The Status Bag or The State of Your Mind

By Ekene Onu

Let me not lie, I too have succumbed to the lure of the designer bag. The luxurious material, the stylish hardware and most of all, the strategic branding that has caused us to believe that when we carry a bag like that then suddenly we are somebody!

Now I don’t own that many of these bags and most that I own were picked up at outlets on sale or clearance, but a little while back I noticed that my mind had decided to upgrade without consulting me. All of the supple leather on the sale rack looked unappetizing but the new higher dollar ones in the store seemed to call my name. It found ways to justify it. After all, aren’t you supposedly successful, well this is what successful people wear or are you a really failure masquerading as a professional? The magazines and media seemed to say the same things. In my favorite magazines the bag du jour would be some thousand dollar item favored by Angelina Jolie or Halle berry, and the glossy pages would whet my appetite. I would look at these women in all their fabulousity and somehow I would think just for a moment that if I had that same bag, then even though my thighs weren’t slimmer and my bank account was leaner, I too would be somebody.

So finally I crossed over to the other side. Away from the sale rack, to lighted shelves and locked glass. “That one please” I steadied myself for sticker shock. “I deserve it” I said to myself “I too am fabulous”. I felt both excited and sick at the same time as I handed over my card. Bile rose up and my heart took the opportunity to speak “Who are you really? What does this say about you? Sure it’s a pretty piece of workmanship, but are you at the level when you truly afford it? The women who you see on the magazines make millions of dollars!” I caressed my brown bag and I willed it to shut up. I walked through the shiny store and looked women in the eye. Don’t get it twisted, I am a shiny girl too.

Maybe it’s the Nigerian in me.

Nigerian women are among the most fashionable women in the world. The society women are constantly focusing on their wardrobe. Do you have the latest French lace, the new kind of aso-oke? Have you seen the new season of Chanel, or the hottest it bag?

The pressures some women face in today’s society trying to fit in to this fashion oriented climate that is enough to intimidate even the toughest of us; Simply put – in Nigeria, Fashion is war!

I’ll never forget an experience I had when I visited Lagos one Christmas period. I had decided to have my nails done at an upscale nail salon in Victoria Island. When I walked in, I was struck by how well put together the clientele were. In every seat, there was a very chic woman, whether she was tall or short, fat or thin, short do or unbeweaveable. They looked fabulous and they had one other thing in common – The status handbag. Next to every woman, there in a chair,sat a purse that cost almost as much as one terms school fees at an expensive private school. They went by different names…Gucci, Vuitton, Prada and more. Each woman held it proudly.

As I later learned the status bag was also used as an entrance to a certain level of society, at least on a superficial level. There were some people who before they dealt with you, they looked you up and down to determine if you were on their level. Shirt – Next? Hmm, jeans – true religion, check, Shoes – can’t tell, bag – Jimmy choo, ding, ding, ding we have a winner, cue automated voice, “you may now be admitted into the world of Nigerian VIPs”

Maybe it’s because I am now older.

Like most women, I have had my issues with self esteem. Still do, kind of. But as I get older I notice my focus has changed. I still love the luxe and sharpness of certain bags because after all, style is style and while I still rock my shiny purchases. I have pledged not to fall into the trap of consumerism again. I have style but I can express it for a reasonable price.

A bag no matter how fine and how coveted cannot take the place of self esteem. No matter how many people look at you when you walk by, what really matters is how you see yourself when you are stripped bare. No matter how many people compliment you and think that you are a baller because you can afford that level of bag, what really matters is where you truly are financially. No matter how many people think you are somebody when they see your expensive leather, what really matters is who you think you are. What would happen if suddenly you lost everything? Not so far fetched. Believe me, it has happened to many people just like us. In true fact, many of us are living financial lifestyles that place us on the edge. One strong wind and we may all fall like dominoes. What happens then? When you will not have all the trappings of wealth to self medicate. When you cannot wrap your anxiety up in a damn it bag and convince the world that you are someone…what happens when you are forced to give all that up? I know you might be thinking, that can never be me…perhaps…but many a person has compromised themselves terribly trying to make sure that they never lose their money just so they don’t lose their status.

The question is this. Do you know that you are somebody already? I finally figured that out. I am not by any means a blueprint for perfection but I am somebody, and a beautiful one at that.

