Kate Spade became a bougie girl status symbol when I graduated high school; if I recall I think some girls got them as high school graduation presents. The conveniently-for-me-named black nylon "Claire" bag was definitely the kind of bag whose label I would turn out on the college nights I wore it out on my shoulder. I remember a girl at Georgetown who carried a HUGE Kate Spade bag to the gym and I marveled at what kind of person would have a bag that fancy and then take it to our crappy gym which was located underground.
The Christmas before leaving for college my best friend who was also named Claire and I exchanged gifts. We knew this would be a momentous exchange as it was our last holiday before we went our separate ways to college so we would blow it out. I went to the Kate Spade store and got what was at the tippity top of my budget: a $40 hot pink Kate Spade canvas pencil case, which came with teeny delicate pencils, and a pencil sharpener and eraser, lined in precious tiny black and white gingham fabric. It felt so impractical and ladylike. The store wrapped it up all nice like a fancy dessert. Then, like the gift of the Magi, Claire gave me the exact same pencil case, wrapped up the same from the store, which was great because I was already secretly coveting the one I was giving her. She and I were sad and nervous about splitting up our intense friendship and going to different states, but at least we'd have our very own luxe version of a best friend necklace.
Indeed, Claire and I experienced growing pains as we entered young adulthood and even stopped talking for awhile after college. We reunited after we had kids, which has been a fun experience and has soothed a part of my soul that mourned the friendship while it was on hiatus. But the whole time, from 1996 on, I used that stupid pencil case. I'm a writer! I need pens. It holds my headphones. It's where I hold onto a business card from a Belgian restaurant my husband and I visited in 2009, pre children, another long-ago era. The whole time there was a tiny part of me that I think still thought, "I have a Kate Spade pencil case," even though now that I see it clearly, it is frankly disgusting, frayed and stained with I don't know what.
There was nothing stopping me from just buying a new pencil case--even a Kate Spade one, even one nicer than a Kate Spade one, if I cared to. But that wouldn't have representated the excitement that came with sharing something luxe and girlish and special with your best friend, back when labels and best friends really meant something, so far back that I don't even feel very embarrassed about the girlish simplicity of those times because even though that's not life now, it was a major part of life then.
I ordered a new Kate Spade pencil case last night. It was hard to find one that wasn't sold out. Maybe it's due to people trying to resell them for a quick buck, but I like to think they were bought up by other people for whom Kate Spade bags held memories and affection, a swanky and silly version of life that may have never existed but still brought real joy.