A Plethora of Purses, A Handful of Handbags, and uh, Pretty Pocketbooks?
by Nicole Freire
Isn't this more fun than my other columns? Oh sure, some people might not enjoy spending 2 hours photographing their purse collection, but I do. And did. So you get to see them!
The idea for this column came about for two reasons.
Reason One: A few months ago, I was standing in Ross Dress For Less, looking at purses. No, I didn't necessarily need another purse, but I like to look. A young couple walked by the purse display and the girl said, "Oh, I need to look at purses!" The boy with her looked confused and said, "But you have a purse already, right?" I, of course, started to crack up, and the girl saw me, and she started laughing too. The poor boy looked even more confused. "Why is that funny?" I could hear him asking her all the way into the purse section.
I wanted to pull that young boy aside and tell him, "Honey, every woman has more than one purse. And you can always find another one. Besides, she just wanted to ?look at purses'. Ok?"
Reason Two: My mother was relating a conversation to me that she had with my great aunt, a very proper (and funny) lady. My great aunt was musing aloud to my mother, "I was thinking to myself, do I really need a box of winter purses, AND a box of spring purses?" And before my mother could say anything my great aunt went on, "Well, of course I do!"
And do you know why? Because you should have a white purse to match your white sandals -- the white sandals that you won't wear after Labor Day. It all makes perfect sense.
My very first purse was small fabric one. It was about four by four inches and had an ear of corn sewn on the front of it. The corn was made of raffia. I wasn't quite sure what to do with it (probably had something to do with the corn), and just kept a piece of tissue in it. Sad. I was too young for keys or lip balm. Just old Kleenex.
Taking these pictures was a bit cathartic for me. Sometimes I would stop and think that I was perhaps revealing too much in the purse department. Would readers really want to see all my purses? And then I thought, well, I would want to see other people's purses. So I just kept going.
By the way, if all the men abandon this column for something else, I won't be offended. But I also secretly suspect that they might stick around, if only to try and glean just a little more information on what the hell women are thinking about.
Let's begin with the basics.
The Everyday Handbag
This is what I'm currently carrying around. It looks pretty squishy in the picture so you can't see the handles. I almost always go for black because I am boring, and that's also why I wear black so much. I am lazy. This bag is perfect (so far). It has all my qualifications. It has to have handles, but not long handles. It's big, but not too big. It has to have a decent zipper on it because I toss my bag around a lot. And it has to hang off my shoulder enough so that I can tuck it under my upper arm.
This bag was a huge FAIL. I spent too much money on it ($20!), and it's brown. It is also too big. But also, not tall enough so I could never zip the zippers. Its biggest sin however, was the handles. See how the handles are flipping out everywhere? It would never stay on my shoulders, and as soon as I set it down, the handles would flop out. Stupid purse.
This is what I used to carry. Had it for almost three years. You can see that it met all of my purse criteria. But finally the handles started to unravel. So I stopped using it. Why do I still have it? I have no idea. I think I'm hoping that the handles will fix themselves, because it was a really good bag.
You would think this would make a good everyday bag. It's not. It's ok for a once-in-a-while bag. It's a bit smaller than my everyday bag, and it's brown. It has a cute shape though, and sits on my shoulder nicely. But ultimately, it doesn't make the cut because the zipper floats a little freely - it's not tethered down enough for me to just yank on it. I have to hold one end of the zipper to pull it closed -- too much work. Still have it, though.
Isn't this a cool bag? What makes it even better is that I got it for $3. Love you, thrift store. It might be a knockoff Kate Spade, but I'm not positive. Regardless, it's damn cute. There's a little spot on the front that I'm trying to get off because I want to send it to my sister. It's charming, and she can pull off polka dots.
Ok, more polka dots. This purse is one my mother made as an experiment. But the straps are too thick. I love the front panel though, and that's why it's still around. Maybe I can convince my mom to make a new bag out of this. Are you up for it Mom?