Let me tell you about an experience I had. I was invited by a book club group in Lagos to come and do a reading of my book “The Mrs Club” so I went. Now I thought I was kind of prepared because I grew up in Lagos, I now what Lagos girls are like…fierce! Also take note that the book club met in a place called posh café…never a more apt name for this group of women. Fierce and fabulous I tell you. They were exquisitely coiffed and attired. The leader was a vision of fashion. Right down to her quirky eyeglasses. I on the other hand, was in a pair jeans and a shirt. I knew something had shifted in me during that experience. When I walked in, I saw one or two raised eyebrows among the mostly smiling faces. I imagined the inner dialogue “This can’t be her” and I smiled because finally my inner dialogue said simply and confidently “Yes it is me”.

I started to read and I did me. I enjoyed myself and the time spent with these young, fab chicks. Now needless to say, there were many status bags in that room. I mean I told you, we were at posh café!

However the question I have for my young fashionistas, is the same one that I have for myself and you. Do you own the bag, or does the bag own you?

I know, I know….Be fine or die!

Love you.

Be well. Be happy.

_________________

Ekene Onu is a thirty something writer who was raised in Nigeria and currently resides in Atlanta Georgia. She is the author of fabulous chick lit bestseller, The Mrs. Club

24 Comments on The Status Bag or The State of Your Mind
  • chiquita December 22, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    I have also noticed this love for material things among fellow nigerians. They will wear one expensive brand after the other, i used to feel intimidated by all of it. BUT NO MORE. People that spend loads of money just to buy expensive brands are the most insecure ppl walking. As for myself, i buy clothes that are not expensive, but you would never know. And that’s the trick. Im not a fashion victim and would never want to be. I love to be daring and different. My message is dont believe in status because it is as one striving after the wind. Instead believe in humanity and brotherhood.

  • Trendy December 23, 2008 at 12:12 am

    I am naturally drawn to well made designer shoes & bags, some people wear it for the status, i wear mine simply because i love fashion. I hate poorly tailored suits or cheap looking accessories. Do not to get into the state of mind that you must wear designer from head to toe, i will wear a great looking, well made top for $5 from Marshalls with my $300 true religion jeans. I love designer (some though, i cannot stand betsey johnson’s bags…so poorly crafted, and Gucci is becoming Ghetto) accessories and make no apologies. Does who hate and the ones who cannot afford it, abi i beg you for money to buy my Chanel bag?

  • judith December 23, 2008 at 1:18 am

    as soon as i started reading i knew this was from a ”proper writer”. job well done.
    this is a really good topic as i have noticed many nigerians like to live above their means which is really what is fueling corruption in our country.
    when u start dating or rather sleeping with a man old enough 2 b ur great grand pa just to buy that chanel bag then u have issues.
    when u cant pay your rent but can buy a new designer top u are crazy.
    d fact is ur facade will crumble like a pack of cards and then u realise that those pplw who were hanging out with u cos u had those things are exactly that….. hangers on. if u do u its easier.do not live above ur means cos it could turn really ugly.

  • thrifty December 23, 2008 at 1:41 am

    Love the article but most also say that I love fashion but not enslaved to it — I visit it through the thrifty route. I live in NY and have contacts when all these designers go on sale I mean 40% etc can’t go below that. True Religion for $79 and authentic. chanel bags for way below wholesale price. Pple U can still look fierce without robbing a bank. I always wait it out. Just like Ms Onu said its all about the carriage and how you present yourself. DONT NOBODY INTIMIDATE YOU DESIGNER OR NOT.

  • Yvonn C. December 23, 2008 at 1:47 am

    The lure of luxury items is spreading globally with high-end designers targeting China and India as the new purveyors of the status and it items. The idea of looking wealthy and not being wealthy is everywhere. Why must people always have this facade as if they have truly made it?

    There is no use in having a $2500 CHANEL bag with nothing but a dollar in it. Luxury items use to be about exclusivity now almost every one has access to them even if the majority of them are fake. I can’t do fake especially when I know that it is.

