Shopping bags: We are what we schlep

We urban warrior women, celebrated for our composure, guard a dirty little secret: We pack for the end of the world every single day. We can take it with us. Our men and our chiropractors don't understand why we have to shlep everything we do. We just do.

I should know. I hold a master's in shopping bags and possess an archival collection from defunct New York department stores: Alexander's, Altman's, Best & Co., Bonwit's, Galeries Lafayette, Gertz, Gimbel's, May's, and Ohrbach's.

And I say: As if we women really use shopping bags to shop!

Let she who has never concealed a festering pair of sneakers in a wrinkled Saks bag cast the first stone. And it can't be just any bag. We marry for character but carry for looks. Appearances are everything with "shlepping bags." Designer or die!

As long as we're naming names, here's what our bags– haughty and humble– say about us.

Hermes bag: I Shop, Therefore I Am. Talk about conspicuous consumption; these bags are engineered to get attention. Hermes is a Halloween orange so retina-searing it could signal maintenance work on an O'Hare tarmac. It fairly sneers to the peasantry, "I was once flush enough to spend $325 on a scarf. So there!"

Chanel bag: It's the label, Mabel. Is there a man– yes, even a man– alive who doesn't recognize Chanel's massive logo, those interlocking C's? Coco Chanel staked her career on subtlety, but her successors have gone for the recognizability factor. In their faux-classy way, these status bags are as flashy as the merch they carry.

Takashimaya bag: Design Acolyte. From the serenely festive but obscenely expensive Japanese department store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, these sculptural three-sided bags are purely art objets. Impossible to carry or fold, they are as impractical as Japanese paper doors, and have yet to emerge from a public transit ride in recognizable condition. But who cares how silly they are? They're still the best known way to telegraph to other trend-surfers: "Yeah, I was into sushi in the '70s."

Barneys bag: As Totemically (212) as Woody Allen; when carried outside of the Big Apple it stage-whispers, "I know New York." These capacious, attitudinous totes are doubly pragmatic for their schmutz-resisting black hue and their shoulder-reaching cord handles. Made of indestructible laminated cardboard with a reinforced base, they may well outlast the beleaguered store. (Collectors hereby advised to compete with precociously status-conscious fourth-grade girls and acquire Barneys' lipstick-sized version of their bag.)

Department store bag: Nothing Personal. What could be blander than Bloomingdale's tired "medium brown bag"? Bor-ring. (Are you?) By the way, can anyone explain the mysterious longevity and geographic range of Lord & Taylor's annual Christmas bag– once sighted in Melbourne, Florida, in August?

Warner Bros. Studio Store or Disney bag: We're Not in Kansas Anymore. Those who live in New York or LA know that a bag from a studio souvenir shop (oops! I meant "merchandising environment") screams "I slept at the Radisson." It's a telltale out-of-towner marker tantamount to asking a New Yorker where Avenue of the Americas is, or fitting one's handprints into Clark Gable's on Sunset Blvd. Upscale variation: museum-store bags, which proclaim not "tourist" but "touriste."

Saddle-leather sack or canvas L.L. Bean tote: I Shlep For A Living. Princeton commuters cradle these to tweedy, underpaying jobs in Manhattan publishing houses. On the other– and equally genteel– hand, tough canvas bags procured in fund drives for NPR stations and the World Wildlife Fund announce, "I leafletted for McGovern in high school."

Supermarket bag: I'm Secure. Like a Springsteen T-shirt, these flimsy cellophane jobs are almost smugly devoid of style, and so out they're in. They assume added metaphysical implications when nihilistically carried inside out.

Duane Reade bag: Crypto-chic. They're exclusive because you can score them only at New York City's indigenous pharmacy chain. Trust me, these logo-a-gogo plastic artifacts are somehow as acceptable to the snooty fashion crowd as a Bergdorf Goodman bag. Proof: The one time I came face to face with Jackie O, she was carrying one. And a few years ago, Vogue Magazine's party page ran photos of supermodels sporting Duane Reade bags... on their heads.

Clearly, Duane Reade is the shlepping-bag label of choice, especially if you concur with Manhattan nightlife personality, E! commentator, and Village Voice party columnist Michael Musto. In his estimation, "A&P and Gucci bags are equally vulgar." So what does Michael shlep? "A canvas bag with the FDNY logo in fluorescent orange, because in my line of work, it helps to glow in the dark."