There’s a hot new handbag on the arms of New York’s chic downtown set and it doesn’t cost a full month’s paycheck or require that you add your name to a waiting list. It isn’t a Chanel or a Céline, a Balmain or a Balenciaga. In fact, the must-have bag du jour comes (gasp!) free with purchase: it’s the complimentary canvas tote.
The freebie tote is the bag of choice for gallery girls, Brooklyn cool kids, and the fashion set — and is nearly as ubiquitous as a designer bag among those who really care about keeping up with trends. It’s also not an entirely new development. College students on a shoestring budget and thrifty moms everywhere have been repurposing complimentary tote bags for years, and there was that briefly popular, wildly overpriced Marc by Marc Jacobs option that was on everyone’s Bat Mitzvah list about a decade ago. But this recent popularity begs to be noticed. The key difference is the emergence of the canvas tote as a cool kid fashion statement, rather than a frugal necessity.
But why exactly are trendy New Yorkers opting to toss their wares in a canvas sack to give their leather “investment piece” a break? Practically, it makes sense. There’s nothing more reasonable for the disgusting reality that is NYC than a bag that is essentially disposable. On any given day, a handbag may touch the most offensive surface imaginable: The ground. Whether it’s on the subway, a restaurant, a park, or — worst case scenario — the actual ground, a canvas bag makes sense. While it’s nearly impossible to clean a $2,000 leather handbag, a canvas tote is easily tossed in the wash after a day of encountering New York’s filthiest surfaces. Or, for the lazier lot, they’re just as easily tossed in the trash. Hey, it was technically “free” anyway, right?
And that’s not the only practical reason the New York set is coveting canvas. You see, contrary to popular belief, most New Yorkers have jobs (or blogs, at the very least), and nothing fits as snugly into a complimentary canvas tote quite like a laptop. Really — it’s as if they were made for the sole purpose to lug around those inconvenient slabs of metal. Most designer handbags don’t accommodate a laptop or a notebook or anything required to do, you know, work… which is ironic because they certainly cost a lot of money.
But, not every canvas bag passes muster. The “fashionable” canvas tote must also serve an aesthetic purpose. This complimentary carryall needs to be minimal, which frequently means monochromatic, and goes with everything. And, ultimately, they let others know where you shop without telling them how much you spend. Still, fashion thrives on exclusivity, and while this trend is financially accessible, these bags are only readily available to those in the right store at the right time, not to mention willing to make another purchase. When it comes down to it, there’s no such thing as a free tote.