The Handbag Theory Part I

MAY 28 — The theory I had wanted to share with you readers over a month ago came to an almost abrupt end. It was meant to be a fun analysis of how the value of a (designer) handbag correlated with a woman’s financial capability and mindset.

In this case, I wanted to gauge a Muslim woman’s thinking and religious leanings, because it is she who sets the tone of a household: it would be the Muslimah who checks out a school’s reputation and credibility before deciding if that is where her children should study; same thing with the books and toys her children would own and the kind of religious instruction the family will have.

Contrary to popular belief that it is solely Muslim men who lead their households, their wives are the ones who reign.

A very well-connected sartorial gentleman friend emailed me his thoughts: “First, let’s define Hijabi. The Malaysian fashion Hijabis are usually inspired by world class Hijabis such as Princess Mouna or Mozzah Nasser of Qatar. Inspired by their sleek fashion and endless budgets, the Malaysian fashion Hijabis will try to emulate a more affordable approach.

“I doubt the whole notion of blatant showing off is the issue. It’s a matter that they can afford the best money can buy. A RM5,000  bag would not be a big deal. I have seen Hijabis with diamond studded Birkins. They are usually the Datin/Datin Seri/Puan Sri sort who now sport a swath of fabric around the head with a husband to indulge her.”

The corporate Hijabis (who earn her own income) will spend on a RM5,000 (and above) bag, usually an entry level Chanel, Marc Jacobs, or a higher end Louis Vuitton.

Those on the lower rung (fashion) “…will spend RM3,000 and above, probably for an LV Speedy or LV Neverfull. Other options would be Prada (the nylon version) and Gucci (the logomania version in canvas and coloured lacquer versions).”

“Somehow, the fashion Hijabis at all levels... shun OTT labels like Versace or anything that has a too-prominent face logo on it. Grassroot Hijabis will spend on Zara, ALDO, Bonia, Sembonia, Charles and Keith. Even the fakes will deter them as they go for about RM500 these days and many high street brands carry better-looking ones which are cheaper.”

However, he said, true religious Hijabis whose icons are the Prophet Muhammad’s wives adhere to his preachings and would usually shun overtly expensive bags.

“I have seen them wearing full length tudungs that conceal their choice of bags. But occasionally, I would see a Chanel peek out from under the cloak. These are the non-working wives of the rich. Some of them own kindergartens and small businesses.

“Suffice to say, a tote would fit their bill as it houses their many accessories, including the odd telekung.”

The truth is, women, whatever their religious leanings are, enjoy beautiful things. Owning an RM6,000 handbag does not make a woman more or less religious, and neither does it make her smarter or owning the sensibilities of a dim bulb. This writer will admit that she is sartorially challenged but she will spend on her hotels and holidays. And books. To each, her own.

No?

Zakiah Koya, journalist and editor with a local publication and friend, sees it differently.

“Like you, I have friends who are into handbags. And shoes. To each her own, you say, but I see this materialism as a colonisation of Islam and its people.”

It’s good to see Muslims well. We’re a far cry from being the lazy native that everyone else claims we are, she said. But the neo-Malay’s ambition to be seen and accepted as successful is creating an economic class that places a premium on religion.

“Their children go to very expensive and very good Islamic schools and kindergartens. What about the average Muslim child whose parents cannot afford to do so? Why should he be deprived of such an education? Is this Islamic in essence?”

Yes, government schools are sub-par these days, but are they that awful? Perhaps. But many Malaysians have no choice. However, because money is equitable to power and influence, this agenda (of wealthy Muslims) will create a big gap among the middle, upper and working classes. Muslims in Malaysia will be disenfranchised.

*Part II: Next week

**This is the personal opinion of the columnist. 

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