I’ve always loved bags in theory, but not so much in practice. To me, bags are just like shoes in that we ask them to do a lot of different things for us — some of which are contradictory or even mutually exclusive.
On the one hand, a good everyday bag must be:
- durable enough to carry all the crap we lug around all day,
- well-organized enough so that we can instantly locate needed items,
- well-designed enough to distribute the weight so we don’t get neck and shoulder pain, and
- well-made enough so that it will last when carried daily.
On the other hand, we want this same bag to be:
- cute & stylish,
- fun rather than stuffy,
- professional enough for work,
- not too plain or boring,
- but still able to go with everything we own.
Clearly, it’s not possible for one bag to do all of this, every day.
So what do we do? Buy tons and tons of different bags, trying not to spend too much on each one, and hoping we don’t forget things when we keep switching our daily gear from bag to bag? Or do we invest in one really good bag, and pray to God that it can take us everywhere we need to go?
Most of us probably fall somewhere between. And for me, that sometimes means falling right into a style rut.
Since my goal in Rut-Busters is to snap myself out of style ruts with small, strategic changes, the handbag challenge seems like a good one to take on. So here we go!
Uninspiring, Unprofessional, Unfashionable and/or Unkempt bags
Perhaps my first mistake is trying to use the same bag for work and for my non-work life. But I’m a practical and frugal kind of person, so I don’t think I should have to change my bag on the weekends, or even for going out to dinner. I’ll change it for a very dressy occasion, or sometimes just for fun, but I don’t want to be forced to change it constantly.
Unfortunately, my work life makes high demands on a bag. I have to carry a briefcase, too, loaded down with heavy stuff. I walk around a lot — across campus, up and down the stairs. I need something that isn’t too heavy but still holds all my things. I need one hand free for an umbrella. Or a cup of coffee. Coffee is, after all, my most prized accessory.
As far as style goes, what I love best is a casual bag: big & slouchy, cool and leathery, the kind of funky fun tote that you can just throw everything into. As far as my back and shoulder pain go, however, I can’t do that anymore. I’ve got to watch how much weight I carry and how it’s distributed. And besides, the big slouchy bags can be sloppy, too. Part of me has always been attracted to more ladylike bags, as long as they’re not too stuffy.
For awhile, I tried a leather backpack-style purse, which was great for my back and for the hands-free requirement. But I got bored with it after awhile. I got tired of having to undo 10 million zippers anytime I needed to get into the damn thing. When I’m in that coffee line en route to class, I need to be able to find my cash, pay, grab the change and go — in one swift move.
And to be honest, I never really loved how the little backpack looked. It was lumpy and awkward. If I tried to sling it over my shoulder, there were long straps dangling all over the place. This is not exactly the sleek, seamless, fluid line that I have in the outfits of my dreams. In the outfits of my dreams, there are no backpacks.
When the backpack suddenly bit the dust, I was forced to make a quick purchase. So I found a very cheap “fill-in” bag that — I thought — didn’t look nearly as cheap as it was:
I liked the warm brown and the funky silver hardware. Even the shiny quality was fun, at first. Plus I liked the tote style — suddenly I could just throw stuff in the bag again without undoing 15 compartments. I could sling the bag over my shoulder or, in a pinch, hang it from my forearm (although the straps are a bit long for that).
But the cheapness of the bag eventually caught up with me. It lost its shape quickly, becoming so floppy that it wouldn’t stand up on a table even when full. The stitching unravelled. The synthetic faux leather heated up to forearm-burning temperatures in the summer. And the straps proved to be unsatisfactory — refusing to stay put, slipping off my shoulder, causing me to look and feel sloppy rather than crisp and professional.
So I’ve been looking for a replacement for awhile. I knew I needed a practical bag that met my requirements and wasn’t too expensive, but I also wanted to break out of the rut.
As I started my shopping, I knew I wanted something different. So I was thinking about:
- Going for some color, or
- Trying a new shape or style.
Color would obviously be the most difficult for me, not only because of my well-documented fear of color, but also because color makes it much more difficult to ensure that this bag will go with all of my everyday outfits. But I was intrigued by the idea. Ever since young fashionistas started carrying those bright blingy bags everywhere, there have been many enticing colors to choose from. While I love the bright green seen here:
I worry about blending it with all of the dominant colors in my wardrobe: brown, rust, brick red, orange, burgundy and purple. Maybe it would go, but it’s too risky for me right now. (And by the way, what you see in the picture is a paper gift bag, not an actual bag! Isn’t it adorable, though? I may break down and buy something like this someday).
So I looked at some bags in burgundy, red, and dark orange, but nothing spoke to me. As always, I looked at the usual family of browns. All my shoes are brown. Brown makes a certain amount of sense, for me. And while shopping at T.J. Maxx (with a gift card — bonus!), I came across this little number:
And I thought it was pretty cute! Now, hold off before you start laughing at me, before you start saying, “Anne, it’s a plain brown handbag! How can you bust a plain brown rut with another plain brown handbag?” Yes, I know it’s a plain brown handbag, but in my own defense, this one actually is a bit of a risky stretch for me, and here’s why:
- It’s more structured, which, in my mind, makes it more of a “lady” bag,
- It’s a handbag, and not a shoulder bag, so I’m taking a risk in the “hands free” department, and
- It has those cutely rugged silver buckles and, God help me, even that is a little bit of a stretch for me in an everyday bag.
I picked it up, played around with it, put all my stuff in it to see if it fit (it did, and items were easier to find because they weren’t diving to the bottom of a floppy, bottomless bag).
Plus, it had the hard-core, plastic, store-installed anti-theft device attached to it, which means it was made of real leather and not pleather or vinyleather or what every else they call that synthetic stuff. Sure, it wasn’t the most expensive bag around (even before it wound up at TJ Maxx), but the quality seemed comparable to the quality of some other more expensive leather bags that I’ve owned before.
And once I looked at the lining, I was kind of hooked:
I’m a sucker for a cute lining.
So I bought it, and away I went.
The Results: How I looked, how I felt, if anybody noticed
I’ve carried the bag for about a week, both at work and on the weekends, and so far so good. I’ve received exactly one compliment, which won’t set my world on fire, I suppose, but it came from somebody with very good taste. I’ll take it.
The bag has been easier to carry than I’d feared, because it can be carried either in hand or draped over the arm:
When I carry it with my briefcase at work, it’s not too difficult to switch back and forth between hands, or drape it over the arm, or carry both bag and briefcase in one hand. I think I look less sloppy and unkempt doing this than I did trying to make that damned floppy shoulder bag stay on my shoulder over heavy coats and layers.
In the coffee line, the metallic closure makes a pleasing “thunk” when I close it. Plus I don’t scrape my hands on zippers while rummaging around for my wallet.
And as an extra bonus, when I stack my gloves on top of my bag, this tableau makes me ever so happy:
I almost feel a little bit French.
So there you have it: I am declaring the handbag rut-buster to be a success.
In fact, I’m having so much fun with it, I’m now suddenly enthusiastic about the idea of trying one of my other rut-busting bag ideas in the future. Maybe for an everyday bag, or maybe for a going out bag. Color, maybe? Dare I think it?
Do you have a favorite rut-buster bag?