Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Heaven in a Handbag?

Before the children, I delighted in changing my handbag daily to complement my outfit. Earning the scorn of maternal peers who’d been carrying the same bag for years was amusing. I foolishly thought my passion for purses could never erode to the point that I’d clutch the same bag for more than a few days at a time.

Two kids later I am, admittedly, in a handbag rut. So a while back I decided to go in search of a new purse to re-energize me and remind me that I can be a stylish mommy. My goal was not to rebuild my collection of chic shoulder bags, but simply to find one bag to share my life with—a constant companion warehousing hand lotion and the secrets of mommy-hood.

In this day of high fashion and affordable glamour, one would think… if one were thinking of such things … that replacing old reliable would be a fun adventure. With so many stylish options, locating the perfect match for my daily wear should be easy. Not so when contemplating my list of ‘must-have’ qualities—which apparently collectively equate to the holy grail of handbags.

‘Throw-over-the-shoulder-able’: Non-negotiable.
In my world, there’s usually a toddler in one hand. Beverage, keys and a spinning plate in the other. Practicality wins out. The strap (or straps) must be lengthy enough for flinging onto my right shoulder at a moment’s notice. More importantly, the purse must remain comfortably in place without digging in or slipping lest the revolving tower of saucers come crashing to the ground–keys, nail files and other unmentionables spilling out for all the world to see (…and queue the calamity).

Roomy, but not supersize: Negotiable if the shape and structure is right.
Having ditched my designer diaper bag earlier this year, my purse is often home to an occasional replacement diaper, a well-worn baseball cap and a rather smelly, yet lovable bunny. While I need to be able to carry these treasures and find my lipstick with ease, cavernous simply won’t do. A quick scan of the accessories department reveals that ‘unwieldy’ is a prominent style at the moment. But if I can’t reach the bottom of my bag with my arm fully extended, then it’s not the bag for me.

Easily accessed: Non-negotiable.
Last time I bought a handbag solely on style, efficiently storing my necessities became as baffling as a MENSA project. The wallet would fit, but only if I put my phone in the secret zippered exterior pocket accessible when the bag was tossed over my left shoulder (and we've already established I wear my bag on the right). Pens and keys would have to be meticulously filed into an obstinate interior pocket. Freshening my makeup would require completely dismantling and reassembling the contents of the bag… and let’s face it, I’m just not that smart.

Stylishly structured: Non-negotiable.
No amount of access or functionality is worth sacrificing style. Today’s choices are many if you like colorful, floppy bags. Me, I’m not a fan of floppy. It bugs me when my bag collapses into a pile of patent leather and hardware the second I set it down. I want more structure than that. I want my bag to stand erect… knowingly at-the-ready with my favorite lip balm a gentle arm’s reach away. Available to solve my every problem simply by remaining upright with no assistance from its contents.

These are just the basic needs mind you. I’m not even taking into consideration brand, quality, shape, color, quantity of straps, length of straps, trimmings, etc.–all of which are negotiable if I can find a bag with the just the basics.

I’m eight months into the pursuit of perfection and still carrying my standard black albatross packed full of receipts from 2006, ten pounds of loose change, and a random pacifier from the baby’s earlier days. Functional in so many ways and devoid of actual style, it’s not anti-stylish. It’s just, well, bland.

When I waver and consider settling for something that doesn’t meet all my criteria, I remember the plight of a dear friend, who recently gave up her year long search for the perfect bag and reluctantly adopted a beautiful Coach satchel. I thought things were going well between them until she stopped taking my calls. Turns out she can’t get the stubborn purse to relinquish her phone in time enough to answer. My friend is now on the hunt for a replacement.

So I guess I’ll continue my quest, too. Until I find the right match, I’ll take comfort in the loving reassurance my mundane shoulder bag offers when I blindly reach in and effortlessly find a breath mint on my first attempt. Still I can’t help but wonder, ‘am I asking too much’?

Because I want it all. And I want it all to fit in my purse.

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