I have been searching my entire adult life for the perfect purse. When I decided to donate all of my unused purses to charity, I ended up with a virtual mountain of purse-fails. Hopefully, someone will use the purses I abandoned because, after using each of them briefly, I moved on to yet another that promised perfection.
In her later years, my mother developed the opinion that many pockets and compartments, both exterior and interior, made a purse very organized. And that may have been true if she could have remembered which one she used for her flip phone and where she put her wallet or keys. I kept telling her simpler was better. But not too simple. Not too heavy. Not too big. Not too small. Not too expensive. Just right.
I envy younger women who throw the equivalent of a small office into their huge and stylish tote bags. I could not manage the weight of these attractive bags, but that’s not the only consideration. They fail one of my most important criteria — a purse must zip shut. Otherwise, a klutz like me would spill the contents in her car, on the floor of a restaurant, or in the middle of a movie. For me, utility definitely outweighs style in selecting a purse.
Of utmost importance are at least two exterior pockets, one for my cell phone and another for my keys. An exterior pocket for my reader and shopping lists is also appreciated. Interior design must include one, and only one, zipper compartment to hold essentials. My must-haves include a pill box, antacids, lipstick, a pen, and Band-Aids (what good grandmother would leave home without these?). The rest of the purse simply needs to be large enough to accommodate my wallet, hairbrush, gift cards, receipts, Kleenex, and something on which to write in case I don’t have time to add it to my phone.
I must pause to give credit to the late Steve Jobs for inventing the iPhone, allowing me to select a much smaller wallet. I no longer need to have that bulky insert for my family photos and tons of credit cards. I have also eliminated the grandma brag book of photos thanks to the phone and Facebook. Thus, my need for interior space is far more modest than when my first grandkids were born in 2003. I’m sure all of the folks who suffered through looking at my pictures also thank him.
Remember when women had purses to coordinate with their shoes, sometimes dyed to match? Remember changing purses to correspond with the occasion? That went out the window for me long ago. These days, I am happy to have a purse to match the season plus a smaller one for travel. Do I care about the aesthetics of these purses? Not nearly as much as I care about several practical design elements.
I still favor shoulder straps, but they can’t be too thick or heavy and they must have the option of cross-body wear. I’m not so fussy about the material with which the purse is made as long as it doesn’t show dirt. Thus, I tossed all white and beige purses in favor of colorful prints for summer. And the purse itself can’t weigh very much, as by the time I add everything I think I need to carry with me, it is already too heavy.
My good friends and I spend far too much time discussing the merits of various purses and far too much money in our quest for perfection. Some swear by Baggallini and apparently Facebook and Amazon ads think I will be a sucker for this brand. I have tried, but some designs feature the too-many-compartments problem that used to plague my mother. At least it’s good to know that I am not alone in my quest. When a friend and I showed up for lunch with almost identical purses, we admitted to the single flaw of the design, the lack of that interior zip compartment. Both of us solved this by added a small cosmetic bag so we could easily find our important stuff. My small bag had the added bonus of being one my late aunt had needle-pointed for me during her Madame Defarge knitting stage, so that’s a treasure.
My pile of discarded purses was eye-opening. Perfection in a purse is an elusive pursuit I am afraid I will never achieve. For now, I have taken a vow. No new purses. Whenever I have the impulse to buy one, I will donate the money to a worthy cause and repurpose one of the dozen I kept after my personal purse purge.
Originally published in Midcentury Modern, September 4, 2018
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.