Handbags: A Plea for Help

To recap for those just joining us (and for those not on my Facebook Page and therefore not privy to the scintillating handbag conversation), I’m looking for a handbag. And I need help.

When I’m looking at handbags, I feel the same way I do when I’m looking at neckties for my husband: absolutely lost.

There are 27 million to choose from, and they’re all kind of ugly (I’m talking about ties here. I think there are only about 14 million handbags to choose from). Like with handbags, if  I find a tie I do like, chances are it’s on the bargain table and there’s something horribly gauche about it that I can’t detect. If I chose my husband’s neckties, he’d have to take sandwiches to work every day because, while his coworkers wouldn’t necessarily know why they thought he was inept, they just wouldn’t trust him with any complex projects, like using the microwave in the breakroom.

And it would be all my fault.

I need a handbag because it’s hard to open doors if I carry everything in my hands. But I don’t “like” handbags. I don’t like accessories at all. They’re foreign to me.

I could deal with it okay if accessories didn’t say something about me. I don’t want to express my personal style; I just want to carry my stuff. But like it or not, I know my handbag’s talking about me behind my back, so I feel a need to pick one that won’t talk smack about me.

This would be my “not-with-the-kids” bag, so I want something spacious but not huge. It needs to fit a day planner, a journal, and a novel/e-reader (all roughly 5″ x 8″), along with my billfold and a stainless steel water bottle. And maybe a snack. I’d prefer something with internal organization, but I’m willing to buy/make organizer bags for inside, if necessary.

On a friend’s advice, I ordered two bags from Zappos. They live in their original packaging in their original box. Every day or two, I wash my hands and I get out the bags. I put my stuff in them, model them in front of the mirror, then unload them and put them carefully back in their packages, hopefully preserving their returnability in the eyes of those at Zappos.

One bag definitely doesn’t work (the top opening is too small).

The bag that would probably work for me.

The other would suit my utilitarian needs, but three things give me pause:

1) It’s brown. I always buy brown handbags. I always buy brown everything. Except furniture. I buy red furniture.

2) Yesterday I saw two people carrying the same bag. I don’t want to have the same bag as a bunch of other people.

3) It doesn’t have a top zipper closure. When I get the strap stuck underneath it when I go to pick it up in a crowded store, would the top flap fit securely enough that the contents of my bag (which by that time will include a combination lock, a burned-out CFL, a bag of spent batteries, and five lip balms that I can never find when I need them) won’t go flying in all directions?

There’s another bag. It’s not accompanied by the same liberal return policy. If I didn’t like it, I would have to return it for a credit only within 14 days.

But I like it. Or rather, I think I like it.

Okay, I do like it, I just don’t know if I’d like it on me.

It’s the Monroe from Namaste Inc.

I’m considering the red one or the eggplant one.

It’s kind of retro. It’s spacious. It’s a shoulder bag. It’s definitely not my usual style.

Periodically, I fantasize about getting out my sewing machine, buying a bunch of vintage patterns, and replacing my current wardrobe with 1950’s style dresses, complete with full skirts and crinolines underneath. This bag would go so well with that fantasy.

But then I recall my real-life style, and I balk.

It’s faux leather, not canvas. It’s about the size of my diaper bag. It doesn’t come in brown. And I’m afraid it’s too formal/dressy for the way I usually dress. I don’t want to look mismatched. This is why I always wear brown everything and carry a brown bag. Brown matches brown. If I want a change of pace, I wear khaki.

What would a giant red handbag say about me, anyway? Would it say, “This is a fun-loving woman in the prime of her life”? Or would it say, “There’s a woman with oatmeal smeared on her pants who picked out a cool handbag by accident”?

My husband doesn’t understand why I’m putting so much energy into the handbag selection process.

“If I were you,” he said, “I’d just keep one of the ones I already have because then I’d be done.”

He has a point. But he also lives by a wardrobe philosophy involving “primary pants.”

Maybe I should just carry a grocery sack. I quite like the canvas one we got from Trader Joe’s about seven years ago. It’s not brown, but I think it could work.


  1. Jamie · September 2, 2011

    I love some of the bags Suzy at http://www.hipmountainmama.com carries! Also, etsy sellers but I could get lost if I started that search.


    • CJ · September 2, 2011

      re: Etsy…I know exactly whereof you speak. I browsed 4,300 bags the other night (and found one that might work for me, but that I’m vacillating about ordering). My husband thinks I’m nuts, but really, I just want ONE bag, not seven bags that are each kind of okay, and that takes some work.


  2. CathyT · September 2, 2011

    Can’t help you with a handbag as I bought a backpack style bag at a Farmer’s Market 5 years ago and have just been thinking that I either need to make a similar one for myself or sew myself a messenger type bag. I don’t like to carry a purse or bag that slings over a shoulder or has to be held in a hand because it is too easy to get lost when I put it down. I also need to carry too many other things to add a handbag to the mix.

    I also never notice what others are carrying so if you go with brown or with a bag that others already have then I won’t think anything of it. Sorry, probably not the advice you can use…


    • CJ · September 2, 2011

      It is, however, comforting to know that new friends aren’t going to judge me on my choice of handbag. 🙂


  3. P · September 1, 2011

    MA likes her Sherpani bag. Has held up well to “mommy abuse,” and has interior organizers.


    • CJ · September 2, 2011

      I’ll have to revisit Sherpani bags. The ones I’ve seen in stores won’t fit my paper day planner, paper journal, and paper novels (yes, I’m stuck in the 20th century).


  4. Pingback: What does a handbag say about you? | NZ Fashion Trends
  5. Maggie · August 31, 2011

    I have a few more ideas:

    1. Find a seller on etsy.com who makes something similar to what you want and see if he/she can make a custom bag for you.

    2. Have you checked out the canvas messenger-type bags from REI? They have some that are casual and practical — plus you can return anything to REI at any time (even used) for a full refund. You will probably have to pay for shipping if there’s not a store close to you, though.

    3. On a similar note, I like the bags from Crumpler. They are the most durable bags I’ve ever owned, and I’m pretty hard on bags. They are not as pretty or cute, but they’re also not upper popular in the US, so you don’t run a high risk of anyone else having your bag. They’re expensive, though, so you might want to check ebay.

    4. Title Nine also has some super cute bags that might suit your needs. I had one of their small pouch-type bags that I used on my round-the-world trip. It was perfect for keeping my essentials close at hand.

    5. I think Epiphanie bags might be the perfect marriage of style + substance. They are GORGEOUS with a classic, vintage look. But because they are camera bags, they are built to be durable, waterproof and they have padded dividers and pockets on the inside. (I know you’re not looking for a camera bag, but I find that the dividers come in handy even without a camera). They are pricey, but beautiful bags are a good investment, in my opinion. Especially if you only have one and you need something that will last. Check them out here: http://epiphaniebags.com/#/home/


    • CJ · August 31, 2011

      Thanks for the suggestions! I actually kind of like the Crumpler totes (the small one would do, I think). They’re still pretty casual, but not brown, which I think is a step in the right direction. I like the price, too.

      The Epiphanie bags are quite attractive. It’s not clear how movable the internal padding is (the text says it is, but there are no images of it moved around much). They are pricier, but worth considering. And they come in brown, which would be more within my comfort zone than red or eggplant.


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