The Occasional Purse
Sometimes you don't want to lug everything around, so you want a smaller version of your everyday bag. That's where the occasional bag comes into play. Like George Carlin said, you need to just take ?some' of your stuff, not ?all' of your stuff.
This one is cute, is it not? It will fit a phone, my keys, and my wallet. I don't really have a wallet, though. I carry all my cards clipped together with a big binder clip. Then when I need one, I just unsnap it, flip through the cards and pick one out. I usually take the remaining cards and snap them back together on the counter like you would a deck of cards. I'm a pretty good shuffler too, thanks to one incredibly boring Easter vacation when I was a kid and practiced shuffling cards for about a week until I could do it perfectly. But I don't like to play cards, so my talent is wasted! I keep waiting for a cashier to see me doing my card trick and ask if I play bridge or something. Hasn't happened yet, but I keep my hopes up.
What the heck was I talking about? Right. Ok, this bag is good for both day and night.
This one isn't, because it has a strip of white around it so I keep thinking of it as my ?sporty occasional bag'. Um, because white seems sporty somehow. This is silly because ?sporty' makes me think I'm tossing it around as I run out to lunch or pop into Nordstrom for a new lipstick. I never do those things.
The Useful Bag, Or Totes and Whatnot
I have my everyday bag, but I also need something to carry my other stuff - my lunch, my two water bottles, my book, my iPod, my makeup - a whole lot of stuff that I need. These kinds of bags make me a little crazy because they often don't work out. I tried carrying my extra stuff around in one of those cool reusable Trader Joes' bags, but then I started feeling old ladyish and depressed. It was just a step above a brown paper bag.
I'm using this one right now. It works well, but the fabric is soft, so sometimes in the morning I'll be walking to work and the freezing cold water bottles chill my thighs as I walk, because the bottles sort of sag out. I have to find a way around that. Also, I suspect that it won't make it through winter because, obviously, the print is casual. And I'm so formal. Hah!
This one is a favorite, but I have to take a break from it sometimes. It's nice and slouchy and casual though. Green too.
Ok, this one I made myself! I love it. But I carried it around for a year and one handle started to come a bit undone and I got nervous. I didn't want to destroy hours of me cursing at the sewing machine. The pattern came from a good site, www.angrychicken.typepad.com. I like to look at that site when I want to feel crafty.
This is a failure. It's black and shiny and has good handles, but I couldn't fit all of my extra stuff in it. Plus, it was a bit too shiny and I would get all nervous. "Hey, there's Nicole with her SHINY bag."
I knit. Occasionally. So I have a bag to hold yarn (some of it) and needles (some of them) and a pattern book (some of them). The rest is under my bed in boxes. But I keep this in the closet in case the knitting urge strikes me. This came via my sister. She is a handbag enabler.
More polka dots! This was a recent thrift store get. Brand new, only $2! God, I sound like a used car salesman. Such a good deal though. It's not big enough for the everything extra stuff. Maybe I'll use it for a smaller subset of the everything extra stuff. Plus, it's red inside. Very cute.
Oh I love this bag. So does my eldest daughter. She appropriates it for beach trips and then I have to clean the sand out of it. It's very eco-friendly, made of woven packing straps. Nice and firm. Very beachy. I don't go to the beach.
Here is a little bag in which I carry around a not-yet-finished scarf for my mother. It was a freebie from a friend, and perfect for a little project. I just have to sit down and knit the darn thing. But I like that I can see it.
And finally, the biggest bag of all. It can carry a ton of stuff. This was a gift from my Dad. It's one of those giant heavy-duty sailcloth bags from LL Bean, and zips at the top. When we go away for the weekend to visit my parents I usually throw everything in this bag, all willy nilly and mixed up. It's indestructible. It's pink, which is my favorite color. And now you all know this weird nickname my father has for me. Garlu. Don't ask me to explain it, I've had it almost all my life and the story wouldn't be as funny as the name. Garlu. Don't you call me by it though, it's only reserved for my father.
Vintage Pocketbooks And Some Other Handbags.
