Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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26 Jun 2008

Sex and the City and Handbag Insanity

I had a rare visit to the cinema the other night, not with anything in particular to watch but just to see what we might fancy. The only thing that wasn’t a horror film or a children’s film was ‘Sex and the City’, so we went to watch that. I haven’t watched any of the TV programmes so I was a bit lost, but really, what a load of rubbish. I have never seen more product placement, more vacuous people and more costume changes in a single film in my life. Anyway, that, in essence is my film review, but the one thing that stuck with me about the film was something that came as a deep shock and which I thought was quite extraordinary.

In the film, the main character hires a PA, who is a poor (well compared to the rest of them who seem to be eyewateringly wealthy) but is as obsessed with fashion and labels as everyone else in the film. Anyway, the PA has a handbag, which is some revolting designer handbag, designed by Louis Vitton or some other designer person, of which she is extraordinarily proud.

As the film goes on, it emerges (oh the shame) that she can’t actually afford such a handbag, and that her handbag, because she is poor you see, is actually RENTED. Rented. This is all remedied in the film because the main character takes pity on her and buys her her own handbag, a deeply emotional moment as she now has her own £2,000 handbag. What I was left with though, was this new knowledge that in New York there are companies that rent out expensive designer handbags.

How all pervasive and pernicious is this consumer culture that these ghastly handbags, made in some grisly sweatshop somewhere, designed with any sense of taste locked firmly in a box, have evolved in such a way that one’s sense of self esteem and identity requires a handbag rental service? No sense of living within one’s budget or means, rather you simply MUST HAVE a designer handbag or you are nobody.

I guess this ties back to the discussion we were having the other day about solar panels and food gardens becoming the next ‘must haves’, and whether or not we can harness that same sense of desirability. I was impressed the other day with reading about a crowd in Cornwall called ‘Rocket Gardens’ from whom you buy pre-planted salads in a funky box, they come in the post, you pop them in the garden, and hey presto, instant salad! Anyway, I struggle to draw any intelligent observation from the handbag thing, I think I am just still in shock about the whole handbag rental thing. Did you know such a service exists?

Categories: General

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nicola dobiecka
26 Jun 8:20am

I did know about this, yes – it’s not just a US phenomenon…

I saw it on a a UK TV show in a moment of junk TV watching. It was one of those shows where professionals help young people who are living in debt and hugely beyond their means.

The young woman in the show had aspirations to be a fashionista (yikes, I picked up some lingo!) and was buying HUGELY expensive designer items in spite of her £15,000 (or something) debt. One of the professionals suggested the rental system – which is available on the web.

In the context of the show it was a stepping stone – they also showed her ways of fulfilling herself without shopping and inspired her to create her own clothes (a relief and to me the some justification for the show).

It made me very sad that someone could be so locked in this consumer nightmare. She was literally addicted to shopping.

It’s very easy to use consuming as a temporary balm for emotional pain and build up lots of debt or squander hard earned cash to boot.

26 Jun 8:26am

Surely in this phase “desiderability” can be an option. Look at this fashionable chickens/rabbits houses Is this a way to resilience or consumerism? May be both…

[…] Sex and the City and Handbag Insanity » Transition Culture – Poor Rob is stunned that women rent handbags in NY. I don't have the heart to tell him they do it in the UK too… […]

Stephen Watson
26 Jun 12:21pm

Rob, I can understand how you feel …

About a year ago I walked past a branch of a Kurt Geiger (I think that’s it) shoe shop here in Brighton and a sticker in the window caught my eye – “Enter our competition and win a year’s worth of shoes”. I stopped. What??!

I went into the shop, my one and only time I’m happy to report, and asked the assistant about the sticker – “What is a year’s worth of shoes?” She didn’t know and had to ask another assistant. He started with “Well, a pair costs about £60 …” I interrupted with “No, not how much. How many?”. He didn’t know so called over the boss. I asked the question again … his reply “Err, well I suppose you’d want a pair a month, but you wouldn’t want to wear last season’s … so I suppose that would be about 15 pairs.” Thank you I said, and walked out in a state of shock, realising that a parallel universe intersects with mine where people walk the streets of Brighton who buy 15 pairs of shoes a year! Sadly, I suspect your handbag rental and the shoe fashions are the tip of the iceberg of our consumer addictions.

26 Jun 12:35pm

Rob, you obviously lead a very sheltered life!!

