"Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life."
The revival of bum bags (“fanny packs” for friends across the Atlantic Ocean) embodies the two golden adages in fashion: what goes around comes back around and, can we turn a “Ew no” into a “Hell yeah”? Okay I made that one up myself but how did the once fashion joke get fairy dust sprinkled all over itself and become a street style hit?
It’s no easy task to track down the exact origin of this ugly little duckling of the handbag family. There are traces of lookalikes found throughout history and around the world. For example, Chatelaine bags, a small purse attached to a belt with a chain was popular among Victorian and Edwardian women to carry their little trinkets. It is also said to derive from the French chatelaines of the Middle Ages.
Native Americans wore buffalo pouches around their waist or neck instead of simply sewing pockets into their clothing for reasons we will never know. And Scottish men in the 1800s sported sporrans, a fancy upgrade from plain waist pouches worn by Medieval Christians as they decorated the leather bag with metal plates, feathers and tassels and hang it right in front of the body. A perfect but absolutely random chance to accentuate their you-know-what, right?
An Australian called Melba Stone is widely credited with inventing the first bum bag in 1962 as we know it today. It is said that she got her inspiration from—you guessed it—her motherland’s most-loved, pouch-bearing roos. No brainer, that one.
Love it or hate it, there is no denying that the bum bags have always been around in modern fashion, and are apparently here to stay. The 1980s showed the first glimpse into normcore, one of the biggest trends in recent fashion history: while tourists started to wear them everywhere to ward off wallet-snatchers so they can do even more tourist things, Neneh Cherry, made a bold fashion statement by adding a gold one to her red carpet look for the MTV awards.
And it doesn’t stop there.
There’s nothing high fashion loves more than a good underdog comeback story. In the 1980s Chanel came out with the first designer bum bag that is now spotted on Kendall Jenner. And Vivienne Westwood’s 1996 limited edition creation for Louis Vuitton made it to the history books, literally.
Fast forward to this year’s fashion scene, bum bags in all shapes and colours are seen on runways models at Gucci, Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, Fenty x Puma, and the list goes on. It has also become a staple for show-goers and street style stars. So don’t be discouraged to sport one on a day out (or even a night out!). Even if people don’t get the chicness of the trend, you’ll have free hands to hold an extra drink to block out their comments.
Yes, bum bags might never escape in the dad chic territory, but the ‘dad bags’ designed by British Albert Pukies literally turn you into a dad, and the ‘dad-est’ of them all—the Internet-viral bum bag is covered with a disturbingly realistic print of a hairy pot belly. (£10.99 on Amazon) This one shall forever be in the ‘Ew no’ category.
As described on Balenciaga’s official website, this shirt from the Fall ’18 collection is made of 100% cotton and lightweight, breathable poplin, is made in Italy, and offers two wearing options.
When did high fashion become so wearable and versatile? Apparently the two ways of wearing the piece is to: wear the short sleeves shirt with front drape effect…or the long sleeves shirt with back drape effect. Wait…what?
Yes, the Balenciaga T-shirt Shirt is basically what it suggests with its name—a shirt sewn on top of a T-shirt. A buy-one-get-one-free deal we’re missing? There’s just one slight problem: It’s selling for $1,290 (£935). Oh and don’t even think about putting it in the laundry machine. It’s hand-wash, or dry clean only.
People are baffled. The Internet exploded with trolls. And the media is on their side—“Holy shirt: Balenciaga is selling a ‘T-shirt’ for $1,290,” The Gaurdian’s headline reads. And things really came full-circle when netizens got creative and crafty and began making their own DIY T-shirt shirts.
This is not the first time Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga trolled us with fashion that’s designed to go viral. Remember just over a year ago when the Spanish brand came out with a leather version of the $99 cent Ikea Frakta shopper? The Internet was sent into a frenzy and Ikea even put out a tongue-in-cheek guide to telling the genuine from its £1,600 imposter. (apparently if it rustles it’s real). But then they sold like hot cakes.
The £850 Balenciaga x Crocs made its ground-breaking appearance at Paris Fashion Week last year. And it’s the same story—intense mockery ensued, and the next thing you know, it was sold out before they were actually released for sale.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the patterns; this strategy is no rocket science. But it sure works like one. Demna Gvasalia, who took the helm as Balenciaga’s creative director since October 2015, “has made something of an art form out of appropriating the basic clothing (or high fashion) common denominators that we have long take for granted and twisting and torqueing them into forms that demand a rethink. Now he is doing exactly the same thing we our reactions,” Vanessa Friedman wrote in the New York Times.
This tactic could only ever work in the age of the Internet, where selling a weird and controversial thing for a ridiculous amount of money is only one of the infinite ways to get people riled up on the digisphere. Also, who would pass up the chance to feel like Anna Wintour for a second and roast fashion to its core?
If there’s anyone who finds more comedy in all this backlash than the haters online, it’s Gvasalia himself. Because it all plays right into his hands: “I think it’s very interesting, the definition of ugly. I think it’s also very interesting to find this line where ugly becomes beautiful or where beautiful becomes ugly. That’s a challenge I like. I think that’s a part of what fashion stands for and I like that people think my clothes are ugly; I think it’s a compliment,” he told Vogue.
“Demna is not giving up its throne as the troublemaker in fashion now, and I’m not complaining—I don’t know if I’m buying the T-shirt shirt (which is already saying a lot), but I know I got a good laugh out of this and I love that fashion’s fun again,” says an inside source at Dazed Media and Nowness.
1000 memes baited means 1000 sets of eyeballs on the product. Bad press or not, it’s good publicity. And it paid off, literally—CEO of Kering, the global luxury conglomerate that owns Balenciaga, Gucci, Saint Laurent and more, said that the brand is the fastest growing label within the group thanks to the meme-fluent audiences. Guess who’s having the last laugh?
On the other hand, good ole’ BBC has even contacted the company in an attempt to solve the mystery as to why Balenciaga thought this would be a good idea, but have yet got a response. To me, this seriousness is the biggest joke of all.
The Balenciaga T-shirt shirt is currently available for pre-order. Knock yourselves out everyone. Or just wait for the high street to bring out something similar.
Meg is a full-time fashion journalism student at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London. She moved to London at the age of 18 to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer.