The Telfar Bag Struggle Is Real

The Telfar Bag Struggle Is Real
Image:Cindy Ord/Noam Galai/Jamie McCarthy (Getty Images)

Earlier this week Telfar, a New York designer lauded for his approach to inclusivity and gender fluidity, announced that their sold-out Shopping Bag would be made available to the masses via the “Bag Security Program.” Known in fashion media as the “Bushwick Birkin” for its popularity as an it-bag among young people of color, through the new program Telfar will be taking orders for any size and any color for 24 hours only on Wednesday. The bags will be made to order and will be delivered in a few months’ time. While drops will still happen on the site, ordering via the program will ensure that those wishing to own a calculated piece of cool—or a very good bag that will stand up to life’s shit—can do so.

The Telfar bag is so popular in part because it isn’t extraordinary, nor is it flashy like any other “luxury” item. Telfar Clemens, the Liberian-American designer behind the line, has always been explicit about his intentions. A 2020 New Yorker piece notes that he draws inspiration from sources both high and low:

Clemens admires designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, who put men in skirt suits and borrowed from the uniforms of waiters and sailors, and Vivienne Westwood, whose relationship to London’s punk scene bears some resemblance to Clemens’s ties to New York night life. But he is just as influenced by Macy’s and Marshalls. “I want to be Michael Kors, but on purpose,” he has said. Gallagher noted that Clemens often refers to his aunt’s Talbots catalogues: “He has always been super interested in what everybody wears rather than what the rare person wears.

The Shopping Bag is the physical embodiment of Telfar’s messaging: an affordable-enough luxury item that, in some lights, resembles the most expensive bag you’d find at the good Marshall’s. Emblazoned with one big logo that is recognizable for those in the know, it otherwise looks innocuous despite being the first covetable it-bag since the brief Mansur Gavriel bucket bag mania of the mid 2010s. Unlike that bag, which starts at $649, Telfar’s status bag is reasonably priced and is, in the words of Jezebel editor in chief Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, the most “utilitarian thing” she’s ever owned, for its ability to fit a laptop, some cat food, wine, and whatever else one might find during the day with room to spare.

Unlike the gaping maw of a Louis Vuitton Neverfull or a Longchamp Le Pliage, the Telfar bag’s structure lends it a nice formality that means it will fit in with any crowd. A Telfar bag can go from a job interview to the club without breaking a sweat. It’s the platonic ideal of an “everyday bag” of the sort magazine market editors dutifully round up when the seasons change. But unlike the faded totes or backpacks we use to carry our crap around every day, there’s something about Telfar and the messaging behind the brand that appeals in a way any other status bag doesn’t.

I have spent most of the workday toggling between tabs, considering the size and color combinations of the bag. Switching rapidly between my bank account, my credit card, and Telfar’s website, I feel flummoxed by indecision. Of course I want the bag, I do not need the bag, but the strict no-return policy on the bag itself has given me agita in a way that I don’t love. Medium is the correct size, but a wrong choice in the color will haunt me for the rest of my life. My heart and brain have ruled out any of the metallic options and the two pastels, though they are fetching in a way that I do not think I am myself. Tan is safe, cream is close to “nude,” and red would be a “statement” of the sort that I’m uncomfortable making. Of all the decisions I make in a day, this is arguably the most stupid. But the Telfar bag is fashion for the masses, at a price point that’s just high enough to feel like the purchase is an event in and of itself, but not so high that it’s out of reach.

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