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Our Editor-In-Chief On Why We Need “Thing Bags” Right Now

Checking Out is a new shopping column straight from the cart of Simone Oliver, Refinery29’s global EIC. She wears many hats (all of them stylish), and she's always got an inspiring, wish-worthy list on deck. Watch this space for monthly market musings from Simone (and sometimes, a special guest). These aren’t just editor’s picks — they’re THEE editor’s picks.
I don’t believe in “It” bags, but I am into using inanimate objects as inspiration for purse design. I refer to these referential accessories as “thing bags” (why hasn’t this caught on?!) and I love them because they’re fun, comical and are best worn by the fad-agnostic. (Anyone recall the Helmut Lang bra purse?) “Thing bags” first caught my attention when Jeremy Scott rolled out a McDonald’s and Spongebob-themed collection for Moschino for Fall/Winter 2014 — he hung a boxy crossbody in the shape of a Happy Meal from the shoulder of a model and off the break, I had questions. That same season, Karl Lagerfeld put a couple of egg carton-inspired bags in the Chanel show after fashioning the set to resemble a grocery store. (And let’s not forget Judith Leiber’s long-established range of crystal-covered pillbox purses and clutches, twinkling with the likenesses of hot peppers, a stack of pancakes, or — even better — a stack of cash.) 
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At the time, as much as I respected the irreverence, I couldn’t picture spending my hard-earned cash on these sorts of totes — but many years later, the whimsical, DGAF companions have prompted a change of heart. Whether it’s the scores of fruit-inspired micro-purses on Amazon or Thom Browne’s growing menagerie of “Animal Icons”, bags made to resemble everyday flora, fauna and ephemera have been normalized, and I find myself wish-listing apple-shaped crossbodies and sculptural clutches. (I don’t know if that’s a good thing and I don’t really care.) I blame my change in attitude on spending so much time at home looking at apples in my fruit dish, day after day after day; coupled with the urge to go out to a party and dance on a table with one of these miniature, three-dimensional avatars at my side — but not being able to. Either way, give me hearts, apples, triangles, puppies, whatevs. I’m not mad. Thing bags are delightful; and exactly the type of silliness and lighthearted vibes that we need in year two of a pandemic. Ahead, check out all the “thing bags” in my cart right this second.
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I’m a proud native New Yorker, and even though “I Love NY” swag is widely available in tourist-y neighborhoods throughout the city, I didn’t own a fashionable take on Milton Glaser’s iconic Big Apple logo — until now. When I saw Kate Spade’s Italian leather crossbody, I knew I had to treat myself. As a mom, a hands-free bag is a must, and the surprisingly roomy 7.5” width accommodates most iPhones (among other necessities). There’s a smooth microsuede lining and an all-around zipper for easy access. I will wear this like a badge all year long, from winter coat- to crop top-season.
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Alexa, play “Milkshake” by Kelis. While I’m not a diehard Amazon shopper, some of the accessories that pop up on the site are so kooky that they deserve an honorable mention for sheer cheekiness. You can choose to take this ultra-sweet crossbody seriously, or not — it’s so carefree and funny to me. At a little under 8” tall, it can accommodate your hand sanitizer and a few other essentials.
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Cult Gaia calls it a pearl, but to me the brand’s sculptural bag is a take on the swirled glass marbles that kids played with back in the days. The shiny acrylic sphere is tricked out with aluminum gold-toned handle that veers into bracelet territory, making the bag perfect for pairing with an ultra-minimal evening look. The design is surprisingly functional for something so aesthetically pleasing — no more juggling your drink and your clutch while trying to check your text messages when you’re out and about. (My social life has yet to return to pre-2020 density, but still.)
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While this pizza-shaped crossbody bag may owe some of its sparkle to a longtime luxury-handbag predecessor, it offers some improvements on the traditional Swarovski crystal-encrusted pillbox purse. For starters, it’s significantly less expensive — in lieu of the engineered glass gems, the bag is dotted with a mix of light-reflecting ephemera; including pearls (crust), sequins (pepperoni), and faceted iridescent gems (cheese). It also boasts a soft satin construction, meaning it’s a little more accommodating to whatever you need to tote around (including a phone). There’s nothing that screams “I love my city” like a bag in the shape of slice — I would wear this with an LBD, some great shoes, and a matte red lip and just keep it moving.
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Picture this: you’re on vacation. (For some, this fantasy alone might be enough, but mine involves a fashion moment.) After the sun sets on a day of swimming and sunbathing; you throw on a chic, simple shift and a cocktail ring, grab this gilded napa leather bag, and head to dinner. Whether you’re 20 years old or 80, this fan-shaped clutch will add a dose of low-key glam to your tropical getaway. This romantic accessory doesn’t skimp on function, either — it’s built to hold a standard iPhone and is equipped with an invisible magnetic closure for a seamless, hardware-free look.
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Sporting a “purse” that doesn’t actually fit anything other than lip balm and an emergency $20 bill is kind of the ultimate luxury, right? (It’s a little under 4” at the widest point.) However, as a wise woman once said, Alaïa is a “totally important designer,” so the brand’s cheeky calf-leather pouch has earned a place in my cart despite a brazen lack of function. A cleverly placed seam in the center of the heart adds a touch of dimension to the micro-accessory, and thanks to adjustable knotted straps, you could even wear it as a necklace.
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If you’re going to design a slouchy bucket bag in the shape of a grenade, you might as well offer it in a shocking metallic pink leather, to convey the negative fucks given about what anyone else thinks. This caged confection is equipped with leather-bound metal chain-mail on the exterior, along with a drawstring top and leather lining. The size isn’t overwhelming, either — as influencer Dev Walker showed on the third slide of this post, it’s just about as tall as a champagne glass. Twins Bruce and Glen Proctor have created a juicy world of hyperbolic color through their eponymous brand, and this dazzling bag is one of their signature designs.
It’s impossible to ignore the political statement that informs this holster-shaped embossed calfskin crossbody. I sat with this accessory for a long time, thinking of the Black Lives Matter movement and many young Black kids who may have reached into their pockets to pull our their iPhone and didn’t live to see the next day. While I think the mini-pouch is certainly chic enough for anyone, there’s a specific power to wearing it as a Black or brown person.
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This is a silicone-shaped, three-dimensional likeness of Versace’s iconic medusa-head logo — there’s no deeper meaning here; it’s just fun, fun, fun. It’s about 8” across at the widest point and almost 6” tall; the top of the head flips open to reveal an unlined interior; and there’s a removable faux-leather strap for convertible wear. (I know you want touch it — I do, too.) This feels like a fresh take on the brand’s ostentatious, old-school logo — there’s a little Y2K sparkle that could appeal to a younger set.
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