03 March 2009

Cinders Will Go to the Ball--with a Rented Bag

Selfridges sure isn't making my self-imposed shopping restrictions very easy (I know: I really should just avoid the shop until such as stage when I have struck it rich but I look to like if looking liking move). The Mulberry concession is still a decidedly risky location right now, even if they only have this bag (a latest lust object of mine) in the yellowish colour (mustard? Butterscotch?) in-store and not the more stylish Cognac variety. Obviously, that price isn't even justifiable to me. No, there will be no new handbags for a long time. Nor any other impulse purchases; well-reasoned and reasonably priced goodies only. What with my continued chocolate ban, I am really marvelling at my masochistic tendencies of late.

Even as I fled the luxurious confines of Selfridges, further temptations came upon me. Walking through the stationery section, I spotted that they had the Moleskine Volant notebooks in new, spring colours including a "teal and topaz" (turquoise) combination, which of course floated my turquoise-loving boat. The trouble is, my current Moleskine repertoire (A5 notebook for creative writings, longer notes and draft blog posts; mini black notebook for on-the-go jottings and things to remember; mini week-to-view diary and notebook; London/Paris/NYC City Guides) is already maxed out--I really wouldn't use a new Moleskine, no matter how turquoise it was, and just as I cannot abandon a book before I've finished reading it, I don't like to give up on notebooks before they're full (or full enough). Thus, I did not buy. This time.

The cruncherama seems to led to the development and success of a variety of websites allowing customers to have their previous lifestyle on a crunched budget. Some of them are summarised in this Money Week article; my favourite, of course, was rent-a-bag (AKA Handbag Hire HQ). Once you've signed up for an account (and paid a token membership fee), you have access to their huge wardrobe of handbags, which are available to rent for a week, a month or longer term (and if you love it so much that you can't bear to be parted from it, you can buy it of Handbag Hire HQ for a discounted rate off the retail price (given that it's second hand)).

None of the bags on the site really appealed to me but because I can't generally afford to buy expensive handbags, when I do acquire them, I make sure they are classics--usually day bags in classic colours (oak and black) and materials (natural leather)--which I will use over and over so that the cost-per-use isn't actually so horrific. It's easy to shop on impulse though and buy pretty, dressy purses and clutch bags for taking out just because they look pretty and go so well with one particular dress. But these bags will go out of fashion within a season and you will probably have gone off it long before then as you replace it with a prettier and shinier model.

Thus, the rental idea is, in theory a good one: if you don't go to posh dos very often, you can rent a posh handbag to match your frock and then save your money for a more classic handbag (or for, say, a mortgage, car, child...). The trouble is that part of the endorphin rush you get from buying an expensive handbag is the "oh shit, I'm really doing this" panic that goes through your mind after you swipe your card, having listened to the sales assistant's spiel as to how well it suits you for the past hour. And the thrills when you walk out of the shop carrying your new bag. And then when you take it out of its packaging and its storage bag when you get home and parade it round the house. Practising for its first outing, which is, of course, the most special of all. Although it would be exciting to rent a cool new bag, I can't imagine getting the same rush from something that was only mine temporarily. Something I had to give back whenever my rental was due up or when the next person on the wait list got to have their turn.

If I did fall for the bag, though, I'm sure I'd find it very hard to give up. Maybe that's where Handbag HQ are planning to make their money--girls who just fall in love with their borrowed handbags and then refuse to give them back (also, said women will also find it easier to justify such a purchase because they will have a) tested out the bag extensively and can confirm its greatness and b) had plenty of time to come up with good reasons as to why it is the perfect bag). They don't have any Mulberry bags I like, anyway, and the only other brand I'm curious about is Hermès, but only because of the ridiculous price tag (even by designer handbag standards) on some of its bags, like the Birkin.

The Purse Forum, meanwhile, seems to be full of nice women who just can't stop buying handbags and while they pretend not to egg each other on ("enabling," in the lingo), they really do given that everyone is encouraged to post lots of photos of their new purchases and to model them for the group, resulting in many compliments. The women do all genuinely love their brands (a ready source for an online community for market research purposes, if ever there was one) and if you're not careful, their enthusiasm can make you want to buy more bags yourself. It's probably best for me to stay away from this website too...

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