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Female Status Competition: In Defense Of High-Fashion Handbags
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August 03, 2012, 12:10 AM
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One of the seeming oddities of the high end of the fashion world are purses and handbags that can cost well over $1000. (Here`s Vogue UK`s list of its current hot 100 handbags, prices in pounds.) 

From a simple sociobiological perspective, it`s hard to explain why any women would compete over something like an expensive purse that straight men simply aren`t going to notice. Why not spend the money on getting hair extensions or giant implants or something else that will catch heterosexual men`s eyes? So, one theory popular among straight men is that straight women are victims of a gay male conspiracy to brainwash them into competing with each other over stuff that doesn`t attract men. 

No doubt there is some truth to this, but let`s look at it from the perspective of the women who do want to upstage other women by having the newest and most expensive of this season`s handbags. Who are they? Typically, they are women with rich husbands. And that means they aren`t particularly desperate to hook a new man because the one they`ve got is paying for their expensive gew-gaws. Moreover, they don`t want to associate socially with women desperate to hook a good catch because their own husbands are good catches. So, they prefer to associate with other women who have rich husbands, too. 

Women with rich husbands tend to have a competitive streak, which is how they snagged a rich husband in the first place, but they don`t want to constantly replay the Darwinian struggle for a mate with the other women in their social circle. They are looking for a hobby they can compete with their peers in without ruining marriages. 

So, women with rich husbands will often compete over things like handbags, a contest to impress other rich women and gay men, but not to arouse their friends` husbands into breaking up their marriages. It`s a cartel with rules to keep the competition from getting out of hand.

It`s like how a construction worker might go to Las Vegas and win or lose $20,000 while a the rich husband of one of these women is more likely to go to his golf club and win or lose a (largely symbolic) $20 bet on a golf game. As Freud suggested, the higher bourgeois classes tend to have more sublimated, less destructive hobbies.