Rental and part ownership of branded goods was imported from the US at least two years ago. It is a bit like a car club or Moss Bros really, although why anyone feels the need to flaunt this stuff is beyond me.

If they do however, it seems much more sensible to rent or share the item than pay out the full value of something that will spend most of its life not being used.

For me the sick bits of the story above is the PA’s shame (and perhaps her pride in the wretched sac) and the fact that “main character takes pity on her and buys her her own handbag, a deeply emotional moment as she now has her own £2,000 handbag” Yuck.

Now if the main character had realised how stupid it is to spend vast sums on buying things outright that are rarely used and largely superfluous and decided that she would share or rent them and use the money saved more sensibly, I would have a bit of patience with the story.

But sadly about half the population’s sense of identity and self esteem is predicated on being able to flaunt the latest must have, whether it is Victoria’s hairstyle or the the trainers that some superstar wears in a movie. It is why companies spend fortunes on sponsorship and product placement.

I have no doubt the makers of the handbag at the centre of this sad piece of theatre are revelling in hugely increased sales.

26 Jun 12:38pm


How many sick hand bags do you need to buy and install a solar hotwater system?

And who asks about the pay-back on a £2000 hand-bag?

Finn Jackson
26 Jun 2:21pm

Fantastic! Thanks for this :O)

It leads me to recommend the book I am currently reading: “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn.

The book is a novel that begins with a small ad: “Teacher seeks pupil – must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” You can see why I bought it.

One of the early lessons is that the reason human beings are destroying the planet is because we don’t know how to live “sustainably”. The only way to learn the laws of sustainable living is by trial and error. And we are like the early flyers who learned the laws of aerodynamics by trial and error. Our culture has leaped off a cliff in a rickety machine with flapping wings, thinking “Well, it seems to be going fine so far.” And as we see the ground rushing up to meet us we are thinking “All we need to do is pedal faster”, not realising that it is the entire design of our aircraft (culture) that is flawed.

I am waiting with baited breath to find out by the end of the book what the laws for sustainable living are. But I’m pretty sure they won’t include renting handbags.

26 Jun 3:53pm

Dear Rob,

Thanks you so much for a deliciously barbed post. I know we should all be more concerned with the point of the post, and, believe me, I am appropriately shocked. I guess the fact that I was laughing so hard points out two things:
1) How disconnected I, too, am to the fashion world (or should I say “resistant”, since I live in Paris?)
2) How relieved I am to be so. I can put my money and energy into much more interesting things than renting horrific handbags!

Cheers, Corinne

P.S. Stephen – I loved your recounting of the competion for a year’s worth of shoes.

Jane Buttigieg
26 Jun 9:54pm

I suppose next time you’ll go for the horror film.

26 Jun 11:38pm

I love the idea of ‘a year’s worth of shoes’! For me this would be 0.08. One thing I’m surprised not to have seen yet is American film stars hiring someone to be sustainable for them. In the same way you can get someone to clean your pool, why not pay someone else to be environmentally responsible? After all, these people are probably to busy to do it themselves. Like carbon offsets, but offsetting everything!
But on a serious note, when I am similarly forced to watch ‘chick flicks’ like this (anything with Jennifer Aniston, for instance) It strikes me how different that world is from my own, and how many people, presumably, must be buying into it, with varying degrees of critique. Makes me realise that my values have almost no way of communicating to other people unless I can find ways of bridging this huge gulf. Otherwise I’m just living in a cosy feel-green ghetto. To be accessible to people who love designer handbags, but without watering down the message. That’s a challenge…

27 Jun 5:47am

Hi Rob, we have handbag rental services in Paris too. Although people in the fashion press announce this to us like it is an incredibly exciting fact, I agree with you that there is something deeply sick and sinister about the phenomenon. Denise

Tim Thomson
27 Jun 6:29am

Here in rural Cornwall I know of two hat-hire establishments, both set up in fairly isolated rural houses, within a few miles of where I live:… so add to all the rest the energy used driving to the hire shops!

27 Jun 7:23am

I love all of you people. Where are you all? We need more of you in this world. Rog’s point is of urgent importance. Unfortunately I can’t say that I have not been on the other side of the fence. I suppose individuals need to realise for themselves, in their own time, how fruitless branding and consumerism is, if they do at all. What worked for me was realising how unhappy i was in such a society. I can’t speak for other people but if enough of us emit the love and happiness we feel without the Lois Voitton perhaps the rest of them will open their eyes also. Rog if u find a way out of the feel-green ghetto please let me know! People don’t respond well to force or even good advice when they aren’t ready to hear it.

