Life

What Your Tote Bag Says About You

The official VICE Top 10 Tote Bag chart is finally here!
September 4, 2019, 11:54am
tote-bags

All this week, Dominic Cummings has been photographed entering Downing Street with a raggedy old Vote Leave tote bag. This is such a blatant and unsubtle piece of political theatre, it barely needs explaining, but here we go anyway: Mr Cummings has heard about the first ever official VICE tote bag chart and wants his Leaver merchandise to earn a place on it.

Sorry, Dom, but it's too little, too late. All this summer we've been standing on street corners, at train stations, outside astroturf pitches and up to our nipples in public lidos, tallying up the tote bags the people of Britain have been carrying. And now, for the first time ever: the official VICE Top 10 Tote Bag Chart, the only chart based on the bags YOU have been carrying.

  1. AMERICAN APPAREL

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It's been years since the last American Apparel store closed down in the UK, yet somehow these never went away. Perhaps it's because we amassed so many of them in The Dubstep Years that they now sit at the back of all our cupboards, tangled up like a beige rat king, ready to be plucked out when you need to bring a tupperware of brownies to a dinner party, or slyly return a one-night-stand's T-shirt in front of your mates.

Sort of like how the Mercury Prize is still called that even though Mercury Communications stopped existing in 1999, so the American Apparel tote will outlive us all, until future generations think that store location list is just a rundown of airports with Oneworld lounges.

  1. APC

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Unlike most of the bags on this list, APC's canvas totes aren't free or even cheap. The one currently in the "sale" on their site is €154, down from €220, which is an insane amount of money to spend on a canvas bag, even if you're a sexy posho who can afford to drop a third of a month's rent on a glorified Bag for Life.

Sadly, that is the exact reason why this bag is so good: it exudes a kind of "sure, I brought the Fortnum & Mason picnic bits along in this, but I'm also just wearing my dad's natty old Reebok sweatshirt" vibe that rich people are so good at, while the rest of us spend the same amount of money on a fancy dress or a nice shirt and somehow manage to get it completely wrong.

What I'm saying is: the entire class system can be explained by this tote bag.

  1. ROUGH TRADE WEST

She did a masters at Bristol but dropped out two weeks before the thesis deadline after landing a job as a junior A&R at Island Records (dad used to drink with Darcus down at the White Horse). Signed her mate's acoustic-psytrance project, but weirdly it didn't take off, so now she's working at an events company that organises summer parties for Old Street tech firms.

  1. SAINSBURY'S BAG FOR LIFE

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Until recently, Sainsbury's had the ugliest of the big-four BFLs, but it became a must-have item in May when it turned out Rihanna has one on hand in her London home. Not too long ago came the release of the book Own Label: Sainsbury's Design Studio, revealing that the supermarket was the Bauhaus of own-brand label design in the 1960s: their Corn Flakes packets could hang in the Hayward. They've now dropped some new bags that pay homage to this wonderfully minimalist time, meaning Sainsbury's is officially cooler than APC.

  1. ROUGH TRADE EAST

rough trade tote bag

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He had a cool job in his twenties but slowly slid into increasingly lame roles in branded content and then advertising (though he still tells his friends he works in "media"). Now, his main client is Toilet Duck, and he spends his days on calls to post-production saying stuff like, "We really need it to sizzle when it hits the bowl." The guy who voices the duck came to his wedding. Tries to offset this bleak reality by doubling down on his indie credentials, reading every Pitchfork review and repeating the best lines to his mates as if they're his own original thoughts.

  1. NEW YORKER

new yorker tote bag

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Famous tote bag company The New Yorker has become so successful that they also now produce a weekly magazine filled with investigative journalism, restaurant reviews and satirical essays. This bag remains its flagship and most popular product, which is somewhat surprising because it's not that good, is it? It's just the logo within the logo.

If anything, they're more popular in London than they are in their hometown, broadcasting a strong awareness of current affairs and a socially-engaged vibe, without the danger of actually showing allegiance to any British publication or political party that may offend your posher friends who have better drugs and go to funner parties.

  1. DAUNT BOOKS

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The main purpose of this tote is to transmit to strangers that you read books, meaning it remains a staple for everyone from yummy mummies lugging their gyrotonics gear home to students taking stacks of their photography zine from pub to pub.

However, it's also a victim of its own success. In much the same way Sunny Delight became less popular when they let consumers choose between Florida and California flavours, there are now a number of materials, colour-ways and sizes available, so it no longer feels like there is a single iconic Daunt tote. The bottle-green is still a classic, but the grey is a monstrosity.

  1. PENGUIN CLASSICS COVERS

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Let me admit here that I have never read the Jeeves and Wooster stories. While I'm not proud of that, at least it's something I have in common with the people who schlep around their shopping and their phoney literary pretension in one of these classic cover totes.

Surely the thing about being well-read is that its joys come serendipitously. Like your mate shows you how many steps you've walked and you can say, "Fuck me, we've covered more ground than Phileas Fogg on a fast-train out of Yokohama!" Or you're watching Newsnight with your dad and Boris calls Corbyn a threat to national security, and you say something like, "This is just what Levitsky meant in How Democracies Die: when there's a failure of mutual toleration, there's a failure of the whole system." And he looks at you and he's... is that… pride?

But carrying around a tote bag with a boring old book you've probably only watched the costume-drama version of is so gauche, honestly you might as well just nail a placard to your forehead that reads "I HAVE NEVER WATCHED CHANNEL 5".

  1. WEWORK

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Of course the company that has tried to make a religion out of desk space has a bag its disciples can carry around to proudly demonstrate their zeal for Craft Beer Fridays.

If you've never been inside a WeWork, it's difficult to explain just how culty it is. They are basically a commercial lettings company, but one that offers meditation sessions, kombucha on draft, inspirational wall hangings and an upbeat indie playlist so you can listen to Two Door Cinema Club while you do your morning shit.

This tote bag is the equivalent of renting a flat and then walking around wearing a Foxton's baseball cap. Also, "Do What You Love" might sound like an empowering message, but it’'s really another way of saying "Make Work Your Life".

  1. LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS

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The story goes that, one day, the LRB bookshop got a visit from a few young women from South Korea who wanted to buy a tote. The staff thought it was quite funny and wondered whether the magazine was well-read in Seoul. Then a few more showed up, then they started getting calls to buy hundreds, and ever since there's been a near-constant stream of people trying to get what has become the ultimate fashion accessory.

The LRB tote is really a condensed version of all the others on this list. Its popularity is based on people smart-signalling that they read a lofty literary magazine that is basically impossible to read. Have you ever tried? I mean, I understand it's for serious ideas, but would it kill them to make it easily scannable, rather than 4,000 words squished onto a single page with no pictures or headlines? The LRB is so hard to read, it makes Gravity's Rainbow look like Hop On Pop.

Which is why it's strange that this bag is the height of minimal chic. That said, you can also see why it's become the tote daddy: bold colours, lovely font, looks sturdy enough to carry a four pack of gins in a tin, plus a hoodie for if it gets cold in the evening.

So congratulations to the London Review Of Books, you’re the winner! We look forward to your acceptance speech, no doubt printed over seven pages in 6pt text in your next issue.

@samwolfson

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.