Murse Alert!

I'd like to take a moment talk about (what else?) purses.

Because the Japanese love them some purses. Japanese women love purses, of course, the way a fat kid loves cake. Outrageous purses and subdued purses, high-tech purses and fuzzy hippie purses like the sewn-up skin of a Lorax.

Know who else loves purses? Japanese men. They love purses, fanny packs, briefcases, messenger bags and backpacks. They love cell phone purses to carry on their belts and they love canvas shopping bags to carry over their shoulder like your mother did in the Seventies. Japanese guys are, by many American standards, gay as hell. Except they're not. They just really like purses.

An entire floor in the department store Tokyu Hands is devoted to various personal cargo transportation solutions. Tiny pouches on turquoise-studded straps retail for two hundred dollars. (The Japanese can't seem to get over their turquoise.) A company called Agility makes $250 suede chalk bags for rock climbers, though of course they're used for cell phones and business cards. The Porter section alone was as large as the men's shoe department of Minneapolis Macy's. There was an entire wall of hard-shell backpacks: smooth, ridged plastic cases resembling Yakima car boxes. Their straps were detachable, and could be fastened in various ways so that backpack was upright, horizontal, or worn like a shoulder bag.

I was really intrigued by the offerings of a company called Tagger. Their customizable messenger bags are sold in separate pieces: strap, bag and top flap were all sold separately. The top flaps were held onto the bag by velcro on both sides: they could be opened from the right or the left, or the flap could be completely detached. There were dozens of different colors and patterns so the Japanese kids could clash in a different way every day of the week.

There was another brand that specialized in bags sold in zippered segments of various colors. Beginning with the bottom piece, which is sewn shut at the bottom, new segments are zipped on, creating a bag as tall and multi-hued as one could hope for. The only problem is that they're damn ugly. Another company sold heavy-duty messenger bags assembled with big rivets, with waterproof zippers whose tabs stuck out like silver tongues from rubber lips.

Japanese people love their fanny packs, too. They use them to carry phones, iPods, etc.* But they're not the purple nylon numbers you see at the State Fair. (Although you can buy those too.) They are small pouches intended to hang from the belt loops of a pair of designer jeans. Alternately you can wear them around your waist or over your shoulder using the tiny strap that's included. Gaysville.

These bags are so varied it's impossible to make a single generalization about them. They can be leather, pleather, plastic or canvas; studded with jewels, plain and minimal or patterned and embroidered; large and bulging with pockets, slim and low-profile or only big enough for a condom and some change. They cost anywhere from seven dollars to three hundred dollars. Everyone has a few, it seems. Tough-looking dudes covered in tattoos will strut around with a little leather fanny pack bouncing against their right buttock. There's one for every conceivable style and occasion. They are as integral to Japanese fashion as baseball caps are to American fashion.

A more temporary fad (I hope) are these crazy double-waisted jeans that I occasionally see men wearing. Imagine a guy wearing a pair of jeans. Now imagine him stepping into a second pair of jeans and pulling them up until they just barely reach his back pockets. These double jeans have that effect. The makers sew the top three inches of one pair of jeans into a second pair of jeans. Usually the lower pair has a bunch of different-colored belt loops sewn onto the waist--or what would be the waist if they weren't hanging several inches below a second waist. It make me wonder how many more pair of jeans are underneath that pair. It's a weird look, like they're always falling off, The Five Hundred Jeans of Bartholomew Cubbins. I don't get it, that's for sure. What would appear, to me, to be ridiculous is apparently pretty cool to some guys. I wonder if it's one of those things that I'll only get several years after it's not cool anymore.

In a different clothing store I saw something slightly similar: a black hooded sweatshirt with another hooded sweatshirt sewn into it. It gave the effect of wearing two hoodies. Now that in itself is nothing new, but I had a problem with the fact that there wasn't actually a second hoodie inside. There were two zippers, two cuffs, and two hoods sewn on at the edges, but, for instance, in the back there was only one layer of fabric. I considered that to be affectation, which as a rule I don't really like. Nor was this hoodie particularly well-made. It looked like it would survive about two washings. But these were apparently a pretty hot item for that store. Silly, cheap crap, I guess, is the new black.

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