To women, designer bags are packed with sex appeal
The Gucci bag oozes sex – at least to women, who use the bags to exude femininity and sensuality. These subtle sexual undertones are, however, lost on their male admirers.
A pretty woman walking down the street, catching the eyes of the men she passes by. Her dress reveals a glimpse of her lingerie and her heels make her hips sway.
The clothes accentuate her curves and her femininity, grabbing the attention of the men she passes. But then there’s the bag: the Louis Vuitton bag.
The bag is a fashion item that makes her feel like a woman, even though her male admirers couldn’t care less.
At least according to Erik Hansen-Hansen, a research assistant professor at the Danish Design School and the Centre for Design Research, who studies the role that logo-embellished luxury fashion bags play in contemporary culture.
When women carry logo bags, they do so with a view to impressing other women, rather than men. Had this not been the case, we would have seen more men taking an interest in the bags as sexual objects. For instance, there would have been internet porn involving logo bags.
“When women carry logo bags, they do so with a view to impressing other women, rather than men,” he says.
“Had this not been the case, we would have seen more men taking an interest in the bags as sexual objects. For instance, there would have been internet porn involving logo bags.”
It’s in the bag: why women use them
Hansen-Hansen’s research has revealed that the reasons why women use logo bags are manifold:
- They signify that the bearer belongs to a certain gender, signalling womanliness
- They function as status symbols, because the bags are associated with luxury and wealth
- They exude sex appeal, because the advertising industry has conditioned us to associate the bags with the beautiful models who use them
If you look at ads for logo bags or other luxury fashion items, they always show gorgeous, sexy women in sensual and seductive surroundings. In this way, the bags are coded with eroticism. They come to be associated with a certain sexual value.
In order to arrive at his findings, the researcher had to study nightlife and porn sites.
“These matters are not measurable,” he says. “They work on a more subtle and symbolic level.”
Bags scream gender, not sex
With each of his mini-studies, Hansen-Hansen added a piece to the puzzle of how we use and perceive expensive designer bags.
In the end, he arrived at an extraordinary paradox:
In some Asian countries, women tend not to bare much skin. But carrying a logo bag allows them to signal gender and sexuality.
- On the one hand, women carry bags to demonstrate their femininity to men
- On the other hand, men don’t find the bags particularly sexy
Men are into women’s clothing
It may seem odd that men don’t find bags sexy when they are so closely tied in with the female gender role.
In fact, many other women’s accessories have become sex symbols to men:
- The short skirt
- The shoes
- The tight corset
- The long boots
Logo bags don’t accentuate the female figure
A single, important difference separates the logo bag from the majority of women’s accessories.
“Short skirts, lingerie, boots and other garments accentuate or sculpt the female body. In this way, clothes make up a potential hotbed of sexual fetishes. The same doesn’t go for the logo bags,” says Hansen-Hansen.
“Today people share pictures on the internet that show their fetishes, be it riding boots, lingerie, or something else.
“Pornography involving logo bags could easily be made. But that branch of pornography simply doesn’t exist.”
Bag ads ooze sex
Something would suggest that women, unlike men, associate the logo bags with sex. When fashion houses market their bags, they present them in adverts that place the bags in highly sexualised contexts.
“If you look at ads for logo bags or other luxury fashion items, they always show gorgeous, sexy women in sensual and seductive surroundings,” he says.
“In this way, the bags are coded with eroticism. They come to be associated with a certain sexual value.”
Bags of sex appeal around the globe
A quick look down the high streets of cities around the world will reveal that women everywhere exploit the paradoxical sexual signals.
Even though the bags do not in any way accentuate the female figure, the sexy associations with which the fashion industry has loaded the designer bag rub off on anyone who carries one.
In parts of Asia, carrying designer logo bags allows women to flaunt their sexuality while literally keeping it at arm’s length.
“In some Asian countries, women tend not to bare much skin. But carrying a logo bag allows them to signal gender and sexuality,“ he says.
“The most notable example is of course burka-clad women in the Arabic countries who choose to display their gender by carrying a logo bag.”
Logo bags are the sex symbols of the future
Logo bags are potent symbols of womanliness. Hansen-Hansen reckons that the symbolic value is so considerable that it is likely over time to change the way men perceive bags:
“I have a sneaking suspicion that logo bags will make the transformation into sexual objects as time goes by,” he says.
“Today people are not known to have fetish sex involving gloves. But who knows how we will perceive the bags 50 years from now? Men once found women’s bags incredibly sexy. So these things are constantly changing.”
Hansen-Hansen’s research into luxury fashion and the wondrous logo bag is not yet completed, but so far he has published a number of articles on the subject.
Read this article in Danish at videnskab.dk
Translated by: Iben Gøtzsche Thiele