Rich shoppers ask for unmarked bags to hide extravagance

Ahh, the eighties. How luxury goods makers must miss you. In those days, Gucci and Tiffany never would have heard the request, "May I get that in a brown paper bag?" But these days, the rich are in hiding and conspicuous consumption needs to be a little less conspicuous. Most famously, according to The Daily Beast, Lehman CEO Dick Fuld's wife, Kathleen, asked for a white bag instead of Hermes' iconic orange one when making some recent extravagant purchases. Message: it's ok to spend money like it's still 1999. Let's just not let the paparazzi and the little people in on it.

As grocery store shoppers get comfortable bringing their own reusable totes to carry home their purchases (obviating the once-obvious superiority of bags from an upscale grocery store), the wealthy are finding another reason that handfuls of colorful shopping bags are no longer the most wonderful thing to be hanging from one's hand around the holidays. For wealthy customers, it's a desire not to see, and to be unseen; for those whose pockets aren't quite as full, it's just a matter of planet-consciousness.

Instead of showing solidarity with the less fortunate, however, I think the unmarked bag trick goes somewhere else: into a place where the doors to the club of the super-rich is even more unassailable. Now it's the aspirational folk who want their purchases to be flaunted, whereas the real money wink-winks at one another. White bag on the arm of the wife of a fallen executive? If you know, you know where she's been shopping. She won't make headlines. But her Park Avenue neighbors can nod their heads in affirmation. Kathleen's ok, they are saying. She's just not going to shove it in the faces of all those penniless Lehman stockholders -- and the rest of the U.S. taxpayer base, bailing those poor CEOs out, and fueling the next clandestine shopping trip.

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