Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Red Bag of Splurge

When it comes to dressing for the day, there are two kinds of women:  those who like to create a different look every day, with ever-changing hairstyles, make-up to match the demands of the occasion, jewelry to match their outfit. shoes that look fabulous irrespective of practicality or comfort and all the perfect accessories to complement that day's look;
and then there are women who consider showering to be a major accomplishment and matching clothes a gift to the world.
Can you guess which group I fall into?

One thing all the women in the first category seem to have down to a science is the process of constantly changing purses.  This is beyond my comprehension.  I must have been absent on the day Miss Priscilla Wolfwhistle, the headmistress at the Lower Alabama Academy for Charm and Comportment, explained the simple procedure of transferring 9 lbs. of purse contents from one envelope-sized container to another, every single day and for every occasion.

Since I don't need to invent any new ways to lose my checkbook or a very important receipt (for returning those misguided Daisy Fuentes jeans to Kohl's), I tend to use one and only one purse all the time, and keep my purses until they begin to dry-rot, or nesting rodents chew a large hole through the bottom.
And in keeping with my general lack of fashion sense, my purses are usually of the utilitarian persuasion.  Total strangers have been known to walk up to me at the mall and tell me where the purse stores are.  Yes, a purse that does the job I need it to do is generally an ugly purse.  And after several decades of fighting it, I finally decided to own it...just own my hideous taste in purses and stop trying to be purse-fashionable.  I got rid of a large tote full of cute, unworkable purses and resigned myself to being the girl with the embarrassing purse.

Which brings us up to summer 2009.

I was at a flea market in southern Alabama, where I found a huge, Mrs. Howell-sized pair of red-framed, dark-lens sunglasses,  They had a mockup of the D&G logo on the side, and sold for $5/pair or 3 for $10 (gotta love a flea market).  I quickly put them on, found a mirror and ascertained that they made me look like a younger, slimmer Kathleen Turner and verified that they would stay on my head even if I'm rocking out to "We Got the Beat" at 65mph.  That was the only pair in that style in red, and I snatched them up at full price.

Of course, my kids were mortified that I would show up wearing gigantic red sunglasses and acting like I was all that (well, I was), but I was delighted with my purchase.  Camille wasn't fooled by my Grace Kelly act, and asked if the D&G stood for Dollar General, but I was too thrilled with my purchase to do anything but ground her for life.

For once, remembering my proper upbringing, I decided I needed a purse to match my sunglasses, which were still weeks away from breaking.

The next day my mother and I graduated from the flea market to the Waterfront Rescue Mission Salvage Store.  Bargains abounded there!  As I entered this fragrant establishment, I glanced across the store and caught a glimpse of red fibers in a large, rectangular shape hanging with a collection of truly ugly purses; my heart skipped a beat.  Was I about to find the fabled fashionable, functional purse?  What had I done to deserve such a rare gift?

It was lightweight, made of straw, and since it was summer that was socially acceptable.  It had longer shoulder straps, so the purse wouldn't chap my armpit, which was another plus.  And it was the perfect shade of my favorite color - three major selling points.  But beyond that, it was useless.  No outside compartments, no specialty slots for pens, cellphone, lipgloss, nothing but a wide open bag.  I visualized myself digging for hours to find my tape measure or a clean stick of gum.  How would I locate my cellphone if it didn't have it's own little pocket?  Where would I put my collection  of punch cards for various convenience store coffee programs?  How could I justify buying something just because I loved how it looked, without regard to the hours of misery promised by it's sheer impracticality?

Well, it was $3.50, so I figured I couldn't go wrong.  And I didn't; I just reloaded it for its third summer of service.  It's a great purse and I've somehow learned to live with its many limitations   From the day I bought that purse, people have commented about its cuteness.  Even today I received a compliment on this bag:

But like all good wardrobe workhorses, the red bag has seen better days.  I recently noticed some splintered straw near the bottom that will continue to fray with use and wear.  And just tonight, I felt a weak spot on the skinny leather shoulder strap that means it will soon give way under the excessive weight of the load, probably during a downpour in a parking lot when I'm running late for something.

Now I'm not going to throw red in the trash just yet, but I am starting to browse for a replacement.  As I thought about that possibility. I got to thinking about what a treat it would be to own a real grown-up purse.  An investment-grade purse that would become a family heirloom.  Reaching the half-century mark should be good for something...maybe I should treat myself to something like this:

Pretty but practical, made by Coach to last forever.  Unfortunately, the price tag caused every organ in my torso to try to leave my body through a nearby portal, so I kept shopping.  Unfortunately, since my definition of a grown-up purse seems to only include fine leather products, I quickly discovered that I don't consider myself worth the price.

Ebay was better.  Hours of browsing other people's castoffs reassured me that I can find something well-made and serviceable if I am willing to trust a picture, a paragraph and a 98.7% feedback rating.  This lovely bag had a $0.99 starting price:

but ended up selling for $131.50 (with free shipping) to someone who didn't think a maximum bid of $35 was a tad extravagant.  Oh, well.  I traipsed upstairs to look at my only good quality purse, a Liz Claiborne leather shoulder bag that Eric bought for me for our first Christmas as married people.

It's still in good shape and has lots of room, but with no compartments, it was usually glutted with random unnecessary crap which obscured the 5 things I always need to find (lip balm, eye drops, an ink pen, tweezers and my Splenda minis dispenser).  Thinking that a handy pouch for those necessities, plus a glasses case and a cellphone wristlet would solve my organization and containment issues, I pulled it down from the closet shelf and slung it over my shoulder.

Jeepers!  I forgot that the nicest purse I own is also heavier empty than my normal full purse.  With a full complement of neck and shoulder complaints (to make sure I feel every day of 50), carrying a heavy purse is a very bad idea for me.  What was I even thinking, wasting time on the computer shopping for a leather purse because I'm getting old?  What made me think I need a serious purse anyway?  I need the lightest bag with a touch of whimsy and pockets everywhere.  And I want it in red.  And to hell with the cost.  I'm worth a splurge now and then.  So where will this purse journey take me next?  I can feel you holding your breath for the following installment...

Fortunately for all involved, I remembered my favorite super-cheapo purse ever - a Vera Bradley ripoff from Dollar General.  When it started to fall apart, I attempted to sew it back together, but really, for $6.95 I wasn't willing to invest much time in repairs.  But that was the lightest, brightest, bag I could remember owning, and it had pockets galore.  I never really liked the Vera Bradley bags during the craze - some of the patterns and color combinations could induce LSD flashbacks.  But now that they are not the trendy purse style, would I be able to find one?  Did I dare to hope that the once-ubiquitous VB bags were still circulating on a secondary market somewhere?

Ebay to the rescue:

Doesn't that just scream "ME!"?  

And, in case you were wondering, an ebay search of "Vera Bradley purse" turned up a 23,786 listings, but only a mere 1,097 when I added "red."  I don't know if that resale quantity means it's SLY (so last year)  to carry VB in public these days (I should pay more attention to fashion).  Or perhaps all those claims of "RARE!" and "RETIRED" mean that supply is drying up and I need to make my move now, to own my piece of purse history.

I don't know, I don't care. It looks like the perfect next purse for me, and at a starting bid of $4.95 plus $5 shipping, I think I'll enjoy the chase.

Now it's time to find some new red shades.

1 comment:

  1. My precious friend, I love your writing. I am remembering an especially "unique" purse you were carrying on a visit here; it looked sort of like a carpet bag.