Thursday, June 2, 2016

Picky about our purses

HALLIE EPHRON: Yesterday’s blog got me thinking about the purses I’ve known and loved. When I was in high school I carried a clutch purse. In retrospect, a dumb idea. It tied up one of your hands. But that was before women’s lib.

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

It cannot:
-    Be large
-    Be heavy
-    Make noise
-    Have shiny grommets or nail heads
-    Sport fringe
-    Smell
-    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?

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.


  1. Generally, purses make me crazy. There ought to be a law that you can try them out for a week and then give them back if you decide you don’t like them. [It never took longer than a week for me to decide I despised my purse.]
    But then I happened to find a wonderful vintage Lucite purse and never once did I have a thought about giving it back . . . .

  2. No time to respond, since I'm meeting with Rhys later today, but I have seen her lovely new pink bag, and it's fabulous. I hope she brings it to Bouchercon!

    Some of you might have seen the tote bag I made for this trip. Bags are such a pain, and our needs change all the time, don't they?

  3. Sigh, purses. Currently I am carrying a surprisingly roomy clutch that I bought in a gift shop in Phoenix, taupe leather brushed with gold, with a skull embroidered on it, lots of faux jewels a la Bedazzler, Dias de los Muertas to the max. I know I know. It fits into a properly sedate leather shoulder bag when I need more than quick trip to the store paraphernalia. Deb tried to get one, too, but had snagged the last one.

    My go to travel purse is some permutation of the Healthy Back Bag, holds every thing I need plus a bottle of water, my Kindle and a change of knickers for when the luggage goes astray. It doesn't come off my shoulder and transfers most of the weight to my upper back. It's also ugly as sin.

    Once upon a time I bought a gorgeously expensive red Coach bag. It hangs in my closet. Lovely to look at but a bitch to carry. But I can't bear to part with it.

    Karen, can you post a picture of the tote bag? How clever of you to make it.

  4. Karen, if you email me your tote bag this morning I can post it (ghephron "at" comcast dot net) - I saw it on Facebook!

    (Joan, if you're reading this email me a photo of your Lucite bag too!)

  5. Oh, Ann - I want to see yours, too...

    Your Coach bag and my red purse should cohabitate. I can't throw mine away, either, though I never use it.

  6. I agree with the diaper bag idea. I have one I use when I travel -- pockets for bottles become pockets for water bottles and any number of other cool things!

  7. What fun this morning! Susan, love that bag. And debs, I went yesterday to look at the Better Life Bags website--it's a great idea. And of course, I wasted ten minutes designing one for myself:). Maybe one day...

    Meanwhile Karen, I forgot you are with Rhys. I hope she is insisting that you write a blog for us on the week!

  8. I got my current (last couple of years) bag from the Magellan catalog. Lots of pockets inside and out and a reinforced strap so it can't be cut. I'm past the point where I care about coordinating, so it goes everywhere with me. It's garnet colored. Recently weeded old purses. Some were just sad looking. Most were too small for all the junk I lug around now. No need to put the current bag inside another for flights. It holds almost as much as a carry on!

  9. I view purses as works of art--some are too beautiful for words. But, I'm firmly on the side of look, but do not buy. The boys learned long ago not to come along if I'm shopping for a purse--it has to meet pretty much the same criteria as Hallie has listed and I'm ruthless in my rejection, regardless of beauty! Harder to find is a good tote bag, for work/travel--but some great ideas here today!

  10. I too am a purse junkie. Requirements? Apparently all a purse has to do is pop its little self up and say "Hey, Kaye! Look at me! I'm so pretty (or funky, or colorful, or fun). I would look great with your boots (or Little Black Dress, or Little Red Dress, etc. etc.)." And I feel the need to take it home. Big. I do like big purses, I must admit. And tote bags! A gal cannot have too many tote bags. Right now my fave is a bright Kate Spade tote - turquoise on the outside, red on the inside. I love it way more than is healthy, I'm sure. Susan Ella MacNeal - I am wild about your purse pictured here!!!

  11. Hallie, I don't have the photo with me. Can you lift it off my Facebook page? You certainly have my permission to do so.

    And yes, our time together in Tuscany has been grand! I'm happy to blog about it, if you'd like.

  12. I can't remember what I carried in high school. But I suppose it was roomy enough to carry all my "necessary" stuff. Hey, it was the 80s.

    For a long time I also went with Fossil. Nice look, functional, and stylish. I was so mad when my daughter (young at the time) drew all over a nice leather wallet-style with--a silver sharpie! Ugh.

    I do not like big purses because they become junk traps. The I find crumpled receipts, non-functioning pens, candy I took away from my kids, broken key chains, cards and bookmarks I pick up at conferences, blah, blah, blah, at the bottom of the bag. What a hassle.

    My requirements for a purse used to be compartment for phone, space for wallet (and yes, I was picky about those too - must have separate cash and card spaces, coins, place to store receipts), sunglasses, keys, pens. For a long time I carried a black, white, and red Vera Bradley my daughter no longer wanted to use. It was a fun daisy print and it was washable.

    Except...I generally had my phone in my hand at the end of the day. At home, too because we don't have a land-line so I carry my cell phone around in case of a call. And that was the important thing. Over two days, I left my purse - including wallet and driver's license - behind. Either at work or at home. And I said, enough's enough.

    I went minimal. Bought a phone case-wallet that has space for the important credit cards (Visa, Amex, debit card), my license, and a pocket for cash on the rare occasions that I have it (teenagers). All included with my phone and a detachable wrist strap in a nice burgundy leather with fun polka dot lining. It closes with a magnet, but no problem thus far with the credit cards.

