Why Do They Call It The Kelly Bag?

HERMES KELLY SWIFT ORANGE K 2007 Decades vintage handbagThis Kelly bag in Hermès orange is for sale at Decades Inc., the high-end vintage boutique beloved of Hollywood stars and the stylists who dress them. According to the Decades blog, this particular model retails for $9,000 but is available for an undisclosed "below retail" sum. (If you have to ask, you can't afford it.)

The bag got its name when Life ran a photo of Princess Grace, then pregnant with her daughter Caroline, using it to disguise her pregnancy from paparazzi. With its dated combination of large size and short straps, the bag is a holdover from the days of perfectly polished ladies in white gloves who'd never think of flaunting their “bumps.” Yet it’s still considered a timeless classic. Why?

The Kelly bag reminds me of Lisa Fremont, Grace Kelly’s character in Rear Window. It’s rare and expensive. It flaunts its owner’s wealth in a subtle and unapologetic way. But it’s also tough and more adaptable than it initially appears. If Lisa does wind up tramping through the jungle with her true love, the Kelly bag is the sort of purse she might take with her.

The practical effect of this combination of rarity, expense, and toughness is that people can justify spending outrageous amounts on a purse, knowing that it will last indefinitely. It won’t go out of style, because it wasn’t really in style to begin with, and Hermès will refurbish it on request. The per-use cost thus drops substantially, plus there’s a secondary market in case you need the cash.

Note that it’s called the Kelly bag, even though Grace was married when the name was coined. It’s not associated with royalty but with Kelly’s on-screen persona.