For 21of21, GOOGLE SHOPPING and PAPER came together to break down some of the most memorable shopping moments of 2021 based on Google's trending search data. Everyone was trying to secure the bag in 2021, with Google search interest for “Telfar bag” going up 1,650%, along with search interest for “mini bags,” which reached an all-time high in July of this year in the US.
It’s been quite the year for bags, and not just the ones under our eyes. From the microscopic to gargantuan and everything in between, those little signifiers that we carry around had a lot to say about us at a time when we slowly re-emerged from our confined spaces. Life after lockdown suddenly gave what we wore — and what handbag we showed off — a new meaning when it comes to what we value.
Perhaps no other brand in history has upended the idea of exclusivity and status quite like Telfar. Their moderately priced totes, which on average sell for just $200, are a far cry from the $3,000+ styles offered by its more traditional luxury counterparts. And yet Telfar bags constantly sell out and get marked up on resale sites, causing users to collectively melt down in the process (there’s even a Twitter support group for those who missed out on new drops).
Indeed, Telfar’s rapid rise is just as much an example of evolving tastes as it is a reflection of how the meaning of an It-bag has changed throughout the years. Whereas heritage labels trade on enormous price tags, Telfar has banked on a savvy mix of community, accessibility and storytelling (the brand is queer and Black-owned) to disrupt the industry. Although celebrities have been spotted carrying the iconic logo’d bag, they are not the drivers of consumption, instead, by carrying the bag, they signal to their fans and the public that they are in-the-know like them. A sort of “celebrities are just like us!,” though we cannot imagine them at their computer a few minutes before the bags go live, their heart racing out of their chest, as they try to not get their hopes up in case they don’t end up securing the bag.
The Los Angeles-based brand JW Pei also enjoyed a banner year, with their fashion-forward pieces like their signature Gabbi Bag, which is shaped like a croissant and features a scrunched handle that is a cheeky nod to that other staple of the ‘90s, the scrunchie, comes in at a very cool $89, and has become a hit with the Depop generation that is hungry for Y2K-inspired fashions.
But the success of brands like Telfar and JW Pei doesn’t mean that expensive luxury bags are no longer desired. Even while being stuck at home with nowhere to go, Bottega Veneta’s almost-classic Cassette bag and Jacquemus’ hyped Le Chiquito (is it a necklace? is it a bag? is it simply an objet d’art?) continued their reign as most-coveted bags for another year.
Perhaps because we had less places to go, our desired accessories became more practical. Baggu bags, the reusable $12 totes fashioned after the ubiquitous plastic grocery bags that have since been banned in a number of states, come in a variety of funky prints and colors, and have become a total must-have. (They’ve also been spotted hanging from the arms of many a celebrity.) Similarly, BOGG’s rectangular totebags, made of EVA with perforated holes (think of their aesthetic as Crocscore) made for days spent at the pool and the beach, went viral on TikTok and are the subject of an entire Facebook group of 20,000-strong adoring customers.
Even when it comes to popular bag styles, people love to have something unique and personalized, which is why it’s not surprising that the bags from Stoney Clover Lane, became a big hit this year. Their fully customizable styles — you can pick your favorite color and/or fabric then let your imagination run wild with their ample selection of patches — are available in a variety of shapes from little pencil cases to backpacks and totes are perfect for people of all ages.
In many of these cases, the bags have become highly coveted in spite of — or perhaps because — they are so widely available. These accessories are becoming the new status symbol, not because of exclusivity but because what it means to carry them — a sartorial version of the popular online phrase IYKYK (if you know, you know). This trend is a prime example of how the values of Gen Z can trickle up the fashion system. It’s a spirit embodied best by Telfar’s slogan, "It's not for you — it's for everyone."