It all started with a $7 bag from Amazon. A year ago, I found myself opting for two-day delivery on a netted grocery tote that subsequently became my go-to summer bag. Before heading to the park for a solo afternoon of sun, I'd toss a book, my wallet, and my phone inside.
Fast-forward to 2018, when I wore a clear plastic Nike tote around fashion week, carried a raffia bag around India, and ran errands with a floral Saks Potts tote. Basically, you could see right through everything I carried. All my normal knickknacks were suddenly on full display, leaving me to wonder if it's all about curating what I put out there or if I truly couldn't care less. In the age of oversharing, what does a reveal-it-all bag say about me?
Yes, it did give me pause knowing that what was in my bag would be on display. While a stray receipt or wrapper would fly in a grungy sports tote, I didn't want random subway riders privy to the knowledge that I'd popped by Shake Shack for lunch. I definitely wouldn't be carrying around a spare pair of underwear for after yoga class.
If my bag is an extension of myself, then reevaluating what I carry is also an assessment of who I am, right? Okay, so maybe it's not deep soul searching to evaluate Balm Dotcom versus Burt's Bees or a beach read versus a Man Booker winner. However, asking myself if I care about whatever evaluations others make based on the contents of my carryall does play with my sense of self a bit. I don't want to care,but it's clear I do (see the underwear comment above). At least a little bit.
I'm not alone in this move to carry a reveal-all bag. Céline's $600 shopping bag has become an Instagram phenom, and so has Chanel's latest collection of clear handbags. In the age of an overtly polished version of oversharing, where our public personas are carefully crafted through filtered Instagram photos and witty tweets, it makes sense that we want to share IRL details through a curated lens too.
The secondhand copy of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, the $2000 Canon camera, the pack of bubble-mint gum—these things all say something about us before we ever open our mouths. A cultural obsession with a prescribed view of perfection is one side effect of all this exhibitionism, but there's a bit more to unpack with this trend in particular.
Fashion and the greater social climate are oft connected in some way, whether overtly obvious or not. I do think it's important to acknowledge a more serious parallel to this trend, the fact that clear bags have come to represent a sense of security in a fearful time. Many sports stadiums and performance arenas now require all bags admitted to be see-through. High School students are asked to adopt clear backpacks in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
On the other side of the black mirror, a clear bag is not a tool for self-presentation, but one of self-preservation. The fashion industry and its followers may not have intended for this connection, but the privilege of my narrative here—namely, how the contents of my bag reflect my personality rather than track my intentions, per se—feels essential to acknowledge.
Personally, the adoption of these bags was never a conscious decision to present some sort of persona, it wasn't done to offer insight to my fellow subway-riders or the latté drinker the next table over. But, I can't deny that using these bags created an internal conversation that didn't exist before. In a time when a stranger–on the street or the internet–can paint a picture of who I am, how do I keep the little things just for me? I'll have to write a follow-up when I figure it out.