Even those only casually acquainted with Sex And The City would know that Carrie Bradshaw was a ‘shoe gal’. The only man she ever really loved (and, arguably, the only one who really deserved it) was Manolo Blahnik.
But the dedicated SATC fan will confidently inform you that Carrie and her cohorts also really, really loved bags. So much so that the Hermès Birkin and Judith Leiber’s crystal cupcake both warranted their own storylines. The Fendi Baguette got two, one of which spawned the immortal line: ‘It’s not a bag. It’s a Baguette!’
The first five episodes of the reboot, And Just Like That__, have now aired and a something interesting has happened. While the Baguette has done what Kim Cattrall refused to – show up for it - it’s Carrie’s collection of cloth totes that are stealing the spotlight.
Much like their ritzier, glitzier co-star, the cloth tote is not just a bag. No, no, no. The cloth tote is actually the ultimate humble-brag. Apparently unassuming – and yet, ubiquitous, inexpensive and often free with purchase – these cotton totes have become the ultimate stealth status symbol.
Users wear them to communicate their cultural capital. On set, Sarah Jessica Parker has carried one baring the cover of Sally Rooney’s new book and a whole series emblazoned with the WNYC logo, an affiliate of non-profit National Public Radio. She also has a 'New York Or Nowhere' Ludlow tote by the brand of the same name; while newcomer Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman) has a Third Drawer Down David Shrigley 'Don't Touch My Stuff' one, and Cynthia Nixon was seen on set with a tote signalling her support of Senator Bernie Sanders.
Carrie is a podcaster now, but even if she wasn’t, the cloth tote's popularity among a particular breed of Manhattan’s literati had already turned these into an accidental It bag. Over on this side of the pond, you might be more likely to spot a New Yorker, IDEA or Daunt Books version, but the effect is the same. They say: I’m smart. I’m in the know. I’m well- read. I’m cultured. I get it.
It’s the casualness of the cloth tote that makes it the ultimate humble-brag. You might ‘just’ be using it to haul around your overspill (humble), but they are often souvenirs of something or somewhere impressive (brag). You can carry your loo roll back from Tesco in an Il Pellicano one, a nifty nod to anyone who knows about the ultra-chic Italian hotel. You can stow your gym kit in one from bouji butcher The Ginger Pig and like-minded foodies will think, ‘I’d like to go over to hers for dinner.’ They are social shorthand, an easy way of pledging allegiance to everything from niche galleries to posh cafés and political parties. They are showing off: crucially, without looking like you’re showing off.
Showing off was the extent of the ‘plot’ in the dire second Sex And The City movie. A two hour and 26 minute grotesque bacchanal of consumerism, it left a bad taste in the mouths of SATC fans, or frankly anyone with eyes. What these totes signify – along with the rewearing of past- season hits – is a move into a (slightly) more realistic Manhattan.
The cloth tote has long been considered a sustainable lifestyle choice (another message: I care). However, it's not problem free. Last year, Grace Cook wrote an excellent article for The New York Times about the eco shortfallings of the arm candy; in short, it needs to be used 20,000 times to offset its production impact. But one thing’s for sure: now, you’re as likely to see Carrie with single-use plastic as you are to see her smoking indoors (illegal) or drinking a cosmopolitan (over).
One thing she has not broken up, however, with is the It bag – it’s just that it’s had a makeunder. Your humble-bragging rights start here.