the “new” lunch box

Sometime within the last five or so years, I’ve noticed more and more people (mainly women) carrying around the “new” lunch box. They come in bright, shiny colors, have large sturdy handles, are large enough to fit a can of Diet Coke, a turkey sandwich, bag o’ Sun Chips, and a banana but can fold up nicely when not in use. I hear they are pretty inexpensive, too. I’m talking about the small, wrapped in white tissue paper one-item designer-store-status-symbol shopping bag. Victoria’s Secret seems to be a popular model (so to speak), as are Burberry (what’s with the plaid?), Ann Taylor and Sephora.

I wonder when, in our culture, we decided to NOT throw away shopping bags, which were made to be disposable in the first place. As a kid, I remember my mom always saving the brown paper sacks with “Boy’s Market” imprinted in black and red on the outside. These were later cut up and folded into bookcovers for our Geometry, Chemistry and World Geography text books in junior high and high school. But the bags always outnumbered the books, which didn’t seem to effect my mom’s decision to not stop save them and eventually my brothers, sister and myself graduated out of school with not a textbook in sight to be covered. Good thing, too, since by now plastic bags were coming into fashion and replaced the kraft paper bags. These seemingly useless, flimsy, cheap, white plastic bags didn’t stop my mom from suffocating our kitchen pantry – lo and behold, they worked nicely as small trashcan liners.

I think the idea of the department store shopping bags as a status symbol caught on when department stores would only give them out to either large item or multiple item purchasers. Customers started requesting the large, sturdy bags just to hold a single, small item, which I’m sure at the time didn’t seem cost effective to the store’s mucky mucks. They thought maybe people would be willing to fork out some loose change in exchange for a “good bag.” So bag vending machines were conveniently stationed near elevators and escalators. This worked well as both a convenience to the customer, but also helped brand that particular store. Until the stores realized that they could spread the good word quicker and in greater numbers by actually giving the customers the bags. Which brings us back to the “new” lunch box.

While the May Co., Bullock’s and Robinson’s department store bags are gathering dust in my mom’s pantry, somewhere out there, a woman is emptying the contents of her Tiffany paper bag ready to eat her avocado sandwich.

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