    I’ll stick to the beautifully designed leather purses that I find are unique and just as stylish. I had my eye on a CHANEL 2.5 purse, walked up to the counter @ SAKS and was about to buy it and changed my mind. I realized at that moment I didn’t need it and plus my kids said if I could buy me one I could buy them an LV. I can not let material goods enslave me regardless of what some folks think. And plus when was the last time Chanel had a Black woman in one of their fashion shows or in an advertisement? With the exception of Gucci & YSL, I have not seen any models who look like us in their advertisements. They’re marketing to China and India, have they been doing the same in print ads in Africa? Just a thought.

  • Simi Speaks December 23, 2008 at 2:53 am

    Loved ur article! I too, am a recovering bagoholic! :-)

  • Bag Lover December 23, 2008 at 4:01 am

    I love this article. I agree with all of you. I am in the middle because it is either or. Some people are quick to assume one is insecure and that is why they buy designer things and also to show off. I know this can be true but as we should all know it is wrong to assume it is true for all. I for one work in the same building that I live, I hardly take a handbag to work and this is where I go the most in my life. But I love designer handbags regardless. I grab it to go out to a party or to the grocery store or where ever. They are what I love and have, and I get them for myself and not for others. My social life is weak, and if it was to showoff my closet will be empty; but I still shop regardless, bcus I am buying for me not to impress another person. If I get compliments I willbe happy like every one of us.

    I see my bag collecting as an investment, some love art, travelling amongst other things; and they are not ridiculed for that. But when you love fashion, whew its like you are greedy , vain and materialistic.

    I always say that I will pass my bags and other valuables down to my unborn daughters one day.

    Short story, I met a lady in a store once and she had a fab Prada bag, I had to ask her about her bag; she said Prada, ‘my mom’s bag; she’s had it for over 10 yrs’. The gold plated zippers and all the hardware were so shiny. I was surprised and happy to be reassured that my bags were not just material things but things I will have for a long time (my lil valuables, your art, His coin collection, whatever is yours).

    For me cheap bags are out the closet after a year or so and I realized that in college. I get vintage clutches from thirft stores for under 10 bucks, so? I know that I do not buy designer bags for status purposes, for eg I do not live in Nigeria and so of course I can not be put in that box as well as many other women.

    If I were doing it for status I will carry one every where I go 24/7. Bottom line, be true to yourself and buy what you can afford for yourself and not for mary or susan, etc. The newest ‘It Bag’ may not be your ‘It Bag’ get what is your style, what taste, your love, that is your ‘Ity Bag’. You never know what others have to go thru to have those things and sometimes its fake too. lol. I got a Cole Haan travel-like duffle handbag bag tonight on sale, I got it bcus it was a great deal, and nice to travel with lots of compartments it has. I didn’t for one second think about who will look at me and think wow ‘she is a rich chic’ lol. I go to Marshall too, AA, for basics and I love a good deal, I am not like Angelina and am not trying to be them, I think some of their clothing are overly priced too, crazy. God is our provider, if you can afford it and know that ‘it’ doesn’t make you who you are, then you are good to go. God bless Sorry this is so long

  • nony December 23, 2008 at 4:02 am

    good thinking! very well written…..

  • myalteregoisayanna December 23, 2008 at 10:05 am

    I agree with this write up. Personally, I do not care for a lot of these things. When you let these material things define you, you run into trouble hence runs girls. The pressure to “belong” is out there no doubt however, until you know who you are, everything around you will define you. Stay true to yourselves sisters..Happy holidays!!

  • Confused December 23, 2008 at 11:15 am

    This write-up is refreshingly succinct and relevant. Thanks Onu.

    All the others have said it. If you can afford it and love it, buy it. But, never let the possession of expensive materials define you.

  • mamanino December 23, 2008 at 11:39 am

    lovely write up,cant believe i read it all.
    OMG! i love this part..”I am not by any means a blueprint for perfection but I am somebody, and a beautiful one at that”.
    keep writing ekene.the sky is only a stepping stone.U rock!

  • trendy with sense…! December 23, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    talk true… u say “Gucci is becoming Ghetto” just because alot of black ppl are wearing it…abi i lie…and by the way i don’t the point of the article is to say u borrowed the money…eventhough it might be…!

