Privilege Blog

Bags Without Logos, The Budget Version

So let’s say you want a bag without a manufacturer’s monogram. Otherwise known as a logo. Logos and other branding tchotchkes (Yiddish word of the day) are ubiquitous these days. Hard to avoid. When I bought my new purse, it was displayed with charms attached to the handles. I refrained.

But I digress. Let’s assume you want a bag without branding, and that you also want to send High WASP social signals. (It is possible that’s not something you want. I do understand.) Here are some options.

First of all, let us take a moment of silence for a brand with history. Consider the bag in the center. Coach, and few say otherwise, is floundering at the moment. They think their logo can stand in for the quality of design, materials, and construction that built the value of their brand. We can only hope they return to their senses. I still have a drawstring Coach bag that I might take off its hook and unretire.

Now where was I? Oh yes. There are some general principles at play here. When manufacturers put logos and copycat brand elements on bargain items, they are hoping for reflected glory via mimicry. I will not make a blanket statement on the rightness or wrongness of that choice. It’s just not mine. So if you don’t want logos, but do want some style, some cachet, what then? You have to substitute design for logos. It’s easiest to do this with limitless funds. What commercial enterprise isn’t easier with limitless funds? But it’s possible on a budget.

Start in the upper right on the circle above with how not to do this. (Clinton? Stacy?) Knockoffs, time-honored though they may be, are rarely up to the task at hand. They ape key design strokes of genius of brands that have won luxury status. But the strokes of genius often turn out to be nothing without faithful execution. Chanel’s quilting, for example. To which Marc Jacobs pays lovely homage. However, this kind of quilting does not translate well to bargain brands. The beauty of Chanel and Jacobs’ quilting is in the feather-soft leather, the perfect stitching. So unless knockoffs are done with irony, clearly imitation, this strategy is a non-starter.

Moving on. The green bag looks great in pictures. The design is classic. However, it’s made of plastic. So quite risky, in that the material might negate the design, leaving the bag only shabby. How about nautical? Pacman? The anchor and the hungry ghosts substitute for logos. They are well-loved symbols that say something about the person carrying the bag. Something you brought home from a souk in Morocco, or the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama would serve as well. These aren’t bags for a corporate job, perhaps, unless you work for a yachting company, or as a software designer, but they are bags that say who you are with a clean design sensibility at a low price.

Finally, in my opinion the blue and orange envelope, and the straw from J. Crew are the closest to what I would advise for anyone looking to get High WASP, no logo style with an inexpensive bag. The blue bag has great colors and a classic, simple shape. The straw is made of seagrass, great color and texture, again in a classic, simple shape. In the end, something about the bag you choose, in the High WASP paradigm, and possibly others, ought to make you feel, “Oh, good job you. Good job.” As others have said, ideally it’s not about the money. Ideally.

15 Responses

  1. There is nothing I loathe more than a knockoff. If you can't afford it, buy yourself a cute J. Crew tote. That's what half of my bags are.

  2. And knockoffs also fund illegal activity. Not to sound like a goody-goody. ;-)

    Have you read Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster? Good read about the decline of luxury brands (I'm looking at you, Coach!).

  3. For me, it's about great design (clean lines generally, and simple, efficient functionality) in leathers I want to touch, very well made. Only a very few people would recognize my M0851 bag by name, but many people comment on its good looks. Even more important, in the four months I've been carrying it, I've never been frustrated at retrieving something and I've often been pleased by the perfectly-designed, unobtrusive pockets, inside and out. A red leather Doctor's bag I bought last year by a little-known Canadian leather-maker is as good-looking altho' not quite as functional. A third favourite is a chocolate brown, pebbled-leather, sumptuously soft hobo-type bag by Banana Republic — no logo, I hasten to add.

    For me, these are as much as I'd want at $500 for the M0851, less for the other two. I'm not aiming at High Wasp or even at conveying success, so I make no claims these would satisfy that goal, but good-looking quality can be attained at this budget level. I'm very confident I'll be carrying all three a decade from now, although if we swing back to wee purses, I'll have some very nice grocery totes . . .

  4. My WASP-esque upbringing ingrained into me the notion that the "best" (most classic, most likely to stand the test of time) designs are always the simplest, and of the best materials and workmanship that one can afford. So aside from an irrational attraction to *some* LV bags, I shy away from logos and excessive detailing, and tend to go for the simple-but-functional. I've also had great luck with Monsac bags in the past, and they last for years while looking quietly classy. ( )

    Oh, and I've seen materfamilias' m0851 bag, and it's a masterpiece of pursedom.

  5. OMG, if I went out in public with that Pac-Man bag, I'd be sending all sorts of High NERD social signals.


  6. I feel like my bag is a part of me. I usually only use 2 a year, daily that is. So I don't mind spending money to get something perfect.

  7. I'm just sayin' "Amen" to this post. Esp. on those knock-offs that try to imitate high-design but are made with all of four dollars' worth of materials.

    I think we shop the same way- like the French- buy the nicest you can afford and absolutely love it, then wear it to death. I read something somewhere and the quote was something along the lines of how the French are very materialistic, but they don't shop and buy all that much; Americans tend to not think that much about the quality and buy buy buy.


  8. I, too, have not been happy with the direction Coach has taken. Always loved their understated classic style, but in their attempt to appeal to the younger set by plastering their logo on everything, well, that was a complete turn-off for me.

  9. Although I often think I have managed to reject most of the tenets of my very wasp-ish upbringing, and I own a bright orange purse which I adore and will wear forever, I cannot quite escape the "buy the best you can afford" and "simple, good materials" lessons, or the ideas that shoes and purses say the most. Cheap knock-offs only look cheap. Better a simple leather bag in good quality leather.

    The straw bag is fabulous and classic and I would go for something like that in a flash, except, wait, I have a straw bag in a similar shape that I use all summer, and I no longer have a corporate job.

  10. Over the shoulder numbers and heavily-textured (sequin or damask) clutches are back in (in the UK at least) this Autumn/Fall. Gold, brown, caramel or black or combos. These are always risky if you're not going to cough up.

    I think if you're going for a cheaper option, you either have to go for cute, harmless, and obviously just for fun/one season (say a clutch with just touch of shimmer, beading or interesting trimming/ chrome), or else a slouchy/greasy leather bag. I don't think you can do hard, shiny leather or animal print or anything too bright unless you're slapping down the cash.

    …And you should never buy anything white and cheap. White never works without the coin behind it.

    Anyway, thesis to write…

    As ever, thanks for the lovely distraction, LPC.

  11. I agree with Queen Bee Swain! Budgeting (planning and saving for) the classiest piece that fits my style rather than wasting on knockoffs, I feel, is better use of my money and time.

  12. What a perfect analysis of the low-cost handbag. I love the straw bag, it's made of *real* materials and is a great design. Just looking at pictures of knock offs and plastic bags imitating leather makes me feel slightly queasy.

  13. I just want to see a photo of Jan carrying the Pacman bag. All hail the nerds. The nerds are the next High WASPs, after all.

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