Forget Hermès, Céline and Mansur Gavriel. On the streets of New York, a canvas tote is the ultimate status symbol. Long a staple for students and lunch-carrying commuters, totes are suddenly everywhere.
They come as gift bags at events and orientations, as sign-up bonuses for Web sites and magazines, and with purchases at some of New York’s hottest stores. Companies, realizing the potential of turning customers into an army of brand ambassadors, are replacing paper shopping bags with branded totes.
And by schlepping the totes around the city, consumers can tell the world where they shop, what they read, the music they listen to and their political leanings — or at least an idealized version, by picking and choosing which bags they carry.
“In a thousand years, when [archeologists] are going through landfills, they’re going to know it was 2007 to 2017 because there’s a layer of tote bags,” says Julianna Dow, 34, a marketing and communications employee at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Take the New Yorker bag, sent to magazine subscribers with their first issue. Perhaps the city’s most popular tote, it’s also been labeled as being pretentious — a way for wearers to show off their highbrow reading habits.
Sometimes, says bag carrier and occupational therapist Lea Tsao, “I’m like, ‘Oh, [people are] going to think I’m an intellectual snob!’ ” But that doesn’t stop the Park Slope resident, 30, from wearing it around the city. “It’s functional,” she says. “It works.”