The very real struggles of using a basket bag

Photo: Rex Features 

They might be the bag of the summer, but a woven tote doesn’t come without its challenges, says Lauren Bravo. Here’s how to avoid them

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By Lauren Bravo on

So, you want to buy a basket bag.

It’s fine – it’s perfectly natural. You resisted for the last couple of years because you thought they were a fad – and that was fair enough; nobody could have predicted that handbags made from hay would outlive even the Bardot top. But they have and now you want one. You want one because they look fabulous, because summer makes arcadian shepherdesses of us all and because there’s a certain temperature above which a leather cross-body bag just feels wrong. Not to mention sticky.

But perhaps you’re also nervous, because this feels like a leftfield move. Or a rightfield move, depending on where the field is. And, I’ll be honest: while there is nothing quite like swinging a basket bag around town to make even a humdrum Monday feel holiday-ish, there are definitely easier accessories to incorporate into normal life. Here are a few of the trials in store.

1 (a) Wear and tear

Firstly, don’t get too attached. I mean this both figuratively and literally, as the main struggle of a basket bag is the threat of the handle breaking off at any moment. While common sense dictates we should have stopped trying to make serviceable clothing out of straw decades ago, the same way we no longer knit swimsuits out of wool, fashion has other ideas.

Every time a basket bag dies on me, I hear Jack Geller’s voice from that Friends Thanksgiving episode. The one where 1980s Monica severs 1980s Chandler’s toe off with a kitchen knife, when she drops it and it goes right through his shoe. “Of course it did,” Geller tells the doctor. “They’re made of wicker!” I’ve heard it every time a straw bag has frayed, split or just plain disintegrated right off my arm at an inconvenient moment. Of course it has. It’s made of wicker!

I’ve eked more life out of mine by sewing in new linings and repairing bust-up handles, but your average cheap-and-cheerful basket bag is here for a good time, not a long one. Instead, you can invest in a hybrid bag that nods to the basket but with the addition of leather straps and proper metal hardware – just don’t try to tell people you picked it up at a little beach shack in the Azores. It won’t wash.

1 (b) Shedding

As a result of 1 (a), expect tiny bits of straw littered over your carpet, as though someone has just finished cleaning out the guinea pig.

2 Friction burn

We ask many things of our handbags these days – in-built phone chargers, geotagging, space for a leaking KeepCup – but one of the less outlandish demands is that they not be, y’know, physically painful. Yet life with a basket bag is a scratchy one, especially when the mercury rises and the sleeves come off. I guess you could call it exfoliating, if it wasn’t rubbing raw the parts of you that need it least: the crook of your elbow (I’m so sorry, silky tender baby skin), your palms and your shoulders. And that’s before you factor in a crisp layer of second-day sunburn. Ow.

In the UK, using a proper beachy basket bag that has no zip – except maybe a whimsical ribbon – is always chancing your arm, because: rain

3 Never being able to find your keys, ever

Because while the mark of a great real-life bag is a warren of internal pockets, a basket bag is often just one giant pocket, designed for occasions when you have all the time in the world to rummage around for your lip balm. Things baskets are ideal for carrying: picnics, picnic blankets, swimming costumes wrapped in a towel, small dogs, large magazines, frisbees. Things baskets are less than ideal for carrying: keys, money, laptops, passports, other vital documents, nappy bags (I would imagine), travelcards. Especially travelcards.

So, if public transport plays any kind of regular role in your life, be warned: you will spend half your time standing at a ticket barrier, elbow-deep in bag detritus, yelling, “Go on without me! I’m not worth it! Honestly, it feels like less of a sacrifice to turn round, go home and miss the whole barbecue than to spend another second of my life groping around in the bottom of this godforsakenah, there it is.” Still, even worse is this season’s net shopping bag – so chic, until you realise half your possessions fell out through the holes half a mile back.

4 The inevitable presence of weather

In the UK, using a proper beachy basket bag that has no zip – except maybe a whimsical ribbon – is always chancing your arm, because: rain.

Faced with the painstaking process of transferring your worldly goods over to a different handbag in the morning (knowing you will always forget something vital, like sunglasses or tampons) or just risking it, you’re probably going to risk it. This means there will be more than one occasion where you choose to be optimistic about the weather forecast only to end up lugging around a sodden hay bale all day. I still don’t know how to solve this one, I’m afraid. Cover it in a black bin liner, like farmers do?

5 People and their opinions

Good luck getting through an average day full of average work and chores without anyone making a Little Red Riding Hood comment. But even that won’t be able to cast shade on your summer vibes.

And the correct response, of course, is “Beach, please".

Click here for the practical (ish) basket bags edit 


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Photo: Rex Features 
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