Generation Peter Pan: The Drawstring Bag Strikes Back

Article published on April 17, 2014
Article published on April 17, 2014

The days when Ray-Bans and jute bags were all the rage are be­hind us. Mean­while, to be a styl­ish Berliner means to dress as an el­e­men­tary stu­dent. Can one re­cy­cle one's old draw­string bag as well as grandpa's woolen jacket? From where does this fear of grow­ing into adult cor­po­re­al­ity stem?

"Here comes the next bag!" Those who like to enjoy their af­ter­noon beer in spring weather on a bench out­side, rather than in­side one of the usual bars of Neukölln, might find them­selves re­flect­ing back to child­hood play­grounds. When did jute bags be­come un­fash­ion­able and get re­placed by kid's Turn­beu­tel [draw­string bag, Ed.]? "Al­most every­one walks around with one of these blue satchels now. It re­minds me of the ap­palling PE classes I had back in el­e­men­tary school," says Chris­t­ian, who's been liv­ing in south­ern Berlin for a while now.

I'd like to be a kid again... In a fash­ion sense

Al­though the draw­string bag has its down­sides, such as strug­gling with the draw­string or spend­ing half an eter­nity find­ing your wal­let - they don't have any in­side pock­ets, after all - it nev­er­the­less pro­motes gen­der equal­ity. Even if a beared man with a but­ton-up shirt might not carry a hand­bag dan­gling from his wrist, the draw­string bag re­mains a gen­der-neu­tral and en­tirely un­prob­lem­atic ac­ces­sory. After all, when we were still in el­e­men­tary school, every­one wore trousers and a t-shirt, suc­cess­fully op­posing - in spite of gen­der-nor­ma­tive Dis­ney print sweaters - the eroti­ciza­tion of our bod­ies. "The draw­string bag is so suc­cess­ful that it's al­most wres­tled Fjällräven Kanken to the ground!" says Chris­t­ian, laugh­ing.  The prac­ti­cal, square and blue ruck­sack from Swe­den is a child's ac­ces­sory that swept across the Ger­man cap­i­tal some time ago. To wear ankle socks and carry a Snow White-themed jumper as a woman is to have per­fected one's out­fit. Then all you have to do is skill­fully turn your toes in­ward while smok­ing a cig­a­rette in front of a bar, and you'll look like the Berlin chic ver­sion of the loath­some self you were dur­ing your el­e­men­tary school years. 

As a man, by con­trast, you can ei­ther in­dulge in the youth­ful sailor style, which is char­ac­ter­ized by a striped shirt, geeky, round glasses and skinny jeans rolled up at the bot­tom. Al­ter­na­tively, you can feast on grandpa's wardrobe. "That's the para­dox," says Christian. "A lot of guys here wear wool jack­ets and green cor­duroys - just like their grand­pas." Even the med­i­ta­tive rubik's cube is still pop­u­lar. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, you should al­ways carry some kind of game or craft in your draw­string bag. But since chil­dren in the mean­time now play with cell­phones, even smart­phones are al­lowed as an ex­pres­sion of ahis­tor­i­cal ab­sur­dity. 

The Eter­nal chil­dren of gen­er­a­tion Y

Whether youthi­fi­ca­tion or geri­atri­fica­tion is in vogue, the ques­tion re­mains: from where does this ap­par­ent fear of ex­press­ing one's own adult cor­po­re­al­ity stem? Gen­er­a­tion Y, to which many of the res­i­dents of the scene-dis­trict Neukölln be­long, isn't un­found­edly charged with run­ning away from its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and falling back into a pseudo-idyl­lic child's world. Why should any­one, the beer-drink­ing spec­ta­tor qui­etly asks him­self, want to be re­minded of one's ap­palling school years? Un­for­tu­natelly, the pre­dom­i­nantly pop­u­lar nos­tal­gia-wave has fi­nally got­ten hold of child­hood, so that when we look at the dis­col­ored pho­tos in the fam­ily pho­toal­bum, we only see the cool, faded t-shirts, rather than re­mem­ber the woe­ful PE classes. 

 

The draw­string bag is so pop­u­lar in Berlin, that even an elec­tronic label was named after it. Oliver Schories, Be (orig­i­nal Mix), 2013.

Maybe the hide-and-seek game be­tween chil­dren's and grand­par­ents' wardrobes is just an ex­pres­sion of a gen­eral sex­ual un­cer­tainty. The gen­der role of men - thanks to eman­ci­pa­tion and gen­der stud­ies - is luck­ily no longer served to them on a sil­ver plat­ter, which could be why some would rather pull back to em­u­late the clear de­lin­eations that ex­isted dur­ing el­e­men­tary school, or flee the pan­de­mo­nium of dat­ing by being grandpa's dop­pelgänger. But women by no means pro­mote a Lolita-delir­ium with their girl­ish out­fits; in Berlin, they don't even come close to the child­hood fa­natisicm of Japan with their an­kle-sock-and-draw­string-bag move­ment. 

Just as with all trends, child­hood-nos­tal­gia will soon have to make way for its glar­ing op­po­site: a hy­per­sex­u­al­ized wave of push-ups and mus­cle-shirts. Until then there's luck­ily enough time to spec­u­late about the re­turn of the neck pouch and scout school satchel. Up until now they haven't been spot­ted in Neukölln, but it won't be long be­fore peo­ple re­dis­cover these green-pink-blue mon­strosi­ties while brows­ing in the attic. And for the bright neon retrotrend, a scout school satchel would fit like a glove.