The tote bag, whether it’s a supermarket, the latest Sally Rooney novel, or a posh meat butcher’s, is a statement of values in an age where principles are paired with merch.
You and I don’t have the style to flaunt our brand heritage in an extravagant handbag. This would be a terrible idea. We wouldn’t want to be so bold. Is it possible to attach our tribal identity and the shops where we spend our money? As if!
But… wait! I just glanced down at the bag under my desk in the workplace. My overspill bag, not my handbag. It held my water bottle, and I had a dress to take to the dry cleaners. It will be handy when I get home to pick up dinner bits. On the sturdy, oaty linen is the name Ginger Pig in bold script. The Ginger Pig is a high-end butcher shop. In smaller letters, it proclaims “Butchers & Farmers of Rare Breeds Reared On the North York Moors” sounds much more fancy than the vegetable curry that I’m actually going to make tonight.
It might even be a Daunts Books bag, even if it weren’t the Ginger Pig. Even a Guardian one is in my possession. My smug theory is now proven. To the 21st century, the tote bag is what the button badge on the lapel used to be to. It is a statement of values in an age where principles are paired with merch. This is the definition of citizenship as consumption. Either you pay for the branded bag or you get it because you purchased something else. A bookstore tote shows the world that you not only enjoy reading books but also have great taste in retail stores. Museum bags are a souvenir of a cultural adventure, but more specifically the time spent in the gift shop.
A tote bag’s cultural capital can be simple (the Waitrose one’s undyed-flax vibes outweigh the Sainsbury’s orange one), but it can also be extremely niche. Although the Daunts Books bag has a long history, make sure to get the right color. Just like Hunter wellies, olive is the preferred colour for cognoscenti.
Sally Rooney’s or Hilary Mantel’s hot new titles are now available in stores. Each tote comes with a limited edition trophy for early adopters. My personal favorite of the niche bag flex is the one I saw on the bus with the legend “National Portrait Gallery member”, the last word written in red so that no one misunderstands his commitment to art and the non-card-carrying plebs.
As handbags get smaller and work days become longer, totes bags are becoming more common. Your phone can store your address book, newspaper, travel tickets, loyalty card, and diary. This means that the bag that holds your valuables is smaller and lighter. However, you won’t be able to keep your gym leggings, lunch, or birthday cards. The tote bag is the answer. These bags are now an integral part of every day kit.
Yet a 2018 .study .by the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark challenged our assumption that tote bags are an environment-friendly choice, concluding that a cotton tote, being water-intensive in production, would have to be used 20,000 times to offset its own impact. This is 54 years of daily use, which is a lot considering that most people have a drawer full.
However, I doubt that the bag’s downgraded eco credentials are enough to endanger it. These bags are more about identity than just transporting stuff.