Sunday, November 20, 2005

"The Bag is the New Hat"

Gray is the new black. Khakis are the new jeans. Blazers are the new cardigan. Every season brings new versions of old favorites, and replacements for old essentials. However, despite the fashion industry's perpetual quest for the latest innovation, there are a few constants. One is the endless stream of fabulous handbags from top designers- each one is more elaborate than the next. And of course, every fashionista worth her stilettos simply has to have the latest "it" bag.

The cult of the designer bag is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the 60s, bags weren't given a whole lot of thought - they were supposed to blend in with the rest of your outfit. Until the late 1950s, hats were the key accessory that topped off every ensemble. After all, a nice lady would never go out without her head covered.

Women collected hats, planned outfits around them, and obsessed over the latest styles. Every conceivable sort of ribbon, beading, trimming, and embellishment was used to decorate hats of all sizes and shapes. Different styles of hat were required for different occasions, and wearing the wrong one was considered a major faux pas. A new hat in the most current style could instantly update any look. They were (and still are) incredibly expensive; hats by the most popular designers could cost a small fortune. Sound familiar? Today's bags could definitely fit this description.

Hats have lost their status as an everyday necessity for most women, but every girl has at least one purse. In fact, a handbag's shape, style, and color will generally reveal quite a bit about the owner's personality, much like a hat. For instance, a simple leather tote is comparable to a felted wool portrait hat trimmed with a band of grosgrain ribbon (both done in elegant neutrals, of course). Or a jeweled mink Gucci bag worn by the same woman who, had she lived a century earlier, would have chosen a velvet hat bedecked with peacock feathers.

For centuries, the hat reigned supreme as the ultimate feminine accessory, so don't expect the handbag to give up the throne anytime soon. However, if what goes around comes around (and back in style) in a few hundred years we may all be wearing fabulous hats again.

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