Essays and Musings

What’s In a Bag?

Hitchcock's Marnie, 1965

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie,” 1965

Since the beginning of 2016 I have bought two new purses, one in Los Angeles at a favorite vintage shop and the other from an EBAY seller in Michigan. To tell the truth, the one from the vintage store was actually purchased with a gift certificate to which I only had to add $2.09. But whatever the mitigating circumstances may be, I am guilty of having wanted and of having purchased two new purses within the span of two months. Though friends may think otherwise, this recent shopping flurry strikes me as out of character. You see, dear reader, despite having written about my love of vintage Rodo bags here, I have never considered myself a “bag lady.”

Through the years I somehow managed to circumvent the trap of the “it bag,” and with the exception of my Rodo bag collection, I had successfully avoided purchasing bags in any color other than black. A handbag seemed to me a utilitarian necessity of the modern woman’s wardrobe, allowing her to travel comfortably out of the home to work, to the gym, or to dinner in a restaurant.

Despite having seen Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “Marnie,” it never occurred to me that a purse could accrue anything more than simple use value. And though I am not completely convinced by Freud’s theory linking purses and vaginas, from the first moment I saw a particular cherry red vintage Gucci shoulder bag, I didn’t care that it wasn’t black or that it didn’t serve any real function other than being a thing of beauty. Purchased four years ago, it still makes me happy every time I carry it out. Over time my perspective on purses has shifted, allowing me to see how they personalize an outfit much in the same way as jewelry does. And so, emboldened by the Gucci purchase of a non-black bag, last year I bought a vintage Celine candy red purse, and just last week from the seller in Michigan, a navy blue one. When it comes to evening bags, of the two vintage cocktail purses I own, neither one of them fits a phone or for that matter, much more than a driver’s license and lipstick. Decidedly not modern, these bags are for going out with your husband, as they are ill-equipped for a set of house keys.

Rear Window, 1954

“Rear Window,” 1954

I realize that the most extravagant bag purchase happened in January, when I spent the entirety of my gift certificate on a wooden hand painted Timmy Woods purse: a reclining smiley Saint Bernard dog that stingily fits a photo ID, a credit card, a Kleenex, one key, and a lipstick. On the first day I took it out to dinner and placed it on the table, I remember the reaction of a child seated nearby. Little more than six years old, she pointed and exclaimed to her mother, “Look, Mommy, look!” On another occasion, while I was in line at the bank, a woman approached me and asked if she could touch my purse. I have never owned anything that elicited so much attention and frankly don’t know if I’m comfortable with that level of exposure.

How did I end up at the age of forty-five owning both a vintage Kelly bag and a vintage dog purse? There is an obvious contradiction here in desire. A love of the high and the low: the refinement and exclusivity of the Kelly alongside the cheerful silliness of the wooden Saint Bernard. Freud’s theory of purses aside, the common thread uniting these bags is that they are vintage. Though from time to time I may flirt with the idea of buying and owning a new designer bag, I never veer off course in my exclusive interest in vintage bags. In this, if not in anything else, at least I am consistent. I suppose it is the nostalgia for another time as much as the craft and quality that anchor me to vintage. And I have to admit that the joy of the pursuit means a great deal to me. It is as gratifying to search for a particular bag, as it is to wait for it to appear in unused condition and for the right price.

Even if some of you reading this are like me and don’t consider yourselves bag ladies, wouldn’t you agree a bright pink version of the navy blue Celine purse would make the perfect bag for spring?

Vintage Timmy Woods, Celine, Gucci, and Walborg bags

Vintage Timmy Woods, Celine, Gucci, and Walborg bags




2 thoughts on “What’s In a Bag?

  1. I think I can safely say I’ve been a bag lady since high school. Though how I managed to use tiny vintage bags on a daily basis fascinates me now when I look at the huge bags I lug around.

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