    We shall see how long it lasts. But so far I like it.

  13. Thinking of tote bags, I should have sent in a pic of the fabulous tote my mother gave the Smithie (they are both cat lovers.) It features a row of cats - very realistic - walking toward the viewer from one side. The other side has them walking away. With their tails in the air. COMPLETELY anatomically accurate...

  14. I get that Baggalini bags are kind of lame, but as someone who is not the purse type (whatever that means) I find mine does the job. It's gray (matches everything), smallish (checkbook, glasses, wallet, phone, tissues, phone charger, lip dip) and has a nice long strap. Probably all of you have seen it or owned it at one time or another.

    I am happy that my friends Karen and Kaye have brought up tote bags, which are more my speed. I have leather totes, cotton totes, fancy totes, utilitarian totes, (lots of) L.L. Bean totes, you name it. My favorite is one with several secret compartments that has a sleeve that slips over an extended suitcase handle.

    Love. That. Tote.

    The only cool thing I own that relates at all to this topic is a card wallet made of aluminum. It's 4" x 2.5", bright red (though comes in many colors) and holds about 10 cards (license, a few business cards, coffee card, credit card, debit card) and/or a bit of cash. The aluminum shell blocks Radio Frequency ID signals, so the cards are protected around swipe and scan machines.

    Well, I think it's cool anyway.

  15. Hallie, your Greek purse struck a huge memory chord. Thank you! Mine was purple and light blue, and white I think.

    Hank and Julia - brilliant - a diaper bag! Now that will be my next carry on tote.

    I'm not much of a purse person because I wear a belt wallet, but there are times that just won't work so I've picked up a washable hot pink little number from LLBean with tons of pockets inside and big enough to swallow a lovely Clairefontaine notebook and my Kindle. Then I spend the rest of the time I'm carrying the purse wrapping the strap around my wrist, shoulder, ankle so I don't forget it when I leave! You haven't lived until you've stood up in a restaurant and pitched face forward into the diner next to you because your purse strap was wrapped around your ankle and the body of the purse was caught behind the chair leg!

  16. Laughing, Kait - now there's an image.
    I'm always afraid to us those under-the-table purse hooks, for fear that I"ll leave my purse behind.

  17. We should have a contest to see who has the most tote bags, Brenda...

  18. Ann, I'm never forgiving you for getting the last Day of the Dead clutch! I covet it!

    Karen, you had better blog about your adventures with Rhys. (I have space the last week in June if you want a spot!)

    The last trip I took (which was Phoenix for LLC), instead of a purse and my usual carry-on tote/computer bag, I took a canvas and leather tote that was big enough to hold my laptop and double as a purse. During the conference I carried a little strapped clutch I'd popped in my suitcase, and it was so nice not to be lugged down with a big purse standing and walking all day.

    Now I have to check the measurements on the Better Life bag I designed (that I can't afford,) to see if it would hold my laptop...

    Lucy, isn't that fun? I think we should all do one! It could be a post!

  19. Diaper bags! That sounds like perfection right there. I don't carry a purse. My Hobo wallet is almost like a clutch--fits a lipstick, cell, and keys, and that's all I need when I'm out and about. But travel/writing activities? That's where it all falls apart, so I'm going to check out diaper bags. :-)

  20. Cheered (and a bit jealous) to note that none of the Reds and only a few of the commentators mention the need to have bag space for READING glasses. They take up the most space in my bags and are always hiding in the bottom. I'm the little old lady digging around for her glasses so that she can see to dig around for her change 🙄.
    My current favorite is the medium size Land's End canvass zipped tote. Great pockets, lots of space, and best of all a clip for keys inside the bag. And a good shape and a good weight for carrying books.

  21. Oh, seriously, diaper bags are GREAT> Many pouches and places to carry things, zippered pockets and removable shoulder straps. The inside is waterproof.

    They also come with changing pads! I sometimes use mine to wrap my iPad or as a seat cushion. Amazing. And you would NEVER know from the outside.

    Do NOT have a tote bag contest. Seriously.

  22. Hank, I love that Kate Spade black diaper purse! When I travel, especially fly, I love that waterproof material for bags, so easy to clean off. When I had one of my two big "spills" in D.C., I was ever so grateful for that waterproof material. I was stepping off of a curb somewhere near the White House, and it had been raining quite heavily the day before. There was some water where I stepped off, but it appeared to be just a puddle, and I had my sturdy tennis shoes on, so I stepped into it. Well, it turned out to be a hole into which I fell forward from, my glasses flying, my purse staying with me to get good and wet. Wonderfully nice people helped me up, recovered my glasses for me, and inquired what I needed. I assured them that I was not hurt, if horribly embarrassed doesn't count. Although I was wet from my waist down and then some, my purse survived with flying colors, keeping all the contents nice and dry. I should go on to say that the only quick change of clothes I could find was at a nearby kiosk selling American flag shorts and tops to match. I bought them, as I had no choice, found a restroom to clean up in, put on the atrocious outfit, hailed a cab and went to Union Station, where I was able to buy some less entertaining clothes. But, essentially, the story is a purse story about how my purse came through for me. Hahaha!

  23. The purse saved the day! That is such a nightmare story, Kathy - You are so lucky you did't break an ankle or a wrist going down. And that you have a sense of humor about it... in retrospect.

    Elisabeth, I've graduated from reading glasses to graduated lenses. But I still need a place for my sunglasses.

  24. Elisabeth, don't lament - my secret - progressives, and I'm SO lazy I have them with that tinted stuff that turns dark in the sun.

    Kathy - what a story! I think you should have passed yourself off as Wonder Woman in the flag outfit.