They're called Barbie bags by fashion-savvy shoppers, because they look like the boxy wardrobe cases first made for the queen of grown-up dolls. And they're back, almost 30 years after Barbie first made the scene. But this time, they are handbags for women, not children's doll-clothing cases.
And they are stylized enough to suggest one of two cultural developments: Either feminism is in serious trouble or it's moving ahead so securely that women can finally live and laugh at it all.
OK, so Barbie bags--which aren't called that by their manufacturers because Mattel owns the name--aren't all that practical. The worst of it is they don't have a shoulder strap--not most of them, anyway. And they're only about the size of a pillbox hat.
But if they aren't all things for all occasions, neither is most of fashion right now. People say they want variety and things that are appropriate for each outing.
These bags are a little like Christian Lacroix dresses, which also happen to look like something for Barbie. In fact, Lacroix spark the trend, accessorizing his dresses with stiff little purses shaped like hatboxes, train cases and picnic baskets. They aren't something to take seriously, but that doesn't mean you can't join in the fun.
A few relevant facts have already emerged about the little bags, thanks to some of the pioneer experimenters of the new look. At Neiman-Marcus, one serious proponent plunked down $2,000 for a green alligator version of the Barbie bag, so there is such a thing as making a serious investment in one. But at the Limited, for example, there is a hatbox-shaped bag that Barbie would love, priced at $30.
Trend watchers at Nordstrom stores have noticed that Barbie bags don't hold as much as the big, soft styles women are used to. As a result, sales in small-scale wallets are suddenly brisk, and tote bags large enough to hold purses along with other things will probably make a comeback by fall.