The Psychology of the Handbag – or “one bag to rule them all”


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A fun activity board book from Workman Publishing, New York –
my daughter still loves this even though she has grown out of most board books.

I ‘needed’ a new handbag. Okay, I didn’t ‘need’ it, I ‘wanted’ it. Since when do you ‘need’ something unless the old one has fallen apart?

This wasn’t how I originally wrote this post, it was four o’clock in the morning and I couldn’t go back to sleep so my silly semi-conscious brain started thinking about handbags. Yes, I know. It considered why I would think I needed a new handbag, what was the purpose, and why are women often so obsessed by handbags (along with shoes – also functional but really not necessary to have more than one or two). It isn’t like I haven’t got a bag that can carry stuff, or several, at least 10. I think sometimes it’s the need for something new, and psychologically I feel that a handbag will help me organize my life like I organize the things I put in there. I tried explaining this to my partner and, yes, he just looked at me blankly. I just don’t think men (and some women) understand the importance of a handbag, although there is the subject of the ‘man-bag/laptop bag/rucksack’ which is a whole new post. I remember a friend saying she sometimes, in the past, wanted to throw her handbag over a bridge into the river – I think this may be a sign of desperation at the situation you’re in…

The handbag symbolizes much to a woman and finding one that fits your life in – as it is at the moment can be helpful. My life situation changes frequently, when I became a Mum I obviously had to carry things to do with caring for my baby, at first nappies (daipers in the US), then wet-wipes, and small toys to keep them amused, then later their favourite cuddly toy for comfort. That’s quite a lot for a handbag and you usually have to buy something big enough – bucket bag style of a specially designed baby bag to use for at least the first few years. Then later, when no longer needing to carry nappies but still a comforting toy, you still have the family equipment to carry around. Any man who says, ‘why have you got so much in your bag?’ needs to be reminded that it’s because they don’t have a bag and you have to carry everything – just in case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a bag for work, a bag for family outings, and a bag for evenings out. When I got my Olympus Pen, and some attachments/ a zoom lens etc. I felt I needed to take it with me everywhere I went just in case you know, in case there’s a fantastic shot to be taken. Not everyone needs their handbag to double as a camera bag, and I’m lucky that I have a micro-four-thirds camera that doesn’t take up as much room as a DSLR but still has most of the functionality. Shopping on-line has disadvantages, even when given the dimensions and a shot of the insides it is difficult to get the feel of a bag or how much will comfortably fit into it.

So there’s size and then there’s looks – form and function as with everything. The first handbag I bought home from the shops (a Frost French Floozie) was lovely but as my partner commented ‘it’s not really you – a bit too blingy’ (I don’t think he actually said blingy but that was the gist of it). It had all those tasselly keyfob things hanging off of it. How very dare you I thought, then conceded that he was right. I was trying to find a handbag that would work for everyday AND family AND going out in the evening. Plus one that would fit my camera and purse, make-up for mascara disaster repair, and the family stuff. Okay, perhaps this is impossible – one bag to rule them all… Maybe you do need a different bag for each part of your life? But then you have to transfer the relevant things every time you change your role – and who has time for that?

089010708960Okay, fashion tips now: the colour of bag is important. The second bag I bought was a Jasper Conran one was lovely too. Yes, I took the first one back – besides it didn’t have enough inside pockets and my iPhone wouldn’t fit in the holder (how often have I found that – they’re wider than many phones – handbag manufacturer’s take note). I went for patent black with colour details in dark pink. Patent is easily wipe-able for family incidents and smart too for work and going out. A bit sassy/risqué like rubber (did I say that?) and contemporary. Other bags with the waterproof – we need that in the UK – feature are those fab ones made of oilcloth – animal friendly (not leather) – from Orla Kiely, Kath Kidston, etc. The Jasper Conran one was good size – bucket bag – oh you can fit everything in there – but had this massive goldy plate on the front – proclaiming its make. I don’t like all that branding – they should pay me if they want me to advertise them! I decided I didn’t like the branding and also the pink wasn’t neutral enough, so that one goes back – not ‘me’ either.

089010824460At this point, if you haven’t passed out from boredom yet, I should mention that I have a budget. Yes. Trying to get a stylish bag for under £50 is difficult even with the sales. My local department store (Debenhams) has got hundreds and they are on offer at the moment. They didn’t have the one I wanted however, but I did manage to get it on-line from them. A Ben de Lisi Principles bag in black and white patent (vinyl not real patent leather for that price). Monochrome and neutral colours are great. I like to dress with an accent colour and I won’t wear more than one strong colour at a time – so teal and neutral, red and neutral, purple and neutral etc. Never red and purple together – oh no! Okay, maybe green and teal but that’s allowed! A bag in neutral or monochrome colours has a better chance of going with all your outfits. Boden also do fabulous bags – lovely lining on their patent bucket bag – can’t afford them either.

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So, the best bags in the world I think are made by Orla Kiely. Yes, she has the style – so beautiful, slightly retro, not too blingy, no obvious shouty branding, plenty of useful organising space, bucket bags to fit camera and everything else, patent or oilcloth, a phone pocket that actually fits an iPhone, and one of those elastic things with a clasp on the end to attach your keys to so you don’t lose them. Utterly brilliant. Only at the moment the budget doesn’t allow – unless I find a suitable one on eBay and then I have to wait for it to be delivered, no, that’ll never do – I want it now…

I could go on all day, but I have got things to do. No, really I have. If only I was paid for writing this girly stuff…

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5 thoughts on “The Psychology of the Handbag – or “one bag to rule them all”

  1. Yes, I still occasionally would like to throw my handbag and its contents over the edge of the bridge/cliff/tall building! Yes, it probably is a desire to loose my obligations/role/worries/just run away! A friend.

    1. Dear Anonymous friend – thank you for confirming my amateur psychological attempts! Hope you find respite from your troubles without chucking your handbag over a bridge! XXX

  2. I’m sure there is a part of the female brain that is totally devoted to ‘handbag desire’. It’s a wonderful moment when you’re browsing through shops or online and you catch a glimpse of a pattern or colour combination that sings to you and makes you catch your breath. For a glorious minute you are caught; pupils dilated, heart rate rising, a swift moment of excitement that makes you believe that yes, I must have this handbag!
    I don’t believe I’m alone in having these moments – my ever increasing Orla / Cath collection is proof of that! So Sarah, I love your post and absolutely appreciate how you feel about your gorgeous new bag 🙂

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