It wasn’t that long ago that people were packing their credit cards and IDs into empty gum packets rather than wallets because they wouldn’t fit in their micro bags. Keys were removed from keychains and lips were left bare because lipstick couldn’t fit inside a Jacquemus Le Petit Chiquito bag. While an inconvenience, it wasn’t reason enough to not participate in a popular trend. After all, we didn’t need face masks, latex gloves, hand sanitiser, and hand lotion (to combat the effects of incessant hand washing) with us at all times, nor were we spending all of our time outdoors, meaning that a picnic blanket, snacks, water, and wine (yes, both) were in order. Our limited handbag space was a sign of the simple, carefree way of life. Then COVID-19 took hold. Now, leaving the house alongside most everything you own is commonplace. And for that, you need a really, really big bag.
As is their job, fashion designers caught onto our newfound need for increased square footage pretty quickly. During fashion month, which started in September in New York (mostly online) and ended in October in Paris (primarily in-person), in addition to face coverings, elevated loungewear, gloves, and end-of-the-world-inspired collections, many designers sent models carrying larger-than-life bags down the catwalk, some of which were so big they couldn’t be carried by hand, but rather, needed to be lugged around under the arm or thrown over the shoulder. At the time, on the catwalk, it appeared dramatic, and yet, looking back, the bags of fashion month were some of the most relatable and realistic of the trends and fashion showcased. In New York, Catherine Holstein presented a collection for her brand Khaite in the form of a moody lookbook. “We’re going through one of our collective nightmares as a society,” the designer told Vogue. “They’ve made horror movies about this.” And when in a horror movie situation, you need the necessities, the supersized bags shown seemed to say in response.
Alongside a slew of midriff-baring tops and ‘50s-era skirts at Emilia Wickstead in London, were oversized lunch bags crafted out of leftover fabric from the collection. For their part, design duo Marco Capaldo and Federica Cavenati of London-based cult brand 16Arlington juxtaposed tiny shell bags with shoulder bags so big they actually grazed the floor. Big, pillow-like totes also appeared in the British fashion capital at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi. In Milan, the rise of the big bag became even more apparent. At Tod’s, Ferragamo, and Max Mara, pastel-coloured duffels made of soft leather were toted around. Dual-toned handbags with voluminous bases and even loftier straps were presented at Sunnei, and tote bags resembling garbage and recycling bags were handled at Sportmax. At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s crochet work was one-upped only by the spacious orange totes models carried at the show’s romantic locale, the Fonderie Macchi in Milan. Woven Fendi bags even had designated pockets for reusable water bottles and detachable coin purses. After all, we all know how hard finding a quarter — or in Italy, a Euro — is when your bag’s the size of a small human.
While big bags thrived throughout fashion month, it wasn’t until Paris that the trend truly hit its peak. At Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia showcased a hopeful collection for a world post-pandemic. In it, the designer included pieces that looked made for a long night of not knowing where you’re going to end up, after maybe a dinner with friends or a party. There were versatile sweater-like scarves, and handbags big enough to fit everything one might need. In the lookbook, one bag-clad model wore a going-out top tucked into a pair of nylon track pants, as if she shacked up somewhere for the night and stole the resident's pants the next day. Club bracelets line her wrists, the final brushstrokes on a painting portraying the life we’re all craving after seven months in lockdown. The contents of a night out, including bottoms and uncomfortable choice of footwear, all stored in the oversized handbag.
Givenchy, Jil Sander, Acne Studios, and The Row, too, shared appreciation for the larger things in life during their SS21 presentations, all in all combining to create the handbag trend of the year: the big bag. But, unlike with fashion seasons past, our buying habits are lackadaisical when it comes to trends. In a pandemic, we need a practical reason to buy something. Big bags don’t just look pretty or are Instagram-worthy as was the case with the tiny bag trend. Instead, their ability to keep us close to our belongings — especially ones that offer protection like masks, gloves, and sanitiser — is comforting, at a time when comfort is a luxury.
It’s time to enter the big bag era. Long may she reign.