The importance of the purse

“What do you keep in here? It weighs 20 pounds.” This is my son’s remark, as I instruct him to grab some lunch money from my purse.

“Everything we need.” I retort, having answered this question a million times.

I don’t carry a purse everywhere. If I’m running out to the grocery store or something, I’ll just take my phone, the car keys, and some form of money, either card or cash. (I’m prepared, you see. I have everything in the car that a purse would normally contain: hand cream, lip gloss, coupons, all that stuff.) But if I’m traveling any distance or attending a function, I will take a purse with me. A properly stocked one, you can be sure.

If I’m ever stranded on an island, I’m certain I could survive for days, perhaps for weeks, with just the contents in my purse. At different times and for varying reasons, I’ve stored all manner of essentials in my handbag: energy bars, tweezers, eye drops, tissue, ibuprofen, an insulated coffee mug, dental floss, pens, safety pins, candy, a notebook, hair ties, wet wipes, a brush – in addition, of course, to the wallet, keys, phone, gum, and Blistex that I’m seldom without. In other words, I am ready for apocalypse, if need be.

Without my purse, I feel vulnerable, at the mercy of who knows what. How else am I to keep myself and my world functioning?

The necessity for purses, I noticed, starts young. My friend’s twin daughters, for example, wear crossbody handbags everywhere they go, and I mean everywhere. To the store, to the dinner table, I’m sure they’d wear them to bed if they could. Because of their small, rectangular size, not much fits in there, but that’s not the point. The point is…well, I’m not really sure what the point is, but it makes them happy and grown up to accessorize, so who am I to judge. I guess you just never know when you might need a little tube of fuschia lipstick and a plastic Barbie ring. They might not be ready for the end of the world, but at least they have enough to keep them entertained at the doctor’s office.

Men don’t get it, at all, the attachment that women have to their purse. They traipse through life footloose and fancy-free, with no more than a wallet in their back pocket. How they manage I have no idea. (That’s not true, I know exactly how they manage: they don’t need much more than their wallet because they know if they need gum or a pen or some change for the parking meter or a bandage or their passport or anything other conceivable item they might need during that outing – their wife already thought of it and put it in her purse.)

Out of curiosity I looked up to see how many purses a typical woman owns. Back in 2014, a San Francisco-based clothing retailer found that American women, on average, own about 11 handbags, and 10 per cent have more than 20. I own six, which is more than I thought when I went to check. Each bears a distinct purpose: black clutch for a formal event, crossbody purse for the amusement park, larger carry-all for air travel, and so on.

While my handbags have changed over the years in size and style, they have always, without exception, been bought on sale, which brings me back to that 2014 survey, which revealed how much we fork over for purses. American women spend, on average, as much as $160, with 20 per cent spending more than $200 and about eight per cent splurging more than $400. Frankly, I would rather glue my belongings to my shirt than pay anything close to that, but apparently I’m the exception to the rule. I shared these numbers with a purseaholic friend who quickly pointed out that some “very fine” purses retail for a lot more. A Burberry, for instance, sells for $1,600, a Judith Leiber Couture for $6,300, a Hermes for a staggering $72,600.

Madness. I would rather a $20 purse with $72,580 in it, thank you very much.

But while I would never carry such a bag, that doesn’t mean I use just any purse. I like lots of separate internal pockets, nothing bright or flashy, no buckles or embellishments, nothing too big. Considering I don’t splurge in the acquisition of this all-important organizational tool, I feel like I should be able to have a design preference. For segments of time it controls my family’s universe, after all.