Special to The Sun
This week, science makes a stunning disclosure about the hidden meaning of women’s handbags. As men have long suspected, there’s a much deeper, perhaps sinister message conveyed by a woman’s choice of this portable accessory. After all, Americans spend more than $250 billion (that’s right — billion) on women’s luxury products each year. The average woman adds three new handbags to her wardrobe annually.
The obvious explanations are plausible but not altogether satisfying. Sure, an expensive handbag may serve as an easy-to-see proclamation about a woman’s social status. A nice handbag may be confirmation the owner has a good sense of style. No doubt, a nice new handbag may provide a boost to a woman’s self-esteem.
But as surely as dog whistles communicate on an auditory level beyond the ear of man, a woman’s handbag sends a message not accessible to us guys.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted a number of experiments involving 649 women of varying ages, social standing and relationship status. The purpose of this research was to discover (if possible) the existential meaning behind a woman’s choice of her handbag. The results are shocking. According to Associate Professor Vladas Griskevicius, “Conspicuous consumption is actually smart for women who want to protect their relationship. When a woman is flaunting designer products, it says to other women ‘back off my man.’” In other words, the seemingly irrational craving for luxury goods is, in reality, motivated by the owner’s desire to protect her relationship.
This only works, of course, if potential rivals get the message. PhD student Yajin Wang, who participated in the study, suggests this is precisely the case. “We found that a woman who is wearing luxury items and designer brands is perceived to have a more devoted partner and as a result other women are less likely to flirt with him.
Regardless of who actually purchased the items, other women inferred that the man had something to do with it and is thus more devoted to her.”
At this point, the logical mind naturally generates a question: What about women who are “unattached?” They seem as eager to possess designer goods as married ladies. Isn’t this a flaw in the theory? As it turns out — no. “Many single women obviously want designer products. But instead of those products saying back off my current man, the single woman is saying back off my future man,” according to Wang. At this point, the logical mind naturally generates another question: How do potential rivals arrive at the conclusion that an unattached lady, because she has luxury goods today, will someday have a man who would have bought those goods if he was around and, oh yeah, he’ll be impervious to flirtation when he finally does show up?
These are complicated questions which will, no doubt, be answered by future scientific studies.
Even so, the surprising conclusions can be backed up with experimental findings. In one study, Griskevicius and Wang triggered jealous impulses in their subjects by prompting them to imagine another woman flirting with “their man.” Thereafter, the women were asked to draw luxury brand logos on handbags. Predictably, those women who felt jealous drew designer logos twice the size of those drawn in other conditions. Obviously, jealousy heightens a woman’s craving for luxury goods. The meaning is inescapable — right? In Wang’s words, “The feeling that a relationship is being threatened by another woman automatically triggers women to want to flash Gucci, Chanel and Fendi to other women. A designer handbag or pair of expensive shoes seems to work like a shield, where wielding a Fendi handbag successfully fends off romantic rivals.”
In another experiment, Griskevicius and Wang found when romantic relationships are threatened, women not only desire more expensive handbags, cars, cell phones and shoes, they also spend 32 percent more of their own money for a chance to win a luxury spending spree.
Once again, the logical mind generates a question: If women crave luxury goods as a means of protecting their relationships, what accounts for men who are equally drawn to expensive cars, cell phones etc.?
Though the article doesn’t furnish scientific backup, the researchers suggest rather than preserving a relationship, men display expensive products to attract the opposite sex.
So what does this mean in practical terms? Men should be flattered when their wives and girlfriends load up on luxury items. They’re really saying to the world, “My man buys me expensive stuff and he’s devoted. So you other gals keep your hands off.” I don’t know about you, my brothers, but I don’t feel that much better about it. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney
and Edmond resident.