Neil L
27 Jun 8:07am

But surely rental is a good thing when it relates to renting useful products? I am shortly going to be sanding my floorboards and there is no way I am buying a floor sander so renting it will be. I know I will be renting a well made product compared to what I can buy in the domestic market, that probably gets used several times a week and the rental company has a clear incentive to make sure the machine is well maintained and repaired.

This leads on to extender producer responsibility which basically means if you put a product into the market place then you need to take responsibility for taking it out of the market place once it has served its useful purpose. This is a strong driver for sustainable design as when you get something back you want to be able to take it apart easily, reuse what you can, recycle what you can and ideally not be left with anything – zero waste – and if there is anything left then it needs to get designed out next time round.

An excellent example of this is Interface Flor who produce about 45% of the floor tiles across the globe. You can now rent floor tiles from them (i.e. you rent the ‘service’ of the tile rather than the tile ‘product’ itself) and when you’ve had enough you give it back. They are working hard to design products that can be either cleaned and refurbished, reused or recycled. Check out their Mission Zero

I would also highly recommend the book ‘Mid-Course Correction’ by Ray C Anderson the CEO of Interface Flor (ISBN 0-9645953-5-4) – a very inspirational read. (If you would like to borrow a copy please let me know)

I’d also recommend some of the work by Ezio Manzini in everyday sustainable design – good paper under the ‘Enabling Solutions’ entry

So I think the ideas of renting, sharing and cooperative buying are interesting issues for the Transition movement to address.

So I leave you with a couple of questions – how much stuff do you have in your house that isn’t being used for at least 8 hours a day? And how much of that stuff could your friends and neighbours be using whilst you aren’t using it?

I’ve got quite a bit myself anyone want to borrow a book?

Stephen Watson
27 Jun 9:09am

Rog (and everyone really),

You may like to have a look here:

27 Jun 9:31am

Stephen, cheatneutral is great 😉

Mike Grenville
27 Jun 9:37am

A facinating marketing mismatch that the shoe shop had a competition that the staff had no idea what the terms were. Unpsecified competitions like that can bring down even big companies – remember Hoover and the free flight offer (they didn’t have the flights lined up); and what would Imelda Marcos define as a year of shoes!

Rocket Gardens: – a brilliant outfit! we used them last year when we converted our back garden from lawn to salad

Finn Jackson
27 Jun 12:06pm

Loved the cheatneutral, thank you!

27 Jun 9:46pm

Just wanted to back up Finn’s plug for “Ishmael.” Well worth a read for anyone who would be reading this blog . . . so I guess that’s all of you then. It’s an extremely thought provoking book and all the more important because not all of the thoughts are cosy or comfortable. Few works of fiction have caused me to experience such a reality check, I nearly dropped my handbag!

By the way, given that all handbags must have been designed by somebody, what do you call a handbag that isn’t designated as “designer”?

28 Jun 2:10pm

Seriously, guys, Hollywood is the epitome of corporate America, so when you go to the cinema, expect an attempt to brainwash you into believing that buying their products will raise your social status.

However, it does bring up a good point: when will people want to be part of the transition movement because it would raise their social status? Now we have the ‘early adopters’, but to go mainstream we need to market our ideas better. Al Gore has done a great job marketing global warming. What celebrity icon could get people boasting about their new solar panels and huge butts for rain water?

Bernd Ohm
28 Jun 6:55pm

Rob, I’m glad you watched this movie, because now at least you know what we’re up against. Many, many people have seen this movie or the TV show that inspired it all over the world, and it has certainly influenced more of them than anything Al Gore ever did (or “The Power of Community”, for that matter). Didn’t you realize that millions of “stylish” and “hedonistic” 30- or 40-somethings in the megacities of the world actually aspire to this kind of “lifestyle”? And that they are what you might call the business and media elite of the planet, i.e. they run the show or will do so in the very near future? They are like the French aristocracy in the Ancien Régime, and I sincerely hope we won’t end up as the Fourierists of our age…

Greetings from Germany

28 Jun 8:17pm

SAC is a total crap show! I saw it once and they were just sitting around a coffee shop talking about how many men they have sex with and how often they play with themselves. I thought, this will be off the air soon. I can’t believe they actually made a movie about it and that the show was on so long!

