The Last ‘Straw’

Smiling through the heat with a whimsical vintage rattan purse
(click images for larger views)

I’ve officially had it with this hot sweltering weather! Just about now, I’m anxiously awaiting the end of summer and the advent of fall. But since it’s not happening any time soon, I’ll have to make do and figure out how to survive the next month or so. In addition to wearing lighter, lightweight clothing (duh), accessories are another important part of the equation: specifically, the choice of one’s handbag. I understand that leather is season less and year round, but when it’s been in the mid to upper 90’s for 5 days in a row, there is nothing cooler (literally and psychologically), than wicker, straw, and rattan. Quite frankly, there is nothing like a great straw bag; it can almost trick you into thinking you are on vacation in the South of France, or on an island in the Caribbean; whether it’s the dead of winter, or you’re stuck on a hot crowded New York subway.

Audrey Hepburn wearing a mink pullover and carrying an embellished straw bag

Straw bags have figured prominently into the wardrobes of the best dressed women past and present, through the years: Audrey Hepburn, Jane Birkin, and Ines de la Fressange just to name a few. (FYI, I love the picture of Audrey Hepburn wearing her signature mink pullover and carrying an embellished straw bag. I’m an advocate of using them in the wintertime as well, when they are far less predictable and unexpected). The good news is that they are readily available all over, and at every price point. But like everything else, there are straw bags and then there are straw bags, and not all straw bags are created equal.

Crab shaped vintage wicker bag

I have always been drawn to vintage versions that are highly distinctive, rare, and collectible. While I love the classic ones, I am always taken with those that are whimsical, put a smile on my face, and make for an amusing conversation piece (all of which are completely in sync with the playful, carefree, and non serious nature of summer). The best examples are the 3D figural animal figural straw, rattan, and wicker bags from the 1950’s and 1960’s. I’ve seen them in the shape of horses, donkeys, elephants, frogs, pigs, crabs, alligators, fish, etc. Last year, Kate Spade was selling a wicker shoulder bag in the shape of an armadillo. They are getting harder to find, but they are available from time to time. I recently found one on, in the shape of a crocodile with a long snout, a swirling tail, four short legs with wicker stick feet, and green eyes made of strips of coated plastic, and another two on one is in the shape of a pig, and the other is equine.

My vintage black & white striped oversized wicker bag

While I don’t own any of the aforementioned versions, I have been seeking out and collecting vintage wicker and straw bags for many years and have amassed quite a collection (several are vintage Koret, one is Magid, but many are unlabeled). They range in color from natural to white and black (plus one in a graphic black and white stripe); they are in a variety of shapes and sizes, from teeny tiny to oversized; many have handsome leather trim and distinctive hardware. But my favorites right now, are those that are zany, highly embellished, lined in red felt and covered with colorful pom poms, metallic appliques, bells, gold coins, braids, and mirrors. They add just a right touch of Boho Chic to anything classic, and what’s great is that they are so decorated, they obliterate the need to wear any jewelry or other accessories, (this is especially relevant right now, when you want to put on the least amount of anything). Plus with the mirror, you don’t need to carry a compact to check out yourself out.

Tuk Tuk Tote

While these are, alas, not available to purchase, as they are vintage and one of a kind, there is a real dead ringer: the handmade Tuk Tuk tote, $395, which is currently available on Created by founding Tory Burch design director Stephanie von Watzdorf, Figue is a relatively new “travel inspired artisan-centric luxury collection with a global gypsy-meets-jet-set spirit”. In addition to her website, she has wisely and conveniently set up shop in Southampton, through Labor Day (68 Jobs Lane, 631 488 4487). By the way, speaking of Tory Burch, the large structured Rattan Tote with leather handles, made of natural woven material, and embellished with bright pom poms and beadwork, is on sale from $450 to $315 (

Marilyn Kirschner 

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.