I can remember precisely when it started. I got a purse for my birthday when I was about five. It was a round, bright yellow smiley-face, made of vinyl, with a long strap. You can see that purse in pretty much every picture I was in that entire year, even the class picture, which must have been for kindergarten. (I was the only girl wearing a purse.) I loved that purse to death, quite literally. My mother, when the purse began to shred, cut out the round smiley face, and attached it to a grayish leather purse she had made in roughly the same shape as the original smiley purse. I think it lasted a few more months after that.
A handbag, purse, messenger bag, backpack, whatever you call your “personal item transport device” (I just made that up) is that single feminine item that I obsess over. I’m not much for shoes; I think they’re pretty, but the truly fashionable ones hurt my feet (joint problems and high arches) and I have pretty much lived in Doc Martens for the last twenty years anyway. (Hey, Docs come in loafers, mary-janes, sandals, and rain boots, as well as the traditional punk-stomping combat boots. What else would I need?)
Fashionable clothing is not egalitarian, because if you don’t have the right-shaped body that’s currently in vogue, what’s truly hot-hot-hot on the pages of fashion magazines may not fit you, much less look right on you. Sorry, but not a lot of people are size two or zero. And trends change so quickly, it’s hard to find a look that’s au courant without seeming tragically hip, or finding a classic that doesn’t get stale. Jewelry can have quite a lot of appeal, but the good stuff gets expensive, although it doesn’t mean you have to buy the expensive stuff. And there’s really only so much jewelry you can wear at once before it starts looking wrong or cheap or gaudy.
Does it sound like I’m trying to justify the handbag fetish? Perhaps. I am a bag whore. In any ordinary store, no matter what the brand, my eyes search the shelves for the purses and bags before anything else. You see, the ordinary handbag is a truly democratic fashion accessory, in that it has a practical use (it holds your stuff) and doesn’t require you to be a certain size (most purses are one-size-fits-all). A good purse is like that perfect non-existent black dress—it goes from daily grind to dressed-up or dressed-down evening with absolute ease and fits in perfectly. Whether you’re petite or plus-sized, you can have whatever size purse you wish. A purse is the accessory.
I remember when I first heard of Prada. It was 1995, and a friend at the time was having her roommate buy her a Prada backpack while the roommate was in Italy. So the roommate came home with a navy blue nylon backpack, and my heart melted. I coveted that bag. This was way, way before everyone had heard of Prada and they had ads in every fashion magazine out there. In fact, since it was clearly pre-Internet days, I have no idea how this friend of mine had heard of Prada, but she reads a lot. I wanted that bag, or something like it, although my preferred handbag color is black.
But even after I later got a Prada bag, I have never stopped bag-obsessing. A few years ago, I wanted a Thomas Wylde bag, the black or brown leather one, with the skull in studs on one side and the outside pockets on the other with the skull-shaped pulls on the cords. I never was able to find one, although I got good at identifying the fakes on eBay. A few months ago, I wanted an Ed Hardy bag covered with tattoo art that I saw at Macy’s, didn’t buy, and when I went back to get it, it was gone and they were completely sold out. I didn’t need that purse, but I couldn’t stop looking for it. How many purses do I truly need? ”Need” is an interesting choice of words. How many bags does anyone truly need? Ever make fun of someone with hundreds of pairs of shoes? Hiding a stash of anything where you might have trouble admitting how many you have or what you paid for all of it? Clearly, there are many women out there with guilty little secrets, a sisterhood of secret retail desire, this irresistible urge.
I want to tell you about my five favorite bags. I know that five is a lot, but I gleaned my bag collection from about seventy-five bags (I even included the duffle bags, but I left out the suitcases) down to thirty. And it was awful. Most of them ended up on eBay, where some very happy women (and one guy) got some gently-used Cole Haan and Juicy Couture and Prada bags for exceptional prices. I reduced the bulk, got some cash, and can actually find the bag I’m looking for now when I want it. All good. But I have no illusions as to the bag collection staying small and controlled. It won’t. I know me, and I know what I am capable of doing. Because I have a bag problem. And like anyone with an addiction—and I’m pretty certain it’s an addiction—I like to get together with a group of addicts and talk about my problem. (Well, you’re reading this, aren’t you? Is there something you’d like to say to the group?)
Anyway, if you’re brave enough to keep going, start with Part 2 to hear about the five bags that are essential to my life ...
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3