No, this isn’t a question of should we men buy handbags for ourselves.
It’s more a query of can we buy them for our wife or girlfriend? (I suspect that in some cases it may well be a question of can we buy them for our wife AND our girlfriend/mistress!)
Now — I’ll be the first to admit then when it comes to handbag ‘buyable’ wives, I’m very lucky.
I can ask my long suffering wife an obviously loaded question such as “So what handbag would you most like to own?” and have her forget the question and answer she gave within a matter of hours.
Looking through a magazine or catalog, idly flicking the pages and throwing in mild questions such as “Do you think that looks nice?” or “Wow — wouldn’t that go with your suede skirt?” are seen by her as nothing more than a passing question, asked in a moment of idle curiosity.
The fact that the queried item then appears for her birthday or mothers day or at Xmas is still a huge surprise to her, causing her to question how I knew she’d like that particular style/color etc.
I’ve also managed, after 23 years together and quite a few coaching sessions that I’m sure I wasn’t even aware of, to be able to see for myself exactly the type of thing she’d like. I can even boast modestly that my wife will ask me what I think about a particular piece of clothing and actually consider my answer before buying or not buying, assured as she is that I will reply honestly and with love and kindness. (Although the joke question occasionally thrown in is always “Does my bum look big in this” to which the standard joke answer is “Do I look stupid?”)
So I can — within reason — look at something in the designer handbag lines and think to myself “Yes, she’d like that” and actually be right.
But apparently — some store assistants don’t agree with me on that scale.
I recently went to the LV store in Selfridges, Bond Street of London to buy my wife a Xmas present. I had gone in with a mind to buy her a Papillon 26 but, as ever, was open to the power of seeing and deciding as opposed to deciding before seeing.
It isn’t the largest store by far, being more of a concession stand size, situated just inside the main doors at the west of the main building. If they get more than 15 people in there then the cat knows it’s safe from being swung, you’d never get it over your head to start with!
Being as how I was going in during a snatched lunch hour between meetings, I was dressed in what would be described as City Worker style, i.e. short hair, smart dark suit, shirt and tie. SMart, in other words.
Now I do fully understand that, in the pecking order of who gets served in a designer handbag shop fastest, I rank fairly close to the bottom of the ladder, if not being the one who actually holds the ladder for others to climb!
I was quite prepared for the looks of curiosity from the female customers and even the odd stiletto on the instep in the fight to get to the counter. I wasn’t prepared, however, for a store with only 7 people in it — me, two other customers, three members of staff and a security guard.
Taking this surprising amount of space to be a good omen I decided to have a little stroll round the store, left to right, starting with the Damier items and finishing with the most anticipated area, the Multicolore and the Suhali ranges.
The stroll and look went exactly according to plan, a few ideas springing to mind as I took a leisurely wander past the shelves of rich, leathery smelling prizes.
I would have half expected a member of staff to gently enquire if they could help but wasn’t to phased to be left on my own. In reality it was quite a treat not to be pounced on! (I have terrible trouble when I go into any store and I’m leapt on by an over eager staff member leaping out from behind their hiding place, the war cry of “Can I help you?” finished before they even land in front of me. All I ever want to say to them is a disgruntled “yeah, you look round and I’ll wait here!”)
But you could have knocked me over with a feather when they didn’t want to serve me at all!
Having finished my ramblings and with a couple of possibilities firmly chosen, I came to a halt in the middle of the main counter, looking over to the three staff members huddled together, quietly talking. The security guard had by this time finished his assessment, obviously deciding I was more of a danger to myself than the stock and left.
It was me and two other customers, a mother and daughter on a day out to London by the looks of things who were quietly in the far corner, seemingly arguing over the merits of a scarf versus a bag.
So I politely stood at the counter for a couple of minutes, waiting quietly. I was fairly sure that both of the girls saw me but chose to ignore me — but hey, I could be wrong.
But I wasn’t wrong that the male assistant saw me when he turned round, looked right at me then turned back to his discussion.
So a polite cough was called for and duly given.
And just as duly ignored.
So a louder cough followed.
Which was followed by even more ignoring.
And that was when I coughed loudly and — please forgive me dear reader — made that awful hawking sound at the back of the throat that children make when they are about to do something they really shouldn’t in polite company!
That got their attention. Three startled faces all looked at me with what could well have been a look of respect but I suspect was much more likely to be one of thinly veiled disgust!
Reluctantly the male assistant tore himself away from the safety of the herd and ambled over.
“May I help you?”
Did you notice the lack of a “sir” at the end of that greeting?? I did!
“Well, I was looking for a handbag for my wife as a xmas present” says I “something a little different and unusual”
“Everything in here is different. Did you have anything particular in mind?” says he.
Ever had that urge to just be rude back to someone and say “grow up!”? Difficult to resist, ain’t it!!
“Well, I was thinking of a Mono Papillon but I’d like to see a Damier Ribera as well please. Oh, and if you have an Epi St. Moritz I’d like to have a quick look at that as well please.”
That got him. You could see him almost rock back on his feet!
I knew the secret.
A man, a man knew the secret of the store.
I knew the names of the bags!
A thin sheen of perspiration glistened on his previously dry forehead as he threw in a delaying tactic.
“I think you might prefer a Speedy instead?”
“No thank you, it’s a bit too samey samey. The Ribera will do just fine thank you.”
He turned towards the shelves, shoulders tense and body ramrod stiff.
“Make that the Ribera MM, not the GM please” I whispered, just low enough for him to hear.
His shoulders slumped as the last vestiges of defiance ebbed away.
Meek as a lamb he spent the next twenty minutes retrieving item after item for me to review, paw and discard. He was asked question after question about origins, materials care, style variances, range histories and named designers contributions. He failed badly on some and confessed to not even knowing the basics of deciphering the date codes.
Finally, when he was just about all done in, I threw my ace on the table.
“Actually, I’d like to look at the new Marelle please.”
“We don’t have that bag sir” says he “it’s not been released yet!” A small smile of satisfaction flickered at the corners of his mouth.
“So the bag on the top shelf, just…there, that would be what then?” says I.
Game, set and match.
Can men buy handbags?
Some can – if the store staff will let them.
Copyright: Rufus Steele — 2005
Rufus Steele is the author and creator of the Louis Vuitton Handbags [http://www.1st-4-louis-vuitton.com] website, a site dedicated to all things Louis Vuitton