Mysterious Tote Bag Works in Favor of “The New Yorker”

Eman Abdurezak, Arts & Entertainment Editor

During the 1980s, tote bags became all the rage amongst urban pedestrians. They were a stylish and casual way to carry one’s many belongings while running errands. Today, the environmentally friendly quality of tote bags has brought them back in style. One in particular held an air of mystery to me for many months, popping up here and there on the shoulders of passersby.

This bag seemed to grow to have an almost aggressive presence; I began seeing it everywhere, used by all ages, worn in all places. The bag was following me. The thick black letters curved this way and that, adorning the beige canvas material swishing back and forth, just fast enough so that I would not have time to read the text.

I decided to search the web to find out more about the bag’s inexplicable popularity. No one knows why was I so obsessed with finding out about the emergence of a mere tote bag! What surprised me was how difficult it was to find. When I came across the familiar sight online, it was only available on small online resale sites, in the most underground and unfamiliar parts of the internet. Not many established sites seemed to carry this trendy piece of merchandise.

Finally, after catching a clear glance at “The New Yorker” shown in black lettering on the bag, I discovered on The New Yorker’s website that the tote bag was a “free gift” that came with the subscription to the paper for 50 to 100 dollars a year depending on the specific plan. I wondered if everyone who had purchased the tote had subscribed, and which had come first: a new wave of readers or the audience falling for the incentive of a tote to keep up with the new trend. The New Yorker was able to successfully use the latest fad in fashion as a way to promote their journalism. Kira Hartness ’22 was a longtime owner of the bag before it became a popular item, receiving it from her parents who were drawn to the design. I asked her about how she had found it, and what motivated her to obtain this specific tote for herself.

Hartness told the Register Forum, “I came into possession of this bag before I started seeing it everywhere—not just in Cambridge but all over the world (yes even in France).” Hartness continued, “Now whenever I see others walking around with it I feel like I belong to a specific group of people, and I immediately know what they read … The bag came for free along with a subscription to The New Yorker magazine, a … news magazine, a favorite of many people in the US especially on the East Coast, which I actually have come to love as well.”

Most commonly, when a new trend in fashion comes around, its origin is quite clear. Celebrities will rave about a product, or it will show up all over your feed while scrolling through social media. This trend came out of nowhere, so I decided to call it a “silent trend.” It’s there, lurking, and everyone knows it, but its inception is unclear.

This piece also appears in our November 2021 print edition.