  • Ngozi December 23, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    I happen to collect expensive purses; not because I feel that it defines me but because I love these designer purses and at my level can offer to reward myself occassionally.
    While it was very refreshing to read quite an interesting article; my personal believe is that it is okay to buy expensive items of fashion as long as it doesn’t own you as the write oh so eloquently puts it.
    I am a very confident woman with an expensive taste but also very humble because I realize how bless I am.
    Great Article by the way…

  • Chi Chi December 23, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    What you say about ppl who spend Extravagantly on wedding but are struggle to purchase a house etc?

  • Divalicious December 24, 2008 at 1:38 am

    My name is Divalicious and I am vain to my veins. Too superficial it’s scary. yeah, i collect designer handbags too and i tell you as addictive as that stuff is, i don’t see myself giving up anytime soon. I had a humble beginning in my life. i have watched people show off their name brands and hoped that one day, i can afford it. I have since worked hard and can afford it thus i’m moving on up…one more chanel bag, and viola, i have 10 premier designer handbags the least at $1500. yes…i have rocked nine west bags in the past but like i said moving on up..i know, i sound pathetic lol but i have worked hard to get here and when i didn’t have much, those who had it all, didn’t really spare my feelings..lol

  • Ladi December 24, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    I equally love your comment! I read every word and its about what will last for years (the prada bag) and quality, utility, and comfort (the Haan). Marshalls is awesome ans id you ca afford it why not?

    Only theres no point filling my closet with it-bags when I’m fro a third world country with beggars left right and center. So I get pissed when magazines praise Nigerian women who own a plethora of bags as fashionable when the same lagos is filled with unfortunate underpriviledged. Thats a story for another day.

  • Amaka Olateju December 25, 2008 at 1:42 am

    At the end of the day, Nigerian women lead a mee- too life style, breaking it down to mean a follow -follow life style.

    Real designer bag or not. Who cares… the most important thing is.. ask your self who am i ? am i happy, confident or just one of the bunch?

    Most of these women live such fake lives of keeing up with the joneses.. don’t get me wrong here; there is nothing wrong in designer handbags and there is nothing absolutely wrong with spending your hard earned cash on rewarding yourself once a while.We all need a treat every now and then.

    What i do not understand is this; why do all these girls have to have the same bags?really, why do they have to have the same hand bag as everyother person in the same place. (Maybe the Nigerian context of big girl)

    There are other designers apart from Gucci,Louis Vitton & Prada…that are unique, modern and less known about and command praises…whatever happened to classic and chic and proper designers.

    Trust me there is nothing like confidence and personal style; especially when your bag is gorgeous, ticks all the boxes and is not a Gucci, Prada or the usual.

    Nigerian women have potrayed themselves as cheap.. instead of spending proper money on a proper Gucci bag or Louis Vitton and or Burberry they rather spend their money on a fake from the market knowing it is a fake and yet they are happy to buy a fake and parade it around..

    P.S
    Its just like bleaching, majority of Nigeian women belive beauty is about bleaching or looking light not realising they are only spoiling their natural, beautiful, blessed born compextion and hence they stink.

    This is a topic for discussion at a different time.

  • chiquita December 26, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    It’s a bit contradicting when you say that its not important to wear a real designer bag or fake. And then again calling nigerian women cheap when they DO buy fake designer bags.

  • …. December 26, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    nice article. Although some people buy them because they like them and not as a status symbol. the bottom line is if you can afford it, and you like it, why not? It’s a different issue if one barely has enough money for luxuries, and decides to buy designer bags so the world thinks they have made it!

  • Carolina December 27, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    yeah… I reckon with Divalicious, if u can afford it, why not? its all about moving up to another level and who doesn’t want to look good? I mean why do we REALLY love sex and the city? dreams baby, dreams! nice article btw!

  • lanju December 30, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    naija no dey carry last, so if i carry a jimmy choo or chanel bag, will i be awarded a contract or will my hair grow longer?

    i am vegetarian..’ahem’ so i no dey carry cow hide. only snythetic cheap stuff made in ‘chin-eze’ LOL

  • Jen January 4, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    hey..i read about your book the MRS Club and was wondering how i could get a copy…nice article by the way.xoxo

  • Ladi January 4, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Jen…you can just google it easily! Amazon.com has Mrs. Club books if you’re abroad order it simply.

  • Emi April 23, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Did you in any way get her point?

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