Tote Bags, The New and Improved Graphic Tee

by Olive Soki-Kavwahirehi

I don’t remember the particular day I converted to the cumbersome lifestyle associated with tote bags, but before I knew it, I owned three of my own and found myself too cheap - or stuck in my ways - to consider another accessory to carry around my essentials. Like many lifestyle choices, it would be fair to say that I never went looking for the tote but instead it found me, as they seem to be one of those items that might as well come with the package of existing in the modern world. From casual and slightly forgettable household items to must-haves, tote bags have proven that trends still leave room for individualism and self-expression.

We’ve all heard it before, “communication is key” and most of our days are spent doing so - either verbally or non-verbally - with our peers. In recent years, Graphic Tees have been the item of choice when it comes to sharing a message with the world. As spoken by the previous Global Marketing Manager of Uniqlo, Rei Matsunuma, “The t-shirt is to express what I love and what I'm interested in ... any t-shirt is the start of a communication”. Years later, this statement still rings true. Whether you want to make it known that Wednesday is the only socially acceptable day to wear pink, or you simply want to advertise your love for the Rolling Stones, t-shirts are the way to go. After years of carrying the world of fashionable communication, the notorious shirt has been joined by an unexpected underdog, which pleasantly compliments its precedent, while creating space for more amicable discourse.

Recently elected by the jurisdiction of online pop culture and Pinterest enthusiasts, tote bags have been adopted as a trend and subsequently took the world - and your local flea market - by storm. For a generation fixated on exhausting all aspects of individualism and prioritizing the emission of "main character vibes," the popularity of the simple bag goes against the status quo - or does it? In the age of individualism, it is expected that everybody should have some level of originality, to avoid the chances of getting called out for being basic - the opposite of the uniqueness reserved to the so-called main character. But the tote has proven that a little can go a long way - or in this case, a simple bag can be the thing that sets you aside. Prior to its newly appointed position, the accessory was almost exclusively restricted to convenience. Grocery runs, shopping sprees, and even party favours, these bags were meant to shlump things around. Remaining faithful to our needs, tote bags have humbly earned their badge of honour as a utilitarian essential in our daily lives. What we once took for granted has now become an unforgettable accessory, which coincidentally can be used as an extension to our personalities.

The resurgence of tote bags has challenged the graphic t-shirt as they’ve become a more efficient - yet fashionably nonchalant - way of expressing our interests. This trend serves as a testament to the younger generations' tendencies to stand by their beliefs. Choosing to purchase a t-shirt does not require much commitment as you aren’t expected to keep it forever. Days go by, the graphics fade, and all is forgotten. The process of purchasing a bag is much more deliberate and permanent. More often than not, your bag will follow you everywhere and eventually become a staple in your life, and so will the graphics printed on the side. The act of wearing it every day is you solidifying your interest or morals one day at a time. A perfect example would be the new Gossip girl reboot. Eric Deman (the series costume designer) used this new trend as a vessel to translate Zoya’s interests and morals to the audience. In many episodes, she is seen sporting bags from local bookstores such as Revolution Books, and even movements she is known to be actively supporting. The same way her bags are used to introduce her character and values, we do the same when carrying our beloved totes. Sooner than later, the graphics you may have become accustomed to will serve as an invitation to bystanders, think of it as a preview to your personality. From your dislikes to your obsessions or even your most important beliefs, the possibilities are endless.

Months into the tote mania, walking around the city has become a fascinating exercise as I try to count the number of people I can spot with the infamous bag - excluding myself. While shamelessly analyzing my fellow marketplace imposters, I can't stop myself from questioning the motive and message behind each bag. The popularity of the accessory only amplifies the fact that fashion is a form of self-expression, an extension of our values and beliefs.

Why carry your heart on your sleeve when you could trust an old friend to do the heavy lifting for you, and turn your tote bag into a thoughtful statement.