Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Things She Carried

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to handbags. I carried only a wallet into my 30s because I always felt embarrassingly hyper feminine whenever I’d sling a purse-like object over my shoulder, as if I were conforming to a stereotypical vision of femininity to which I did not subscribe.

To me, women looked a little helpless with their bags, their independence compromised by their dedication to this bulky or dinky inessential object. I wanted to be a woman, unmodified, not a woman-with-a-bag who updated it seasonally and kept it close. So I’d jam my lip gloss into my pocket (or sometimes the zippered change pouch of my wallet; Bobbi Brown makes compact cases) and off I’d go.

But of course there were times when I had to carry something with a strap. I tended to cling to my university satchel—good leather, scholarly look that spoke to its owner’s intellect, not to her participation in hyper-feminine consumerism. (I even did this when I worked in New York, telling myself that since I was in publishing, of course a satchel was the most appropriate accessory!)

Or if I were en route to the gym, I’d stuff everything into a giant woven leather bag I bought at an African shop in Ottawa. Its size alone separated it from the purse culture so I didn’t feel uncomfortable sporting it.

When the first of my three children was born, some eight years ago, the seismic shift began: a bag became a necessity. I did not want a traditional diaper bag, with bunnies or colorful patterns, because that presented another problem altogether: the infantilized mother. So I purchased a navy blue nylon Kate Spade “baby bag,” sleek, rectangular, and large. It was my constant companion through the first two years of each of my three children.

And then I caved in. The geography of my life had become such that I needed a bag on a daily basis (to tote the occasional diaper, wallet, lip gloss), but one that made me feel confident, not a fashion victim, not a helpless damsel.

I now own two bags, one for fall/winter, one for spring/summer. The fall/winter bag is perfect: it’s a LV Musette. With a flattering vertical shape, this bag has a long flap in front (no buckles or pockety-details). It also has a long strap, which I wear slung across my body, which gives me a feeling of the anti-bag.

But the spring/summer bag is a natural leather that verges on purse-i-ness. So I’m rethinking it. I’d like a neutral leather, strong shape, without much embellishment, to wear on my shoulder. (The sling works best with outerwear.) Any ideas??