I’ve had a handbag fetish since I was fourteen years old. I should restate that to say I’ve had an expensive handbag fetish since I was fourteen years old. Gucci, Dooney & Burke, Brighton, Kate Spade, Coach, Fendi, Louis Vuitton—you name the designer brand, and I’ve yearned for it, bargain-shopped for it, or sold personal property on eBay to own it. It’s a shallow obsession and a huge waste of money, I know.
Just when I think I’ve conquered my tote-carrying fixation, a stroll through the Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus handbag department sparks my desire, and I’m off the wagon once again, the rush and exhilaration of finding the perfect purse too powerful to push aside. I leave the store on a handbag high, delighted with my purchase, ready to race home and fully examine the beauty of my selection, its many pockets, nooks, and crannies. I then proceed carefully and reverently, moving all of my belongings into their new quarters, finding the perfect place for each item. It’s a magical moment, only topped by the actual donning of the bag for its first public outing.
I blame my parents for my handbag obsession. Typical, I know, to blame one’s parents for one’s faults, but it’s true … in a round-about sort of way. See, my father’s job relocated our family in the early 1980s from the Midwestern United States to Dallas, Texas. Think Dallas the TV show and all that it conjures—the Texas oil boom, big southern hair, loads of make-up, huge shoulder pads, shameless fur coats, bangles and sparkles galore—you get the idea. I fought valiantly against our family’s move south, but my reluctance and bad attitude momentarily suspended that Friday night when our family’s Chrysler station wagon, wine-red with faux wood trim, rolled into Dallas. The Dallas skyline stood tall, greeting us with Southern hospitality, lights twinkling like diamonds in the clear, crisp November darkness. I’d never seen anything like it. I was a small-town girl. I was mesmerized. And this was only the beginning of my cultural shock and initiation to all things Dallas.
The following Monday, my first day of middle-school classes in a yuppie infested North Dallas suburb, shocked me more than my family’s Friday night debut in the Big D. Beautiful, glamorous, polished, and well-dressed, the girls looked like magazine models. I was a fish out of water. My long, straight hair pulled back in barrettes and my pale, make-up free complexion lacked luster. My designer-free clothes lacked any design at all. I clearly did not measure-up to Dallas’ standards, and I desperately wanted to fit in and make new friends. My whole life my parents had stressed the importance of being beautiful on the inside, yet I did not feel beautiful at all. I arrived home in tears that school day to a sympathetic mother who understood my need for acceptance. In this instance, the recent trauma of relocating excused the outward, superficial focus. I now required more than inside beauty; I needed a makeover. My mother did what any concerned mother would do in this situation—she took me shopping.
Now this shopping trip is more memorable than any other. We could have traveled to the nearest mall, but instead my mother treated me to a very special day. We journeyed all the way to downtown Dallas, many miles from our suburban home. We visited legendary upscale stores, like Neiman Marcus, which still reigns supreme in Dallas for shopping exclusivity. Until this time my parents never spent a lot of money on my clothes—the staple catalogs and discount stores up north suited us just fine. This trip was different. I tried on countless outfits until we purchased a few well-fitting designer basics. She then ushered me to the makeup counter to learn application techniques, though I was only allowed to wear minimal quantities. I was not scolded for my case of the “I-wants.” I was not shamed or made to feel superficial for my desires. Grateful for my mother’s extravagance, I suspected she would suffer some grief from my father when he opened the credit card statement. If this ever occurred, I remained blissfully unaware. My Big D initiation was nearly complete.
More confident in my appearance and happier cultivating new friendships, I began to notice curious purses toted by my peers, many with interesting initials adorning them. Girls up north did not yet carry purses to school. I wondered about these abstractly lettered objects. A weekend trip to the Dallas Galleria soon revealed the world of trophy handbags. Walking past Saks Fifth Avenue, I caught a glimpse of those mysterious letters and dragged my mother to the handbag counter. The abstract G’s and LV’s finally made sense—Gucci and Louis Vuitton. We admired the craftsmanship, the detailing, the gold hardware—the price? Gulp. Clearly beyond my allowance earnings, we walked away, amused and somewhat baffled.
Exploring our new city, I noticed dozens of these prized bags, hundreds of them. The fever was contagious because now I wanted one, too! I dared not ask, but Santa knew my wish. A baby Gucci rested under the Christmas tree that year, faux or original, I do not know, but I carried it for years—my gateway bag.
I was hooked from the moment I opened my Christmas gift and found that Gucci purse. I hope at fourteen I expressed the depth of my gratitude to my parents, but somehow I doubt I did. Carelessly left on a school bus a couple of years later, a thief snatched it, never to be seen again. I later graduated to other designer brands, purses small and large, now having carried dozens over the years. I only own a couple of handbags at a time as I always resell them to help finance my latest indulgence.
Many memories return, good and bad, when I recall these bags. I recall my first generous tax return at eighteen, which I promptly cashed and used to purchase the ivory pebbled leather Dooney & Burke satchel, complete with matching checkbook wallet. I also recall being on a nervous first date at twenty and feeling sickly after dinner while traveling in a brand new sports car. I dared not deface my date’s new leather interior, so sadly, the interior of a new navy blue leather Coach served an unintended purpose. The bag I will always remember and will never resell is from my husband, my Louis Vuitton, the memory of our surprise Valentine’s Day excursion to the LV store more precious than the bag itself.
So what is this obsession with designer purses? Why brand myself a handbag junkie? It’s a materialistic vice for certain, an expensive one I most often can ill afford. I am not rich, earning only a public school teacher’s salary for years, and now earning not a single penny as a stay-at-home mom with a six month old baby boy. This precious time at home will certainly curtail my shopping, and I don’t mind one bit. The giant mom Coach satchel purchased before baby will serve a functional purpose for many months to come.
Looking back now, I wonder how my life might differ if my family had remained in small town, USA. Sure, all of those young lady lessons about how to dress and apply make-up would have been taught—but maybe not so young. I feel certain at some point I would have glimpsed my first Gucci or Louis Vuitton. Would I have become obsessed? I can only conclude that coming of age in the Big D has left an indelible imprint on my life. I see now that my handbag history, the purses of past and present, has carried more than my life’s baggage. Each and every one carries precious memories, links to lives and stories lived before the present life, previous and constantly evolving versions of myself.