"In the immortal words of the venerable Robert Frost: take the road less travelled by – it might make all the difference". Deputy Viewpoint Editor, Kate Lau, makes her case for why we must sometimes indulge ourselves in frivilous aestheticism over practical concerns.
If I were to ask you to envision a suitcase, you would very likely imagine something vaguely cuboid and made of cloth, or possibly plastic. I’d now like to pose an alternative: what if your suitcase was round? More specifically, round in the sense of a wheel of Camembert, as opposed to a cricket ball. “How unusual,” you might say, skeptically. “The people who own them are probably the sort to do things ‘for the aesthetic’, or some similar form of pretentious, hedonic nonsense.”
And you would be correct (I say this as one such pretentious hedonist). My round suitcase is compact, well-made, and its shell is a beautiful shade of muted scarlet. It is, however, not terribly space efficient, an unfortunate fact which any engineer could verify. It also doubles the time I spend in airport security. This is predominantly due to its unusual shape, which, to security officers, signifies a potential threat that warrants a good rummage through.
Nevertheless. My round suitcase and I are always eventually sent on our way, with my weekend essentials more or less intact. Besides, I think there is a certain quiet dignity in surviving a wrongful luggage search. A bit of spice in life and so forth. Would carrying a normal-looking suitcase save me the hassle? Quite possibly. Are rectangular suitcases easier to pack? Also yes. Does my exasperated mother request that I leave it behind before every family holiday? Of course she does.
At this juncture, you might say that these round suitcases don’t sound terribly convenient – and history would agree with you. The circular suitcase’s genealogy is obscure, presumably for this very reason. It likely began as the hatbox, at a time when the average traveller would have been fancifully hatted. These stylish travellers could expect their enormous leather trunks to be thrown around, perhaps in the depths of waterlogged steamships, or at the back of a horse-drawn carriage. Their lovely hats plainly needed a more delicate touch, and thus the round travelling case made its debut. The Victorians had it right, I think, at least in this respect. So wonderfully attached to their inconvenient headgear that they were willing to tote around bespoke little cases for them.
The round suitcase, however, didn’t emerge until the 1960s, more than half a century after their rectangular counterparts did. (The first “suit-case” appeared in 1897.) No longer the satin-and-cardboard affair of the early nineteenth century, these were made of pastel plastic, and wheel-less like most suitcases were then. But they never made it into the mainstream. How could they? The round suitcase came into the world when Brutalism did, when most things in the modern world had become uniformly angular. Round pegs in a square world, so to speak. They were phased out because they simply weren’t uncompromisingly utilitarian enough to compete. Like the hatbox after flamboyant hats fell out fashion, the round suitcase was soon relegated to a luxury novelty.
Now you might point out that I’ve so far done a terrible job of making a case for round luggage, having only proven that they are not only currently products of aesthete nonsense, but have in fact always been. And in response, I will direct your attention to my suitcase’s ergonomic handle, its state-of-the-art wheels, and its “100% premium polycarbonate” shell, whatever that might mean. The contemporary round suitcase, in its current form, is trying so hard to be useful as well as beautiful. It is the creation of aesthetes who have evolved to meet a practically-minded market.
And so they should. Function is, of course, important. For instance, I would unlikely have purchased my lovely round suitcase if it had been of a ludicrous size, or if it hadn’t come with any wheels. It is, fortunately, neither. It seems the only price I paid was a modest loss of convenience, a choice which I only briefly regret during each superfluous airport security search.
Sometimes, a person just has to decide to live the life which Oscar Wilde, the nineteenth century’s infamous bon vivant, once championed. Wear gratuitously impractical shoes. Buy a book having judged it by only its cover. Take a deep breath, get a round suitcase. They’re less practical, but they’re better for the soul.
And finally, in the immortal words of the venerable Robert Frost: take the road less travelled by – it might make all the difference.