Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Every few months or so, I’ll try on a piece of clothing in my closet that no longer fits, either because it’s become too small or I’ve become too big since it was first purchased. I’ll toss the item of clothing onto my bed (“I’ll deal with you later”), put on an outfit that I’ve recently worn and know still fits, and turn all my energy toward choosing which handbag I want to use that day. Every type of clothing — jeans, tank tops, T-shirts, dresses — has no longer been able to accommodate my body at least once in my life, but not handbags. Never handbags.
As someone who believes in retail therapy, shopping for clothes that I might or might not regret buying two months down the line is one of my favorite ways to cheer myself up on a bad day. However, that particular form of retail therapy goes out the window when the thing I’m feeling bad about is my body or my weight, which, as a young plus-size woman, is something with which I regularly struggle. In these instances, I hate shopping for clothing because it only forces me to confront the very thing that’s making me feel bad in the first place: my size. That being said, I’m not one to give up shopping altogether because I could never hate myself that much, and as a compromise, I’ve found that one great way to deal with bad body image days is to still shop, only instead of clothing, I fill up my ASOS basket with handbags.
As a teenager, I read hundreds upon hundreds of articles warning me that women my size shouldn’t wear a certain type of dress shape and to stay away from body-clinging fabrics; unsurprisingly, I grew up exhausted by trying to figure out how to “dress for my body type.” At the same time, however, I found great liberation in reading guides on shopping for bags, simply because those had nothing to do with body type or size. No one told me that bucket bags were a big no-no for a plus-size woman, or that I should only buy chic backpacks in dark, slimming colors. The cool oversized tote that the model was sporting in the ad would still be a cool oversized tote on me. At the end of the day, I didn’t have to be a size 6, or 4, or 2, to carry a nice bag.
Throughout my shopping history, handbags have had a perfect track record of cheering me up regardless of whatever shitty situation I’ve found myself in, whether it’s because I’ve immediately bought an amazing new bag afterwards or at least have found a little comfort in showing off the one I’m carrying while trying to survive said situation.
I still distinctly remember the first time I visited a Brandy Melville shop with my sister; while she already owned several of the brand’s crop tops, I had visited the site once, quickly realized that “one size” wasn’t my size, and never typed the address in my browser again.
Nonetheless, I tried to be a good sport on this occasion, pulling down tops and shorts and going “This is cute, try it on!” to my sister, partly to feel useful and partly to reassure everyone else that I knew I couldn’t fit into any of these items and that I was solely here for her. But when she headed to the fitting room, I was left with nothing to do except make my way to the sitting area in the back and plop myself down next to the parents and kid siblings who were waiting for their daughters/older sisters and who, at least in my head, were pitying me.
I love my sister, but after a few minutes of hanging around at the family sofa, a part of me did resent her for bringing me into a shop for which I was the right age but not the right size. I didn’t want to be fiddling on my phone and impatiently rolling my eyes like them; I wanted to be excited and filling my arms with crop tops like her! Frustrated and increasingly embarrassed, I wandered over to the limited collection of backpacks and duffel bags that were hanging on a nearby wall. They were mediocre at best and I knew I wasn’t going to buy any of them, but they gave me an excuse to leave the family waiting area and made me feel a little better, that I could somehow be a cool Brandy Melville girl like everyone else.
The first Christmas that my current partner and I spent together, he ~casually~ asked me what size lingerie I wore. Although we’d been together for nearly a year by then, I felt embarrassed to say the number out loud (which was dumb because he obviously knew what my body looked like), so instead I replied “I’m picky when it comes to underwear. BUT there’s this great clutch that I’ve had my eye on!” While I have no qualms about telling him my size now, at the time, I felt uncomfortable saying “L, or an XL, it depends.” My weight has fluctuated throughout our relationship and the dress I wore on our very first date no longer fits me three years later, but I’ve found constant relief and happiness in owning this clutch (which I did genuinely want) that I can still use on our dates without the dread that one day, it will no longer fit.
After all, handbags don’t come with letter or number sizes, and they don’t force me to shamefully make my way to the limited “plus-size” section at the back of a store (if there is one, that is). If I’m shopping online, I don’t have to buy multiple sizes of the same bag and end up feeling bad when — as can be the case with clothing — the biggest size fits best. Of course, the same can be said for any accessory (except maybe belts?), but I lose jewelry too quickly and don’t wear heels and haven’t ever felt any particular fondness toward shoes.
While I don’t see foresee my complex relationship with my body completely resolving itself anytime soon, I’ve now got a better handle on it than I did five years ago, and have also become less scared about breaking any fashion rules regarding how I should dress for my body type. And so while today I mainly buy bags because I want them, it’s still reassuring to know that all my bags — including my Madewell totes, the clutch from my partner, and that one oxblood Chloé crossbody I splurged on during a trip to Paris — will all be there when I need them. Regardless of the number that my scale shows on a given day, any one of my bags will always fit.