Eventually someone is going to ask, “What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a handbag?”
It’s like asking, “Have you ever had an abortion?”
“What?” is a good response.
Except that answer begs for a follow-up question like, “Seriously, just between us?”
For which you suddenly develop a foreign accent and say, “In my country, we have pockets sewn in all our clothes.”
Because, honestly, some purses cost the same as a new American pickup truck without the equivalent value in sentiment or even at CarMax.
A purse doesn’t stay quiet on your wrist or shoulder: it shouts out what you paid for it. A purse costs more than its contents, including cash, credit cards, smartphone, laptop, $60 lipsticks and a BMW key ring.
A dizzying five-figure price makes me consider adopting an orphan child, which would be like going back to kindergarten the day after graduating Harvard Law School—with the equivalent loss of income.
So, I have three rules about purses.
Don’t buy a bag that weighs or costs more than its contents.
I routinely speed through “handbag” departments picking up and immediately putting down bags that don’t pass the heaviness test. This enables me to shop without looking at price tags. I use the word “handbag” advisedly. A purse that requires a dedicated hand is a purse that takes up one too many body parts.
If you want to lift weights, do it at home with your personal trainer. If you don’t mind growing old with one shoulder shorter than the other and having knobby, arthritic hands, be my guest. Buy that Chanel Large Boy or Hermès Kelly bag. Even worn-out, it will appreciate in value on eBay.
But don’t come crying to me when your acupuncturist can’t cure you even after his or her bill exceeds that of your biannual Botox and Restylane injections.
Do buy a “stealth” bag (i.e., one that eludes radar).
Check out Baudelaire’s guidance to aesthetes: “Whether men (or women) are called elegant, incredible, lions or dandies, they are all representative of the need…to combat and destroy triviality.” Parentheses mine.
Okay Baudelaire, call me “elegant” and “incredible:” I don’t want 99 percent of the people I pass on the street to recognize my handbag. And I find changing bags a waste of time.
Add color at your own peril. Color necessitates changing purses and I don't have time for that.
An always classy, affordable alternative is the Longchamp Le Pliage tote in black (winter) or ivory (summer). It’s $190, $169 if you shop at Century 21. Again, employing my “mother ship/lifeboat” practice, I use a tote with same color Le Pliage “pouchette” cosmetics bag ($55—occasionally on sale for $40) repurposed for casual evenings. Never fails to get oohs and aahs.
The Ultimate Solution
The Goyard St. Louis is my current handbag of choice. It is almost weightless, has a pleasing, discreetly recognizable pattern, and it’s reversible. Two handbags occupying the same physical space is a mathematical triumph—whether you take advantage of the feature or not.
Plus, the Goyard St. Louis passes my value test. See Amortization below.
But what about evening bags, you may earnestly inquire? Not a problem.
I own Judith Leiber’s coin purse with twin crystal studded clasps in black South African crocodile (oh, shut up: these gators eat Oaxacan children and keep South African locals from voting). Besides, it’s a very small purse—5” x 3” x 1.”
A patronizing (ex-)boyfriend with an aversion to overstuffed wallets once declared to me that a woman should carry no more than a credit card and a lipstick to dinner. If it were still feasible, he’d have “his man” carry money for him.
My opinion is evening bags should also contain a Metro Card, a few bills for tipping ladies’ room attendants, quarters for the Tampax machine, business cards, and (for me) a black lacquer with sapphire cabochon mini Diabolo de Cartier pen in its leather case. I didn’t purchase it, mind you; the original owner always wanted something of his in my possession. His favorite line from Gatsby was “I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts…”
It weighs almost nothing, the Leiber bag, and has a stowable 7-inch drop chain. Throw it in a Goyard tote and it goes where you go. Black-tie event? Grab the coin purse; ditch the tote. No “what am I forgetting?” What you’re forgetting is your cell phone.
Judith Leiber would be very clever to make the bag once again in a slightly larger cell phone size—call it the “CP.” Until then, devotees may suffer some phone separation anxiety, but enjoy the rewards of improved social behavior.
A bag that pleases me is one I may use for ten or more years. Before Goyard, there was a cherished black leather Bottega Veneta backpack that made two trips to the Bottega factory in Italy for new lambskin linings. Over the years, I used it almost exclusively (along with a tiny black matching cross-body bag and wallet). According to my accountant, the backpack combo worked out to a guilt-free $195 a year—not counting potential capital gains from resale.
In the end, just between us? What one spends on a purse is nobody’s business but the buyer’s and her (or his) personal financial advisor.