Bag Ladies

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new york has become a city of bag ladies-especially during rush hour.

while i once commuted amid unobtrusive pocketbooks, nowadays subways are packed with women carrying duffle-sized satchels, leather backpacks and cavernous totes. it is commonplace to see these bags carried in combination: an oversized satchel hanging from the shoulder, a knapsack strapped to the back and a hand clutching a purse. as a hard-core evolutionist, i predict that future generations of females will be born with a kangaroo-type pouch, because of all the bag-schlepping today's women do.

if a multiple-bag-carrying woman has a free hand, she is often grasping one or more stylish shopping bags from stores like ralph lauren, banana republic and henri bendel. shopping bags are so popular that bloomingdale's sells a plastic version of its brown bags (a plastic little brown bag costs $24, a zippered medium brown bag, $35).

transporting all these bags must be burdensome. if i lugged around as much extra weight as multiple-bag women do, i would have to make daily visits to the chiropractor, or supplement my weight training with steroids.

i know there is more stuff to lug around than ever before. still, my ancestors emigrated from czarist russia with fewer bags than most women carry on the subway.

there must be more to the bag-craze than fashion. is each combination of leather-duffles, pocketbooks and backpacks supposed to convey how much emotional baggage the carrier has? is there a mass shoe-smuggling operation going on?

i asked a co-worker, who favors a four-bag look, what she carries around.

"don't ever ask a woman what's in her bag," she snapped.

i tried again with a female friend, who met me for lunch with a humongous satchel.

"i have my ipod, a water bottle, sneakers and a change of clothes for after work," she said.

when i surreptitiously lifted her bag, its weight was the equivalent of two bowling balls-making me doubt that she gave me a complete inventory of the bag's contents. to learn what's inside those bags i'll have to join the police department's subway bag-inspection team.

for many women, whatever is in their bags can't be as valuable as the bags themselves. in bloomingdale's, the most expensive bags, such as the fendi peekaboo, the salvatore ferragamo miss vera and chloe paratay, don't even have price tags. an inquiry with a salesperson revealed that they cost the equivalent of a few nights at a luxury hotel (the fendi was $1,980, the salvatore ferragamo $1,450 and the chloe $1,995). despite these hefty price tags, i have learned that pricey bags can be a good investment.

my mother, who collects handbags like some people collect art, recently showed me her masterpieces: a mint condition hermes black kelly, purchased at lord and taylor in 1961 for $125, and an hermes constance shoulder bag bought in the early 1970s for $250. according to my mom, the bags now sell for thousands of dollars.

to verify this claim, i surfed the web for used hermes bags. i found a used kelly priced at $5,538 and a vintage constance shoulder bag for $4,495!

if you can't afford a hermes bag, or even a cole haan britney studded hobo or a marc jacobs mini-satchel (respectively $298 and $345 at bloomie's), there's always canal street. i recently went there with my bargain-hunting friend amy, who bought a louis vuitton hobo knockoff for $30 (bargained down from $35). her savings can be spent on filling up the bag-with whatever it is that women carry around with them.

ben krull is a lawyer and essayist who lives on the upper east side.

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