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For Sale: Souvenirs of Capitalism’s Failures

  • January 25, 2021

The popularity of these cultural artifacts has led to a whole subgenre of new offshoots and homages, like Rowing Blazers’ banker bag. There are two versions, emblazoned with “DukeDuke Commodities Brokers” or “PiercePierce Mergers and Acquisitions” — both fictional firms from movies.

To produce it, Mr. Carlson worked with Warden Brooks, the company founded by Joan Killian Gallagher that made the original canvas bag in 1978, which came to telegraph “New York finance” in the 1980s and 1990s. “It has been a staple for interns, IB conferences, special events, elite clubs, associations, university and prep school reunions, off-site meetings, corporate programs and incentive groups,” Warden Brooks’s website proclaims.

The Rowing Blazers version ($135) is one of the company’s most popular items. “The banker bag is such a polarizing object,” Mr. Carlson said. “For some people it’s this really important status symbol, and for others it’s kind of a symbol of everything that went wrong.” Rowing Blazers also makes a yellow hat ($48) that reads “FINANCE,” in black letters — which is, he said, the best-selling object on the site.

Sometimes people wearing FINANCE hats are simply people who work in finance and think finance is cool, Mr. Carlson said. But perhaps more often it’s an ironic gesture. “The people who are buying the hat, or the banker bag, are not necessarily people who are idolizing these extinct financial institutions,” he said. “There’s almost like a sense of appropriation or a sense of empowerment that comes along with it.” (Someone who works in finance did once email Mr. Carlson to accuse him of appropriating financial culture, he said.)

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