I have a not-so-secret obsession with purses and bags, as an observer of my closet would note. All the purses I own are similar in size; I purchase them knowing that I need a certain amount of space. I change my purse frequently. Why, one might ask? Well, I was asked that same question not long ago, but the question included the contents of my purse and why I carry those things.
This got me thinking about purses. In very general terms, I think every woman has an accessory that is perfect for her style, her image, and, on a higher level, her comfort. Some women may choose a belt, the perfect pair of shoes, a pair of earrings, or a scarf or a purse. In my case, as well as many others, the perfect accessory is a purse. You can add a splash of color, drama, or sophistication with such a simple utilitarian item. However, there are women who do not agree. So I decided to take a semi-scientific approach to determine whether purses were considered an essential accessory or just a necessity. My first step was to locate a group of women, diverse in cultural backgrounds, and ranging in ages from nineteen to fifty-eight. I would interview them, asking a series of questions—five, maybe six in all—to find out about purses and what we keep in them.
My task was fairly easy: I know a lot of women and they graciously agreed to talk with me about the secrets inside their purses. The first and foremost question—do you carry a purse? Twenty-four out of the twenty-five I interviewed said “Yes.” The one who did report “no” actually carries a backpack of sorts and did not consider it a purse, but it’s pretty close if you ask me. To illustrate this point, please see the definitions. According to Random House Unabridged Dictionary, a purse is a bag or box of leather, fabric, plastic, or the like, held in the hand or carried by means of a handle or strap, commonly used by women for holding money, toilet articles, small purchases, etc. A bag is a container or receptacle of leather, plastic, cloth, paper, etc., capable of being closed at the mouth or pouch. So either way, it’s pretty close.
The second and third questions were—do you change your purse frequently, and why? Seven of the women, age range forty-five to fifty-eight, said they change seasonally. Sixteen, age range of nineteen to thirty, said they change daily or weekly to match their outfits, and the rest said “No, only when the bag gets beyond repair.” Fourth and final question—what five items do you always carry with you and what is their significance? Not so surprisingly, they all had similar items: keys, wallets because they needed money, checkbooks, credit cards, and their cell phones so that they could be in communication, take a photo, or just pretend to be talking to someone.
Twenty-four of the twenty five women, however, carried a make-up bag containing their essentials: lipstick, blush, eye makeup, and powder to touch up, redo, or just beautify themselves in the event they might meet someone by chance. The last few items seemed to have the most significance. I will not go into every item, but I will give a few. One woman carried tissue with her at all times. She explained that she was originally from Hong Kong, and there you do not find paper products such as tissue or napkins readily available. In a restaurant, for example, you would be given a single napkin with your meal, and it’s frowned upon to ask for more. So, aware of this, and knowing that she may need more, she began bringing her own wherever she went. It’s a habit that still hold true for her in America.
Another lady carries her rosary beads in a small wooden box so that when she begins to worry or feels the need to pray, she pulls them out for spiritual assistance. Several of the women carry medications with them at all times for health reasons, and one woman carried an entire emergency kit with her. She explained that she was taught to always be prepared and she took it literally. The box contained a medicine chest full of items, hairbrush, toothbrush, condom, tampons, tweezers, scissors, and the list goes on.
The last woman showed me a stack of mail that she carries everywhere with her. She explained that she participates in online bill payment, but carrying these around with her makes her realize that she needs to work hard, and simply serves as her reminder to show up everyday. Overall, the consensus among these women is that their purses are accessories. It adds to their unique style and enhances their outfits. They admitted that they judge other women by their purses; for them, seeing another woman’s purse can indicate a style choice, a status symbol, or a simple observation.
Now, not because I am a creature of habit, but I change my purse every few weeks or so. Why? It’s my accessory. I do not wear jewelry or scarves; I wear purses. By definition, an accessory is an object or device not essential in itself but adding to the beauty, convenience, or effectiveness of something else; mainly me and a world of other women. My bag can change with my outfit, my mood, or my calendar. If I know I am going to be spending the week in meetings or dressed up in corporate attire, I will go for the Briefcase Purse, a somewhat large, faux-alligator bag with numerous compartments for tons of stuff that I actually do not carry. This bag makes me feel official, appropriate, and powerful, even thought I feel like I can carry the kitchen sink.
Some of my bag choices are not about name brand fashion because I am not the type who buys for the “name.” I buy for style. I must admit, I do have several Prado (not Prada) purses that I bought off a strange man in New York City, but I truly love these bags. They add style to my outfits, they add character, a certain bounce to my step, and sometimes they make me feel cute, cocky, and captivating. That’s what it is about—that feeling you get when you feel that you look good and it may come from the bag, the hat, the scarf, or whatever you choose.
The things I always carry in my purse are items that I am sure I cannot live without. I always take great care transferring items from purse one to another because I to have my essentials. When the time comes to switch my purse, I take time to sort the non-essential items that have crept in over the course of a day or a week. These typically consist of tiny bits of paper with notes, phone numbers, receipts from grocery stores, and little odd scraps my three-year-old son has told me to hold onto for him: pictures of how he envisions Superman or Batman, for example. Most of these scraps I place in the recycle bin, hoping I do not get asked to produce them again.
As for the most basic essentials: my wallet ( always empty of cash), two ATM debit cards (used daily in lieu of cash), California driver’s license, American Express, Costco, UCSD ID, library card, and various membership cards for museums, the San Diego Zoo, and Sea World. The next item is my PDA cell phone (I love it). It is my calendar, email, Web, phone book, camera. It’s all-in-one and so compact. Next is my favorite bottle of lotion, coconut and lime: The smell is fresh and instantly takes me to a different place and time, a tropical location I envision but have yet to visit. I use it when I am stressed out to calm me down, to nourish my dry skin, or sometimes just to have something to do while waiting somewhere.
Two Ziploc bags. Yes, I am aware that this is not a good fashion statement. Nevertheless, one is filled with my toothbrush, some kids’ Spiderman Band-Aids for my son, miscellaneous ointments for my son, and a bottle of Excedrin Extra Strength, for the many headaches my son causes. The second Ziploc bag is filled with two Raw Sugar packets (I don’t know why), one snack size bag of goldfish crackers (my sons favorite snack), and a Clif bar (just in case of an additional hunger emergency). Keys: I only have one key and it’s to my car. I lose it on occasion, but typically find it at the bottom of my bag. Last but not least, and I know I have exceeded the five limit, I carry a little toy car—my son’s toy car. It’s a red truck, a hot wheels “classic” 1940 model pickup truck. This is his amusement when all else fails, when the nagging doesn’t stop, and when he keeps interrupting. This little car is my savior, my most essential item because it’s my son’s favorite and it puts a smile on his face.
But is a purse an accessory or just a necessity? I would have to argue that, given the number of women who change purses seasonally, weekly, and sometimes daily, yes: it’s an accessory. For those women who just have a bag to carry their stuff, they may not see it as an accessory, but, in the world of fashion, it serves that purpose. So is the purse an accessory for me? My essential and perfect accessory? Or is it just a necessity? It is, and it will be, both.
I like to change my purse to match my week, my clothes, and my mood. The items I carry are essential to my daily life, just like the women I interviewed. The same items are contained in my ever-changing accessory: my purse. I use each and every item throughout my day. These items satisfy my needs for escape from a stressful job, and for organization, they provide relief of my son’s hunger, and the demands of his playtime. The items are essential, but not excessive, and so my purse is a necessity, too. I always leave a little room for an addition here and there, maybe a book!