For high-end shoppers on Madison and Fifth Avenues in New York, the hottest must-have accessory for 2009 is not the crocodile cuff bracelet, the snakeskin clutch or the python leather purse -- it's the plain paper bag.

That was the consensus of a recent Penn Fashion Week panel discussion titled, "Can Luxury Survive the Economy," hosted by Wharton. "It used to be that you'd buy a pencil just to get the bag" with an up-market label, said panelist Antonia Thompson of Robert Burke Associates, a strategic consultant for luxury vendors such as wedding dress designer Vera Wang, jeweler Fred Leighton and retailer Bergdorf Goodman. But extravagance isn't what it used to be. These days, even the have-a-lots are feeling pangs of recession. Since the economy has soured, consumers of luxury items have scaled back on their spending, and those still shopping are being more discreet.

"It's a little bit gauche to be ostentatious with your purchasing," said Roxanne Paschall, senior merchandising director at luxury Italian brand Bottega Veneta. Customers are asking for plain white bags, no boxes, or requesting goods be delivered later to their hotels. "They don't want everyone to know. They don't want to flaunt."

Get the full story at Knowledge@Wharton