This is a beautiful bag, purchased in Mexico City almost 40 years ago. It was used as a camera case for a while. It's gorgeous, the leather is incredible, and it still smells good, even after all this time. The markings on the bag are done by hand. Fabulous. I never use it, though. It makes so much of a statement and I don't think I could pull it off. Also, it makes me think of vacations in Mexico, and I've never had one. Or it makes me think of Fiesta. I could carry it around during all the Fiesta celebrations, but I stay home during Fiesta because all those people and crowds ratchet up my anxiety levels. Pretty though, isn't it?
This black patent leather purse isn't vintage but it looks vintage. It sucks though, and I never ever use it. It can't hold much of anything and the metal is way too heavy. Frustrating. But still pretty, so I still have it.
Another darling bag that is ultimately a failure. I love the print, love the little embroidery. I got it in Portland, Oregon. Very hippie girly. Came with patchouli oil (ok, that's not true. I made that up. But you know, Portland, hippies, etc.). The strap is way too long and way too thin to wear comfortably. Whatever you put in the bag, no matter how light is, it will drag down the bag so the strap digs into my shoulder and I get all pissy. I keep it because it's cute. Also because it has this secret pocket sewn into it which tickles me endlessly. Maybe because it's from Portland, I'm supposed to keep my stash in it. Uh, my stash of incense. Right.
Oh, I love this bag. My sister (I told you she was a bag enabler) brought it back from Denmark. It's got this great pattern and it's comfortably shaped and I love the color. All that great Scandinavian design. My sister and my brother-in-law went to Denmark for their tenth wedding anniversary. I asked her what it was like and she said, "Imagine a country where every man looks exactly like your husband." (he is Danish, so it worked)
Ooh, this is one of my favorites. Very vintage. It makes you feel important and put together just by carrying it. It's beautifully made and in perfect condition. Plus the inside is this gorgeous red leather. I think of it as my lady briefcase. I love it, so naturally I keep it wrapped in a plastic bag in my big box of purses. But I love to take it out and look at it.
This is my newest vintage acquisition. When I was little, my grandmother gave me a purse just like this. She went out dancing a lot and had sparkly shoes with gems on them, and many matching handbags, and she drove a Camaro. Very stylish. I begged for that bag, and she finally relented. But then somewhere along the line I lost it. I searched for one like it on Ebay for years. Years. Typing in ?plastic, woven, vintage, purse' or whatever combination of magical words I thought might pull it up. I gave up on Ebay for about four or five years. Then in May I thought I would give it another shot. And bingo, there it was! The same purse my grandmother had. Perfect condition. I bought it for myself as a 40th birthday gift and made my husband wrap it.
And here we are, almost at the end, so it's time for me to reveal the gem of my collection. My favorite fabulous greatest vintage handbag ever. I call it the "Boca Raton Ladies Luncheon" bag.
The silk flowers are fragile, so I wouldn't take it just anywhere. It's pink and green and those ribbons are velvet! The back is just as cute as the front! I have taken this bag to a big tea party and got many compliments on it. I'd like to keep it more on display, but I don't want it to get too dusty. I'm not the worlds' best housecleaner. You're stunned, aren't you? I know, it's a great handbag.
Well, that's all of them.
But now I have something for you! Two of you, actually. Here are two brand new, never used leather purses, one in brown, and one in black. They have long straps and would probably be an occasional bag. Or an everyday bag if you don't carry very much. I got them for such a deal I couldn't pass them up AND I had to get one in black AND one in brown. You would too, right?
Here's the deal --- you post a comment about something purse-related. Show me a picture of your favorite purse, tell me about your first pocketbook, the really great deal you got, the purse that got away, the handbag you just can't let go of. And tell me about your other purses too, because I know I'm not the only woman with a box full of purses. I'll take all the purse comments and give them to the Edhat dog. The dog will choose two names and I'll give one person the black bag and one person the brown one. Isn't that fun? I love prizes. And I want to hear your stories too.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.