Mama's Got a Brand New Bag

Paranoid as I am, I’ve often suspected that at some point, select girls were pulled aside by an all-knowing council of elderwomen and given a quick rundown on how to look “pulled-together”. You may have been one of these girls – you certainly know a few of them. The women who know what hairstyle works for them and they execute it correctly every day. The ones who, when wearing an evening dress or business suit look as comfortable as they would a in pair of jeans and a t-shirt. And when they do wear jeans and a t-shirt, they look chic and never sloppy. These are the women who were born knowing how to apply eyeliner and choose foundation that doesn't look orange - they also know how to blend it.

When I think of these women, I think in particular of an old classmate and friend of mine. To protect her perfect identity, we’ll call her J.

I’ve known J since we were in first grade – she inherited her savoir-faire from her mother, C. When we were in high school, I sought out the name of her hairdresser. My results were mediocre. My mother started seeing the same stylist, and has been going to her ever since. My mother gets stopped and complimented on her hair regularly. I like to think that I’m the catalyst for all that hair love. I have a great hairdresser, but she’s got some challenges – for one, I can’t execute anything overly complicated. So if it’s going to take more than 5 minutes a day to replicate, I’ll fail. I also have some massive hair – it’s coarse, wavy, and I have a lot of it. So, it tends to get either clowny or helmety , depending on the season/humidity if it’s cut wrong. I keep trying.

When J and I were in 5th grade, all the girls started carrying purses. I seem to remember that the purse to have was a small rectangular Liz Claiborne bag – with tiny little Liz triangles on it. I recall that they were probably expensive (relative to a 5th Grader), and of course, aside from the occasional babysitting gig, I was more or less insolvent. I suspect my parents wouldn’t have funded that venture, so, I went for a more casual look – a woven bag – pastel stripes with a rope strap. Tres jolie!

What I put in the purse, I couldn’t tell you. It’s not as though I had a wallet, makeup, a cellphone, keys or…well, any of it. I was also constantly leaving my purse places – a phenomenon that plagued me through high school.

The next purse I owned was in 6th grade, and it was red, faux leather, and it matched some shoes that I loved. There’s a picture of me somewhere, first day of sixth grade with that purse, my new skirt and blouse, and huge red earrings and bracelet. Stylin’. I wore my hair short in those days, and there it was, helmety.

During High School, I know I owned purses, but I seem to remember throwing it all in my backpack – but I don’t remember. High School is when I started in on evening bags. Because I went to Homecoming dances and Prom, I ended up with a few cute bags – one that I still lament getting rid of – it was a small clutch with multicolored sequins. To this day, I have a small black velvet bag which I’ve pulled out on many occasions, dating back to my sophomore Homecoming dance – hair was longer, clowny. I also had braces and a huge zit in that picture. Also, I had a really pale date, and in my dark dress and his dark suit, we look Executive Goth. I'm only sorry I couldn't find that photo for my post.

Again, I am sure I had purses in college, but again, I think my backpack was the default carrier of choice. I can tell you that I started using my maternal grandmother’s evening bag around then – It’s black cloth and it’s a chic little thing that gets compliments every time I use it, even though it’s looking a little worn these days.

When my paternal grandmother died, shortly after I left college, I got one of her evening bags – not entirely vintage, but nice. It’s essentially a structured rectangular box covered in concentric circles of shimmery white beads. I haven’t used it yet, but you never know.

It was around the time she died that I bought myself a few serviceable bags – Liz Claiborne, but low-end, faux leather. I bought them on sale at Dillard’s- one brown, one black and one red. I still have the black one. Great bags, all three – except that they’re all short-handled and I tended to carry them over one arm, a la Aunt Bee of Andy Griffith fame.

When Matt and I started dating, it got to be a tradition where he’d buy me a summer purse at Easter time. Target sold them – they were fabric lined straw bags, small, zip top with some kind of design done in fabric and bead on the exterior. I had one with flowers, one with a pineapple, and one with dragonflies. We stopped because, even though they were only $10, they tended to fall apart by late July.

Around the time of the last straw (bag), I got my first hand-me-down from Laura. Like J, I suspect Laura got pulled aside at some point, because the bag she sent me was real leather and very nice. Nine West. I carried the living hell out of that one. Still have it.

When I got married, I gave all three of my bridesmaids LL Bean Tote Bags – and the following year, I bought the mini tote in the same colors to use a purse. Turquoise with lime green handles and my initials monogrammed in lime as well. I used that as my summer bag, used the hand-me-down in the winter, and continued until last Fall, when Laura sent me a new hand-me-down – a Wilson Leather hobo bag – brown. This spring, I ordered another mini-tote this time in bright yellow with lime green handles/monogram. It’s adorable, functional and fun – but it definitely shows dirt. And when I start looking at the purses of the women around me, I realize, my purse doesn’t say “business”. It says “I don’t match with anything Allison owns, but I’m whimsical, dammit”.

I could start using the travel purse I bought for our trip to Europe – it’s black, but it looks a little too much like luggage, or worse, a diaper bag. Also, I lose my keys in it regularly.

So, when I started thinking about what I might like for my 3rd (Leather) Anniversary), I thought a handbag would be just the thing. Sure, a real leather bag would be expensive, but – hey – I’m worth it!

Apparently, Matt agreed – he picked out a brown leather shoulder bag from Fossil – nicer than any I’ve ever owned. He did a great job - and I feel like a grownup!

On Sunday, I have an appointment with Libby at Trim – do I dare hope for a new, grown-up, pulled-together hairstyle?

Or am I pushing my luck?


Unknown said…
Love reading your blog for many reasons - but one of the main ones is b/c I can relate! I so was not pulled aside and I am in awe of women who ALWAYS look put together even in jeans - they look 'money' as in they look like they have it whereas I pretend I have it and therefore never quite achieve the 'look'. If Miss Libby doesn't cut the mustard or the hair in a way that makes you 'money' give Maria a try :)ps would love to see those HS pics!!