Let us pause amid the pre-election madness to consider the female power player – specifically, her handbag. Or should that be her lack of one? For despite their different styles, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Ann Romney have a shared fashion trait: they are almost never seen with anything on their arms. Who needs the baggage?
Instead, they and other high-placed female executives are turning to what accessories designer Katie Hillier, who consults for Marc Jacobs, Victoria Beckham and Loewe, calls a “power pouch”: a slim zippered pochette which is an evolution of the iPad cases that flooded the market in 2010.
“People started using them to run around to meetings, and soon realised they could fit a few more items in,” says Hillier. “All of a sudden you think: ‘Why bother with a bigger bag?’”
Indeed in November’s Harper’s Bazaar, designer Vera Wang, says, “I never carry a handbag – just my BlackBerry and eyewear.”
While it might not be practical for most women to go without a bag altogether, at Saks Fifth Avenue, streamlined creations by 3.1 Phillip Lim ($450), Valentino and Stella McCartney are flying out the door. Across the Atlantic at London Fashion Week, half the front row was clutching Smythson’s pocket instead of a tote.
“Customers love them, especially the more tech-savvy gals,” says Lincoln Moore, vice-president of women’s handbags and accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue. “They’re often just the right size for an iPad and a few essentials.”
This sounds seductively modern, but for anyone used to dumping their life in their bag, it could prove a challenge.
“At the end of each day, ask yourself what you actually used – and then keep an account,” suggests Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, author of You Are What You Wear, pointing to what is known as the Pareto principle: “20 per cent of what we have actually does 80 per cent of the work. Experiment by allowing yourself to leave the house without those extra items. It can be so freeing to release the need for that extra ‘stuff’.”
By contrast Susie Faux, who runs London personal shopping boutique Wardrobe, thinks, “a busy executive can’t manage with just a pouch. It’s simply impossible.” Instead, Faux says, “what we are seeing is something slightly smaller that sits inside a bigger bag and can later be taken to meetings, lunches and evening events”.
Katie Hillier is also a fan of the bag-within-a-bag concept. “It’s actually a great system for women who have to multitask,” she says. Carrying a smaller bag, she believes, not only “makes you look a lot sharper, cleaner, sleeker and chicer” but can also be very empowering: “with all your essentials on your person, you’re not constantly worrying about where you left your bag”.