For the last few years, my Instagram feed has been inundated with photos of tiny handbags — celebrities toting them on award show red carpets, influencers using them as style props, friends posting their best tiny designer dupes in their Stories. And while the handbag trend previously showed no signs of slowing down, since the pandemic took hold, something seems to have changed. My theory: The novel coronavirus is on its way to throwing the micro bag out the window — and it probably won’t make a sound when it lands.
The bite-sized bag craze over the last few years can be traced back to French fashion designer Simon Porte Jacquemus, who unveiled his now-ubiquitous three-inch handbag, the Le Chiquito, at the spring-summer 2018 show for his namesake brand. At first, the meme-worthy accessory left some fashion fans, myself included, perplexed: Who would pay a full £380 for a bag that can barely fit a credit card? As it turns out, lots of people; soon after the show, images of Le Chiquito began popping up all over the internet, strewn across the bodies of celebrities like Rihanna and every single Kar-Jenner sister. Though many of those initial bags could have been gifted to their wearers, Le Chiquito’s true impact lay in the way it was next imitated. Soon enough, everyone from indie labels to fast fashion giants rolled out their own version of the mini bag design, turning it from a somewhat-aspirational item into an attainable trend. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a handbag line that doesn’t include some iteration of a comically downsized purse. And they’ve gotten smaller — for his fall-winter 2019 collection, Jacquemus designed an even tinier version of Le Chiquito, dubbed the Le Chiquito Petit, which clocks in at a mere two inches wide and sells for £192.
Clearly, the micro bag is not worn for its utility, and, prior to this year, that was never a problem for its devotees, who either sacrificed function for fashion or didn’t need to carry much of anything. They got by just fine in a world that hadn’t yet learned of government-mandated face coverings and hand sanitiser shortages. Still, while Le Chiquito and its imitators might have been endearing in that universe, today they feel almost offensively useless.
Months into a global pandemic, our relationship with fashion has shifted. To be worth buying in the economically uncertain age of COVID-19, garments and accessories must be, at the very least, in tune with our new lifestyles. In the case of handbags, that means accommodating a newfound need for preparedness that’s become the norm for most, even the rich and famous. Forgetting something at home is no longer a simple inconvenience, but a real fear with potentially severe implications. No mask? In many states, you’ll be prohibited from entering any establishment, and even where it’s legal to go mask-free, you could put others at risk. No hand sanitiser? Though surface transmission of COVID is unlikely, it’s still possible, so have fun making peace with that on your trip to the supermarket. Even leaving your phone at home has become more tumultuous; what if you miss an alert about a new precautionary government order? In short, if your favourite bag can’t hold everything you need to feel OK about going outside, it’s probably going to sit in your wardrobe for the foreseeable future.
The micro bag is symbolic of a privilege we no longer have: the ability to leave home with nothing but your phone, money, keys, and maybe a Chapstick. That said, the coronavirus has set the stage for a new generation of practical It bags. We've already seen hints at the return of large, sturdy bags from brands like Bottega Veneta and Nanushka over the last few seasons, but COVID-induced caution could be the final straw to solidifying the true comeback of the massive carryall. And listen, I know you love your New Yorker bag, but canvas totes don’t count. Beyond providing no security for the items inside, they’ll never fill the void left by something as luxe as an expertly made purse. There’s something particularly un-special about opting for a flimsy old shopper on a night out, even if it is just a socially distanced carryout date. Enter the likes of Bottega’s The Pouch, the Cult Gaia Hera Bag, and Baggu’s Large Leather Tote.
If the idea of carrying a slouchy shoulder bag makes you fear looking like a Blair Waldorf impersonator, know that there’s already a whole market for quality spacious bags that don’t look like they were plucked from the early 2000s. In fact, plenty of styles are chic enough to give Le Chiquito a run for its money. More importantly: They have more than enough space to hold your personal COVID emergency kit.