In my research into the sudden popularity of bamboo bags, I was surprised to learn that the term "It Bag" is such a recent one. Its coinage is as fresh as the 90s, when it was first being used to describe high-priced designer bags like those signature bags by Chanel or Fendi or Gucci. The concept of branded bags came about even earlier, though, back in the 1940s when the designer Roberta di Camerino created the first instantly recognizable bag, using artisan-made hardware and distinctive textiles. However, the It Bag didn't explode until the 90s for whatever reason. Maybe it was, as Wikipedia drily claims, because there was suddenly, simply this huge market for handbags.
That explanation leaves me with more questions than answers, personally.
Think about it: the market still exists. The fashion industry is a 1.2 trillion dollar annual industry, but by 2011 the concept of the It Bag was in decline.
Did the It Bag disappear because bargains became fashionable or because fashion is changing too quickly to make a huge investment in one expensive, transitory piece worthwhile? (Also, here is a great piece by Celia Walden on why she's glad the It Bag is over.) Or are It Bags over because It People are in now? Never mind It Bags. What does the "It Bag" mean now in an era where it's not only handbags that are branded but people themselves through their very own social media pages?
That's probably too deep a question for a slow fashion diary blog to address in 300-500 words. However, it did delight me to spot a different kind of "it bag" on many, many Instagram feeds. That same site that encourages people to brand themselves like fancy handbags. Now, it's not a humble bamboo bag you might suddenly notice every fashionably minded person sporting. Baskets in general are suddenly as ubiquitous as the Coachella wheel-- the sight of which, like fringe paired with cowboy boots, western belts, and a joyous grin, now signals spring as surely as cherry blossoms.
But let's put my seething envy for all the people who got to see Beyoncé live at Coachella aside and get back to bamboo.
Bamboo is potentially the most renewable resource for fabrics, even more so than hemp. What does put hemp ahead in the race for title to the future's most sustainable fabric is that rendering bamboo into cloth is still often requires the use of lots and lots of chemicals. Again, though, that means the news about bamboo "it bags" is good!
1. Bamboo bags are made with the Earth's most easily renewable, least-water consuming crop.
2. And, even better, unlike bamboo cloth, bamboo bags take no (or at least) very few chemicals to transform into a chic piece of arm candy.
I've linked to a few, beautiful bamboo and other fair trade, 70s-inspired options on my Pinterest page (see below).
Do you own a bamboo bag or a cute basket that can be used for shopping or paired as an accessory? When you think about it, straw baskets and bamboo bags and patched, cloth textile bags are actually the original Birkin bags! What do you think of this 70s-era trend? Do you think you'll buy one for summer?
My sandals are (old) BCBG ones. Similar here.
My wrap skirt is available here.
My Free People sweater is sold out but a similar one is available here.
My bamboo bag is a reproduction of a classic Japanese picnic basket! It's available here.
FYI Cult Gaia, who originally made the bamboo bags such desirable Eco It Objects just made their first (stupendously gorgeous) clothing collection out of deadstock! AND they're committed to treating workers fairly! Check them out!
At first, I had ambitious plans for my no-shopping challenge. I’d clean out my entire closet! I would donate every single thing I hadn’t worn in at least three years! I would… do absolutely none of the above, because every day I was too busy juggling real life creatures and their many poo-and-vomit covered bits and pieces to worry about my own relatively liquid-free possessions, but that's okay! That's not what this month was about.
Originally, the idea came to me, because I needed to reset my time management skills. My two toddlers were finally in part-time daycare. Over the past few baby-making years, I cultivated several bad, albeit relaxing behaviors that proved to be time sucks and hard to shake: bingeing Netflix, browsing stores online, scrolling through social media pinning hearts on strangers' achievements instead of focusing on my own, or simply staring into space muttering why, why, why God, why?
Joking about the last one. The others are all too real and very, very wasteful. In the end, despite not putting any but the barest rules in place, the results from my low-key approach were gratifying. From my few attempts to clean and organize, versus adding to the chaos with new purchases, I had more space not only in my closet but in my chest. The energy I hadn’t realized I’d been putting into acquiring new things went elsewhere. It flowed into myself.
Here’s what I learned from the surprising month of (almost*) no shopping.
