less fervour these days): it just means they need a new wardrobe. (You’re not the first person to hit on sackcloth as the perfect fabric.)

Even if one needs this wardrobe, having shed the Chanel suit with the pink silk lining, it is very much bad form to be seen acquiring it, hence a new trend: White Bag Syndrome.

The most prominent early exponent of this was Kathleen Fuld, wife of widely-loved former Lehman Brothers CEO, Dick. Her trips to Hermes never resulted in those distinct orange bags, which scream good taste (or in Mrs Fuld’s husband’s case, scream imminent collapse and urgent takeover), but the sort of plain white paper bag that you might get from any designer shop were you trying to disguise your purchase.

  Leaving aside why Mrs Fuld might be disguising her purchase ([fill in the emotion here]), it is an interesting question as to how far this syndrome has spread. So, slouching down Sloane Street, Birkin concealed in its own white paper bag, we investigated.

The grandmother of all bags is the one from Tiffany: its trademark light blue is one of the most important parts of the brand, but they are no shirkers at hiding it away. The store on Sloane Square knew before even I did that I might like a white paper bag – and not as a substitute for the blue, but to cover the blue. Best of both worlds!

The lady in Anya Hindmarch said that people had certainly been asking for plain paper bags when buying handbags (there’s something unamusingly ironic about hiding a bag for a bag within a bag), but she didn’t have any to hand. Dunhill could provide a fabric bag, and Chloe a plastic bag (not really Stella McCartney’s style, one thinks), but Jo Malone were obdurate: yellow and black or nothing.

The key is a discretion borne from self-awareness and a sympathy (if not empathy) with the new financial realities. At least people who ask for white bags have an appropriate shame. The logical next step? Sending the models down the catwalks for the current fashion weeks in plain paper too.

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