Rowan Pelling: Does anyone really pay £1,000 for a handbag? My last one cost 15 quid

Surveys reveal all women to be glamour-mad spendthrifts. One problem: I don't believe them


I am beginning to think there's a subterranean metropolis located somewhere around junction 10 of the M25 that daily disgorges Porsche Cayennes driven by regiments of GQ men and InStyle women hell-bent on buying as much improbably expensive, hideous and crap clobber as they can stuff into one boot. What else can explain the difference between media reports of the average Briton's shopping habits and the exceptional individuals strolling back from the Co-op with a tin of tomatoes and a bar of Dairy Milk?

The Government's annual "shopping basket" was revealed last week, which provides a gauge of the kind of goods Brits are purchasing. New items on the list included a flat-screen television, an MP3 player, nanny fees, mentholated cigarettes, champagne, liquid foundation and water sports equipment, suggesting the average Britain is a cross between Noel Coward and David Beckham.

The following items were among those dropped from the basket: a small brown sliced loaf, muesli, chocolate-coated biscuits, dishcloths, grass-edge strimmer, a man's casual shirt, adult slippers and a child's car seat.

My blood ran cold when I read this "out" list. Only last weekend I was lolling on the patio in my superb £8.50 Bhs sheepskin-look slippers munching a choccie biccie while my husband performed the first strim of spring in his "country check" shirt from M&S. I felt as though I'd just been awarded an "unclassified" in my shopping exam.

Every fresh retail statistic makes me feel like a consumer klutz. There's the recent pronouncement from Grazia magazine that the average woman spends £80,000 on shoes in her lifetime. Does she, by heck? If we take it that the prime purchasing age of woman is 20-60, then she's blithely spending £2,000 on heels per year despite the fact the average British annual wage is £25,000.

And here's the weird thing: I thought I could really shop, that I was the Rocky of retail. My family call me Imelda because of my shoe collection. But I have never topped £200 on any given pair, and more than half of them were sales purchases that cost closer to £50. Yet one pair of shoes promoted in a national newspaper this week cost over a grand. How much buckle can you can get for your buck, especially when the difference between a Jimmy Choo sandal and its high-street imitation has dissolved to the point that you're left speechless at the credulity of a person who would pay 10 times over the odds to be given a designer blister?

According to a recent Mintel report, British women spent £350m on bags last year. It's impossible to pick up a woman's mag without being urged to buy a bulky, rectangular, assemblage of leather and brass for a couple of months' salary. Yet these modern handbags are utterly hideous. They're not fit to kiss the ass of the glorious little hand-beaded clutches carried by 1940s film goddesses. As for Lulu Guinness's "witty" little bags, what's so dazzlingly funny about carrying around a flowerpot that looks as if you made it from Fuzzy Felt on Blue Peter?

Several media pundits have said the explanation for this retail explosion is that a handbag fits all sizes. But surely this makes the whole phenomenon even weirder. Yet fashion is about almost anything except the egalitarian spirit. It's about the Zeitgeist alighting on skinny jeans and telling 90 per cent of females they might as well hide their lard-arses in the cupboard for a season. A handbag won't make you thinner, younger, taller or more buxom. It can't flatter your face, enhance your fragrance or add gloss to your hair. All a posh bag says is that you're prepared to spend the mortgage money on a receptacle for your car-keys and lippie just because it has a little label saying Chloé. So a large woman with a Balenciaga bag just looks like she's shallow, desperate, easily impressed and stupid as well as overweight. It's a lose/lose situation.

Do these self-bankrupting handbag monsters actually exist outsideFootballers' Wives? Most women I know love to shop and many of them are relatively affluent. But I don't know a single one who owns a handbag that cost more than £200. Nor do I know anyone, for that matter, who's much given to facials, seaweed wraps and luxury Thai spas.

A vast industry exists where half of womankind (admittedly, journalists usually) urges the other half to splurge their entire worldly wealth on goods and services the promoter would never use herself.

Not that I'm saying some purchases can't cure all known ills. Three times I've brought myself back from the Slough of Despond by blowing the housekeeping on, variously, a Paula Rego lithograph, a Vivienne Westwood frock and a Maine Coon kitten. But none become outmoded and they all gave increased pleasure with each passing year.

Style journalists always say fashion is about selling dreams, and that's true. The trick is to ensure that you're buying your own stardust, not the ad man's at a 1,000 per cent mark-up.

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