Every spring I went to the straw store at the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles where for about $3 you could get a straw bag became my summer-purse-and-beach-bag. In college it was your basic Greek woven shoulder tote. It was the 60s.
Then there was the year I set my heart on a red leather purse and spent months trying to find the perfect one. I had one criteria. It had to be gorgeous. I finally bought one, used it for a few months, and now it lives on the floor of my closet.
Now, when I buy a purse, I’m picky picky picky. It has to be lightweight and compartmented -- I do not want to turn into one of those old ladies in the supermarket who are searching for change in the bottom of their purse. And I want to be able to walk a mile without noticing that I’m carrying it.
My bag needs:
- A long, adjustable shoulder strap so I can wear it across my body
- A compartment for credit cards
- A compartment for my cell phone
- Room for my wallet and hairbrush
- To be washable
- To be small enough so I can stuff it into one of my carry-on bags as I scoot through TSA checkpoints
- Be large
- Be heavy
- Make noise
- Have shiny grommets or nail heads
- Sport fringe
- Require that I use a hand to carry it
- Close with a magnet (screws up credit cards)
What are your criteria for the perfect purse?
RHYS BOWEN: Hallie, I have exactly your perfect purse for traveling around here in Europe. It has various compartments that can be locked. It is super light. It has a strap with a steel cable through it so it cannot be cut through. Perfect. Also incredibly boring.
I love fun purses. I tend to buy them on impulse, like the one I bought I Morocco of local leather that smelled disgusting but was an interesting orange color. And the timing on this is amazing because today I bought a lovely purse at the local market... Soft Italian leather and such a fun color. I don't know what it will go with, but who cares!
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Hallie, when you said red purse, I immediately thought of "the girl with the red purse" in Jerome Robbins's ballet, "Fancy Free." (Shameless name-dropping, the costumes for "Fancy Free" were designed by a man named Kermit Love, who also designed Muppets for the Jim Henson company and was Noel's mentor back in the day.)
The thing is, I've found the perfect bag (basically all of Hallie's criteria plus canvas or fabric because I'm trying to use less leather — also, it's lighter!). It was a collaboration between British handbag designer Lulu Guinness and New York artist John Derian. (I not only have this bag, I have one of the big ones, a really tiny one, and a satin evening bag (all thanks to eBay).
The sad thing is it was a limited edition, so when it goes (and I love to use it), it's just done for.... Ah, the search for the perfect bag is never-ending....
LUCY BURDETTE: As Pat K knows, my bag is TRAGIC too--the exact same faded animal print in a Baggalini. This is the closest I can come to Hallie's criteria, as I no longer own a wallet either, and cannot be bothered to change bags with outfits. And yes, it must squeeze into a backpack so it doesn't count as a carry-on. I do worry that it doesn't have a metal component like Rhys's to deter purse-snatchers.
I said I don't change bags, but if I'm going somewhere fancy (like a wedding we are attending this summer), the tragic Baggalini won't do. I went hunting for one I found years ago in a vintage store. Sadly, the whole thing had begun to disintegrate into white flecks. But isn't it cute?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Rhys, you can get rid of that bad smell by putting a little gauze or cheesecloth bag of coffee beans in the purse, or dusting the inside with baking soda. Or both. Really works! Takes a few days, though.
OH, I have too many purses. One SO gorgeously irresistibly red and black but SO expensive I was mortified for buying it, and finally amortized it by carrying it every day. But now I do have a pretty perfect purse. Light, and compartmentalized, and some zippered pockets, and lots of pouches, and waterproof. It collapses right into my tote bag so I can get it past TSA as one thing. It's black, that travel fabric, you know? With hot pink waterproof lining. Sound great? Ha. Do not tell. It is a Kate Spade...diaper bag! See?
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Susan, that's delightful! And Hank, don't feel bad. My absolutely perfect laptop bag for years (until I got a larger machine that wouldn't fit) was a Coach diaper bag. Black fabric, leather trim, and it looked sleek even with lots and lots of pockets and compartments. "NYC Professional Mom" diaper bags are clearly an underutilized resource.
I am a confessed purse junkie, so I don't have a perfect bag. I can change mine out five times a week to go with any particular day's outfit. I love great big ones; I tend to solve the rooting-around-for-buried-treasure issue by putting stuff in still smaller bags: one for make-up, one for phone, one for pens, etc.
The object I am picky about is my wallet. I want a compartment for bills, one for receipts, easy-to-access cards and a separate change purse. Oh, and not too expensive and something cheerful that I enjoy seeing when I pull it open to spend my money.
My go-to is the Vera Bradley trifold wallet. I like Vera Bradley for accessories and travel bags - they're cute, wear very well and are eye-catching, whether you've left a duffel on the luggage carousel or - oops! - your wallet on the checkout counter.
Here's my current wallet. They've changed the design a bit on the inside for the latest model, but it still has everything I need.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've had the Baggalinni. Or something similar, from Travelsmith. Lightweight, cross-body strap, washable, black, many compartments. And so...tragic. My go-to bags the last couple of years have been Fossils. I have two, one deep burgundy, the other pale blue. Nice leather, outside pocket for keys, inside pockets for phone, etc,, and a zip inside pocket. And the whole bag zips across the top, which is an absolute essential for traveling. No braids, no bangles!
I do like carrying a small bag when doing a lot of walking, but for my usual in-and-out of car lifestyle, I like a bag that will hold a notebook and a book, and whatever else I might need to stick in it. I don't have loose stuff, just a wallet and a zipped makeup bag, so it's not hard to find things. Oh, and it's structured enough to set down on things, another big requirement.I have been coveting my daughter's diaper bag, however. It's custom made by a company called Better Life Bags. Check them out! I want one of these amazing bags. Or maybe two, one big enough to hold my laptop and a smaller one.
HALLIE: So what are your requirements in a purse of wallet? Did you ever consider looking at diaper bags for your next one?
As a going-way present, here's a Birkin diamond bag that that just sold for $300,000 at auction. A white Himalaya crocodile gave its life so that Kim Kardashian could carry one.
And! Here's Ann's Dias de Las Muertas clutch... I want one.
And here's Karen's tote that she made herself? How is that even possible?
And here's Joan Emerson's fabulous vintage Lucite bags. The brown one she wears every day. Wow.