1. Break the Online Shopping Habit:
Once I knew couldn’t spend money, to my surprise, I lost interest in trawling various sites. Over this past year, I’ve become much more committed to sustainability and ethical fashion, so I do buy most of my things secondhand these days—whether designer items on Tradesy, eBay, or Poshmark, or treasures scavenged from thrift stores & consignment shops in New York and Philly.
What this gradual shift most highlighted was the way in which, unknowingly, I'd been sinking hours and hours of my time into a mindless, even if relaxing, activity. More worrisome, I’d been spending money I didn’t have on things I didn’t need. Yes, it helps to spam mailing lists from ShopBop, BlueFly, and Bloomingdales—there’s also services that will unlist you (and which I'll hyperlink here later). Spamming them helped me a lot with not feeling lured to the sites. This wasn’t a hard and fast rule, either; it was a development from my basic idea of not shopping for a month, and it made me realize I could…
2. Shop My Own Closet
Every time I did take a little time to organize my closet, I always “discovered” a simple black slipdress I loved but had forgotten about or front-pocket, bell-bottom jeans that were cool again and only needed a patch to be wearable. We need to tell ourselves: it’s okay to take pleasure in pretty things. It manifests as such a different feeling from greed-- that sick pang in the soul, hungering for acquisition. Delight doesn’t take up space in your head in the same way as envying a girl on Instagram her perfect unmotherly mom jeans or wanting a similar pair yourself because it’s on sale, more than because you think you’d actually look good in them. Our patriarchal culture puts down any quality seen as too feminine, but taking delight in pretty things is very different from greedily wanting more, more, more! Or envying others what they have. In fact, delighting in the real, physical pleasure of what you already have, handily combats those kind of demons better than any guiltifying, inspirational maxim.
3. Repair Old Clothes and Shoes
Somewhat covered this one above, but it bears saying again as it was just as impactful as other epiphanies. I finally took the time this month to find a cobbler and a tailor. Everywhere I’ve lived, and I've moved at least once a year my entire adult life, these types of relationships have been key. Extending the life of your favorite garments is also an easy and satisfying way to live more sustainably.
4. Pick One Category At a Time: Don’t Stress About Organizing Your Entire Closet
I have been thrifting my entire adult life and other than my two pregnancies I’ve been about the same size since high school. My feet didn't even change sizes after pregnancy despite the schadenfreude from my friends, eyeing my secondhand Frye boot collection (all found at Monk's Thrift in the East Village & all for about $20!!!) My point is: I have a LOT of stuff. This bullet point might, therefore, not be useful for everyone. Maybe you have a more select wardrobe. From the number of ads I see online offering to organize closets or take old clothes to make room for new ones or the fact that we donate so many textiles that we’re burying the textile economies of third world countries, I doubt I’m alone in this.
Anyway, I found it was really helpful to organize a little here and there. In this case, in this past month all I organized was the felt box containing my white, black, and gray t-shirts and tank tops. (I lived in NYC for almost a decade, and I have an insane amount of colorless clothing in every variety of cut, shape, and texture you can imagine.)
5. If Giving Stuff Away Still Stresses You Out, Start Easy
Soon after we moved into our current home back in November, I actually managed to donate a lot of boxes to the Goodwill, so that wasn't as much a focus this time around. It really did end up being more about managing my time than my closet. However, I did put a few potential giveaways in a big Tupperware box in my children’s playroom. The box can be sealed and makes for a great indoor playground for them to climb on safely. And it’s filled with things I think I want to give away, but I'm not quite sure about… Currently, I don’t have an earthly clue what’s in there-- an indication that it’s time to let go. Also, sometimes I rediscover things that turn out to be back in style or that I’m excited to wear in a different way or suddenly see with a fresh eye. Either way, if FOMO makes you hold on to stuff, a big box can be kind of like training wheels.
FYI: When I do manage to give stuff away, I love stopping by local thrift stores and checking them out for picture frames and children’s books and shoes—little feet grow so fast, even worn shoes are almost all in brand-new shape! If you're looking for adult clothes, consignment stores like Buffalo Exchange in NYC or Greene Street in Philly, stores with multiple branches, tend to have the best deals & the best treasures. In fact, I found the Elizabeth and James dress pictured above for $15 at Buffalo Exchange in Chelsea.
A Slow Fashion Diary