On the rented handbags…that is just…wow.

Leanne Veitch
29 Jun 2:04am


I’m coping with the comment about a year’s worth of shoes. I have three pairs: a pair of serviceable hiking boots, a pair of city/better wearing ‘out’ boots, and a pair of summer clogs. Maybe I should buy more? Lots more! 😉

Seriously, the advertising world thrives on peoples insecurities. What your summary of the movie tells me is that the PA was deeply insecure about her own self-worth.

Personal happiness doesn’t come from money. I’ve known miserable multi-millionaires (yes, personally) and happy strugglers. Happiness comes from our relationships with others, our sense of being valuable to those with whom we relate, and our sense that we belong in our community.

Rather than buying a handbag for the PA, a truly ‘generous’ character might sougt to develop a friendship, or helped the PA get a real job with real meaning, where she could develop her own sense of intrinsic value.

But that doesn’t get the product placement bucks, I guess.

alice hudson
29 Jun 10:46am

I didn’t know about this as I’m one of the very lucky ones never to have seen ‘Sex and the City’.

29 Jun 2:18pm

Oh for goodness sake Rob, you’re such a man.
I have several handbags and, since reading your article, I have decided to start my own handbag renting service. They all have labels (or they will as soon as I can find some sticky tape).
So for anyone who is interested there is a red one (Laura Rubbish 2008), ideal for going with your 16 pairs of red shoes, for collecting eggs from the hens in your garden and, as it is made of cheap plastic, ideal for collecting rain water.
A black one (Verscratchy), well suited to your 25 pairs of black shoes and, in Rob’s case, that lttle black number (yes, we know you’ve got one). Of course this versatile colour could be rented for most things including carrying the cat to the vets, water-skiing down the High Street in the next flood and late night football, though for the latter, due to the colour, it is best used in conjunction with a wind up battery torch. Now what could be more Transition? Get with the times Rob.

29 Jun 4:59pm

! uderstand Andy’s comment about Hollywood and corporate America, yet every now and again out pops a subversive movie that makes me wonder how it got past the corporate ethics police. Have any of you seen “Over the Hedge”? It takes a pot shot at just about every aspect of “modern sophisticated” culture (is that a contradiction in terms?)

Peter Brandis
30 Jun 12:36am

This is an interesting discussion, and also points to some possible reasons why “transition culture folk” (permaculturists, local foodists, anti-this and that) have largely been ineffective to date in making real changes to our Western culture.

Calling people who are caught up in the consumerist ideology “vacuous” seems particularly counter productive to getting them to change their behaviour. Perhaps this is like blaming the victim: She must be vacuous given her consumption (or hiring) of handbags. She flaunts her brand names, so she mustn’t have deeper feelings or concerns. Don’t you realise that these people have been bombarded with consumerist messages since they were born, and just responding in the ways the larger culture has asked them to?

Rather than focus on the women’s peculiar love affair with shoes and handbags, an alternative focus would be to see through the surface and look at the relationships between the four women, and how these were far more important than the stuff the buy, wear or hire. And ask them (not tell them) to reflect on how more important their relationships were to their well being. In fact the movie does deal with many emotional and big issues – raising children with love, dealing with infidelity, relationship break-ups, being honest to your true self, being supportive of your friends when they are doing it tough – aren’t some of these behavious critical to a transition culture? Of course the issues are raised through the froth and bubble of a lightweight soapie – this is not deep and meaningful cinema, and nor does in pretend to be.

Lighten up! Granted, the world’s in a huge mess, but let’s also remember to rejoice and celebrate in this time of change. And include the buyers of brand names in our celebrations.

As ROG says above, the transition movement needs to be accessible to people who love designer handbags, as well as all the other addicts of society. Let’s be compassionate with these people. Don’t “bag” them!

And don’t call them vacuous.

30 Jun 8:38am

I am not in the least bit surprised.

It just goes to show how low we can sink.

Thankfully I and my family have never been swayed by designer labels, not just from the point of view we cannot afford, if I had the money I still wouldn’t be so precious.

Most designer stuff is ridiculous in my opinion, it is after all just dress making etc in the end, nothing at all special. Why would someones name add huge amounts of money to the product? These people live off the backs of the stupidity of people who are greedy, social climbers believing that to own or rent something like this makes their lives better. How deeply saddening.

