Pursuing the Perfect Purse by
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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.

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.

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

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Tags: purses, consumerism, perfectionism
Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, I entirely relate to you purse inventory. But I am still looking. I agree that a purse must zip at the top. I also like having some pockets for phone and such. But I still carry a very heavy wallet. I am not so clever that I keep my credit cards on my iPhone. I do only carry a winter and summer purse, but have various special occasion purses. I agree with the shoulder strap. I don’t like to be encumbered carrying a purse (oh, occasionally I will carry a clutch, but vary rarely). Now my evening bags have to be big enough to hold my iPhone, which has become bigger in time. Ah, the trials and tribulations. You summed it up so well.

  2. John Zussman says:

    I loved the simple logic of your criteria for the perfect purse, and am puzzled why designers have not found a way to fulfill them, even as department store handbag prices soar into the four digits. Do you think it’s male designers who simply don’t understand what makes a purse functional, or do they only want to make them stylish?

    When I go out, I take a “murse” in which I carry a set of essentials: a pillbox, chapstick, mints, prescription eyedrops, an extra set of reading glasses, Bluetooth headset, my business card case. But I usually leave it in the car when I reach my destination, transferring anything I really need to my pockets. As you point out, that’s the real male privilege—pockets! (Just kidding, friends.)

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I think purses are designed for young women who favor style over practicality. I love your murse, and maybe I should leave my purse in the care more often as well.

      • Suzy says:

        Leaving it in the car seems like an invitation to thieves. So if you have a trunk in your car, leave it there instead. But that brings up the question — if you are going to leave it when you get out of the car anyway, why take it at all?

        • Laurie Levy says:

          Yes, that’s the existential question. Why take it at all “just in case” I might need something? Just thought if it worked for John to leave his murse in the car, why couldn’t I do the same, hiding it of course/

  3. Suzy says:

    Purse and shoes dyed to match. Now that’s a great memory! Although I must admit, the only times I had shoes dyed to match was for bridesmaid dresses, and I never got a purse. Maybe I should have!

    Nowadays I carry a fanny pack, which embarrasses my children, but I can’t stand to have something hanging on my shoulder. Around the waist is much better, IMO.

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