Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why is it so hard to buy a purse?

So what is it about purses? The best time to shop for a purse is when you don't need one. When you have to have a little evening bag, every bag you see is awful. When you have no intention of ever needing an evening bag in your life, you find three. If you buy said evening bag without an evening in sight, you invariably can't find the bag on the evening. And that's just evening bags.

Most women I know hate to change purses anyways. It's usually the last thing you think about doing in the morning. It's always such a relief to carry the same bag for a few days or to latch onto a great "novelty" bag in color or style and just treat it as a neutral.

I have this thing about real versus fake. I don't mean fake or real Louis Vuitton because that kind of bag obsession leaves me cold. In fact I won't buy it if there is even a hint of a manufacturer's name or logo visible. I mean it has to be real leather or really fake. An example of frankly faux is what goes for "patent" leather. Real patent leather costs a fortune, but most patent leather looks the same whether it's $20 or $200. Same goes for "alligator", "python", "crocodile", etc. It's all fake, so if that's the look you're going for let your budget be your guide. Nowadays manufacturers have gotten so savvy about replicating hides that, yes, I am the lady sticking her nose in the bag and inhaling. Even if it looks real and only costs $20 I'm not buying fake cowhide. This is where the purse world starts going haywire. You can also pay $200+ for a fake leather handbag by Michael Kors or Donna Karan.

I love shopping for handbags at TJ Maxx because the bags are stocked, all within reach, in every possible price range and in no discernable pecking order of price. It's great fun to plow through and be surprised at what turns out to be faux leather (won't buy it) and shocked at how much is the genuine Italian leather number looking no better than the fake (won't buy that either). The purse section is also fraught with traps. Shoppers get possessive and start slinging them on their arms as if letting one go would have it snatched up by the shopper next to her. I've been snapped at by someone who accused me of not saying "excuse me" as I reached near her. I had someone politely ask if should I change my mind about one I was holding would I let her know? Turns out her story was pretty compelling. She was flying to Washington the next day to meet some Congressperson about something worthwhile and had only the scruffy handbag she was carrying. Truly she needed it more than me. Such a worthwhile sacrifice for fashion and humanity!

Scratch a woman far enough and you might find she may, despite need or reason, be looking for the "perfect" black bag. It will be big enough to carry everything but not so big it looks like a tote. It will be simple but elegant, casual yet chic— i.e. go with everything. And it will be the travel bag of dreams when and if you ever take a trip. It will rest comfortably on your shoulder or in your hands and will have a few "secret compartments" for security.

Digression for family story about handbags and sibling rivalry: My Aunt Sally was a school teacher and never married. Although she worked summers as well and was the soul support of our grandmother, it appeared (to my mother at least) that Aunt Sally always had money to spend on herself. She had her hair done every week for heaven's sake! Aunt Sally was that wonderful kind of aunt who would treat her nieces to grown-up events like the matinee of a real Broadway touring company. One Saturday lunch when I was about 12, Aunt Sally asked if I would mind stopping at Bonwit Teller so she could take another look at a purse she'd been eyeing. I just remember it as a structured black leather bag. It was $40! Now $40 in 1954 money equals $337 today. Nothing new in inflationary handbag prices, is there? She bought it. This was so unimaginably shocking and thrilling that I just had to tell my mother. Which was a colossal mistake. My aunt was smart enough to know information like that would fuel the sisters' rivalry. She just didn't count on my being so attuned to life in the agora.

Like a confirmed bachelor who has recently found the girl of his dreams, I did just buy the perfect handbag. I didn't really think she'd be out there (having searched for so long) and wasn't desperately on the lookout, but didn't have my eyes closed either (a good way to find any kind of love). There it was, perched tantalizingly on a shelf at Nordstrom. Hesitating, I checked the price (no full price bag at Nordstrom that I like is ever less than $800). It was $245— only $29 in 1954 dollars. Aunt Sally still holds the record.

1 comment:

  1. whenever i go to t.j.maxx in search of a good bag, i always, every time, will pick up the most expensive one there. i guess i have good taste :)