I once watched one of these programmes(not all the way through I might add, it made me want to throw up it was the biggest pile of cow poo I have ever seen and I fail to see how they could make a film from it and I can’t understand how normal sane people can pay those huge cinema prices to go and see it.

Thank God most women are not all like these sad, no hoper, narcissistic nymphomaniacs in real life.

Gareth Doutch
30 Jun 10:24am

This post didn’t half make me laugh!

This is why you need a TV Rob – you would have known to avoid it like the plague, LOL!

I was unfortunate enough to catch about 5 mins of an episode once. It was enough to gather that the main character was a columnist who got PAID a six figure salary FOR writing a column about her experiences with SEX.

Basically a slightly upmarket whore. But a whore nonetheless. I’m amazed you sat through it!

Madame Paula
30 Jun 3:23pm

I’ve seen the movie too and it took me a while to understand what was going on because not even one single handbag (or shoe, dress etc…) was particularly beautiful. But this is probably my non existent sense for fashion.
I still believe that the most beautiful fashion devices are the ones you find for three quid in a charity shop when you are not even in a shopping mood.

30 Jun 9:18pm

Quite a while back while we were having a brainstorm on how to make things like backyard vegie patches and solar panels desirable, my marketing background came out and as most of you probably know, marketing is about using the seven deadly sins as your tools to get people to spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like…

But I envisaged a family spending an afternoon in their lush, abundant vegie filled backyard, playing in the sun and enjoying themselves… their harried neighbour, who’s just finished a full day in a job they hate and is going to eat a plate full of rubbish for dinner asking “how do you do it?”

The idea is to turn people “green with envy”.

1 Jul 10:11am

Did you notice the part in the movie where Carrie picks up the issue of Vogue which she is featured in and the magazine underneath has a headline declaring the collapse of the housing market. I thought this was an interesting choice of the director – like a tiny window into reality…

4 Jul 5:26am


I saw her reach toward the Forbes magazine too and for one split second I thought they were actually going to show her reading something grown-up and maybe (heaven forbid) decide to do something sensible/non-narcissistic with her life for a change…but of course, no, she just reached past it and grabbed the Vogue so she could idiotically obsess about her ex-boyfriend some more. Overall I didn’t mind the TV show; it had its moments. But this movie was just so wildly out of joint with reality; it really left a bad taste in my mouth.

18 Sep 1:57pm

The show and the movie is not all about designer labels and fancy dresses its about four single independant woman who work for a living, living in a world of competion, finding love and happiness.

6 Oct 9:54am

In the handbag business, where hot new styles emerge and disappear in months if not weeks, a store that allows shoppers to rent bags for short periods of time allows people to really play, have fun and change up their style whenever they want. A Chloe Paddington handbag that retails for more than $2,000, for example, could be rented through Bag Borrow or Steal for a wedding, holiday party or other special occasion for $249.95 per month.

Stephen Watson
6 Oct 1:19pm

Rafaella, if “hot new styles emerge and disappear in months if not weeks” then who will rent last month’s/week’s fashion dud of a bag? Won’t everyone want the latest design?

And I suppose there really are people who change their handbags every week ..

And if buying or renting an outlandishly expensive handbag “allows people to really play [and] have fun” then they need to get out more. And how will the rest of us ever manage to play and have fun when we we can’t afford these things? Maybe I’ll just have to go for a walk, or spend time with my friends, or sing instead!

Graham Burnett
6 Oct 6:17pm

vanessa and raffaela, I’m biting my tongue so hard here it hurts…

Graham Burnett
6 Oct 6:22pm

Re handbags, I’ve got a few of those cotton shopping bags from the Co-op, as well as my own ‘designer’ ‘Make compost Not War’ bag, but invariably forget to take them out with me when popping down the shop or off-license, so keep ending up with yet another plastic carrier bag, although have been getting better lately. Not very sustainable I know but I find a carrier bag stylish enough for my needs…

Peter Bralesford
5 Jan 10:13am

A year’s worth of shoes!? I had a pair that lasted for years. I only got rid of them when my mother pointed out that they were falling to bits.

And handbag renting? Even when I was only a young boy I had more sense that that… 🙁

Lady D
18 Feb 5:27pm

You all need to get laid and stop being such stiffs!