Saturday, March 12, 2005


So now that I’ve expressed my indignation over Material Girl Power, it only makes sense that I would now expound on yesterday’s adventures in purse shopping. I buy purses only once every three years or so, and tend to use them until they literally fall apart. My current bag is small and black on the outside, but all shades of red ink (exploded pen) and melted makeup (seditious lipstick) on the inside.

Thirty-two must be an awkward age for fashion. Or it is for me, anyway. I wander the stores feeling too young or too old for most of what I see. I’m interested in fashion, but resent the need to waste time shopping for it. I have more money now than I did in grad school, but not enough money that I don’t agonize over most purchases. So yesterday I steeled myself for just one lap of the mall. If the right purse didn’t jump out at me, then my tatty nylon backpack would have to do.

I favor tiny purses, but am also in favor of bags just large enough stash a novel. I detest visible brand names, but require high-quality materials and—ideally—a stylish, but practical, design. I prefer a purse with an extra long handle so I can sling it across my shoulders and forget about it. And since I never have had more than one bag at a time, I tend to buy tailored purses in dark, neutral colors.

My purse has always been the best evidence that I’m not turning into my mother. I can’t deny it—my sleek, disciplined little bags were a reaction to her voluminous, overflowing ones. I also used to scoff at the giant “granny bags” in the purse section. They looked so audaciously middle-aged, so resignedly self-sacrificing. A woman who owned such a bag would likely stuff it with ancient throat lozenges and battered tampons. Fishing for her checkbook, she would haul out the ambiguously wadded tissues, the gritty mirrored compact, and several plastic change purses.

My mother’s purses have gotten smaller lately. Back when we were kids, she was essentially “pursing” for three. Her purse had to be big enough to tote the extra baby bottle and handi-wipes. She carried hair elastics and hairbrushes—some for her, some for me. Her bags contained all the chaos of those years, in the form of crayon packs and band-aids, suntan lotion and bank teller lollypops. Back in those years when my brothers and I went everywhere with her, my mother’s purse felt oddly public. Some of the stuff exclusively hers—the money, for instance, and the sunglasses and the lipsticks—but we were free to play with anything else.

I was remembering this as I stroked a gorgeous, soft leather satchel, olive green with brown straps and accents. In my mind, I deemed it “literary,” which is Adam’s affectionate term for the eccentric things I wear or do. Truth be told, the bag was a little bit granny. But I liked it immediately, and wondered it were big enough to fit my laptop.

Then I saw the price tag and had to walk away. One hundred and twenty dollars. So not in the budget. Still, the bag was so pretty and so well made that I contemplated a splurge before forcing myself to move on.

In a nearby rack, I found the classic Cello purse. Black leather. Petite, saddle bag style, with a chapstick-sized snap pouch in front. Perfectly suited for a wallet, plus one small notebook, plus a single lipstick. Yeah. Totally me.

And then I felt a little sad. This bag was just right for the me I used to be. But now—age 32, with only eight more weeks of guaranteed employment—who am I now?

I made one last visit to the olive satchel, but found it blocked by a lady on a ladder. She was hanging a bright red sign, one that said “60% OFF.”

I took her sign as a sign. And I took the satchel home with me.

(P.S. My 12-inch iBook just fits inside.)


At 9:27 AM, Blogger Tiruncula said...

I love it when divine providence intervenes in favor of bag purchases.

I admire your discipline: I'm definitely a capacious-handbag type. I can't imagine regularly carrying a bag that wasn't big enough for hairbrush, hair clips, hand cream, novel, lip stuff, cell phone, half a dozen pens, notebook (for inspirations that never strike), altoids, the Atlantic or the NYer, a few dog toys, plastic bags, wallet, pockets full of change (b/c I'm always deciding to downsize my wallet and then I just dump loose change in my bag)....
Oh well. You get the idea.

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

Totally late to this post, but I share your bag-shopping pain. It regularly takes me 6 months or more to decide on one and I use them until they fall apart or are so out of step with current fashion that even I can't deny it. I tend to stick with black and neutral myself, too (at the moment I a black one and a tan one, which is pretty crazy for me!). I have identified one bag that I covet for a trip to Europe this summer though... (the traveling bag - a whole other issue!). Anyway, the olive satchel sounds great!


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