How to Find ‘the One’ (Purse)

by Sulagna Misra

I had the same black leather hobo for three years. During a grad school trip to D.C., my friend L and I had scoped out a local Urban Outfitters, where I found and started to pet a bag like a puppy I wanted to take home. When we went to a bar near the store the next day, I admitted to L that I’d rather just go and buy the purse. That’s when you know for sure, said L: “When you want to go back for it.”

Well, she doesn’t drink, and the crush of the people in the bar was such that I knew I couldn’t easily alight from any boring conversations. So we went to the store and I bought it.

I felt so classy until I realized how bulky it was. The clasps broke almost immediately, and I had to lug it around D.C. like an idiot. I also got a terrible sinus infection on that trip, and thus I was truly punished.

So I exchanged it for that hobo I mentioned earlier when we got back. That one’s still going. One zipper is stuck, but beyond that it’s been my mainstay purse for the past few years. Which is terrible, because my back has suffered in these past years. (Car accident + slumping over a computer = grad school is dangerous for your health.) A bag with no structure and several unnecessary metal adornments exacerbated the situation. The more casual bag I had — a fraying, dying Old Navy classic style purse the size of your average book — was even worse, as it seemed to throw my back out of whack if I even had my wallet and phone in it.

Since this summer, I had forgone purses altogether for a Fjallhaven backpack, in which I could carry my laptop. (Not one of those cute colorful ones; something like this, but smaller and cheaper and less intense.) This was fine with me since I was moving back in with my parents’ house, out of New York and into the suburbs. I would wear my backpack and stuff it with a computer to write on and a few books and my wallet, maybe some clothes if I were staying with a friend.

But about a month or so ago, I was starting to understand the primal need for a purse, the way it keeps one’s personal self-care kit in one place.

I was freelancing, and working hard, but I was still living in a house in a suburb. I was relearning how to drive but being lazy about it as I had very few places I wanted to go. I didn’t like that when I did venture out, I had to take my backpack, which felt unnecessarily big for my wallet and phone and a notebook. But the only other option was one of my masochistic purses, which I would all but drag on the floor behind me to avoid the pain. It was too difficult trying to juggle a book and a notebook — both of which felt essential to me at all times — whenever I went out without either of these bags. Even when it got cold and I stuffed these two things in my pockets, I felt ridiculous.

I checked out purses on the Internet. I reread this Billfold piece. I stared aggressively at the purses people in movies and television used. It still felt foolish to buy a purse when I was trying to save money aggressively while at my parents’ house and wasn’t really going anywhere.

I went with my mother to Macy’s for their purse sale and perused a number of them. The way my back hurt with those other purses had made me picky. I knew I wanted a structured purse, the kind that could stand on its own (I like my purses like I like my men…). This one was too big; it would slide off my shoulder and throw me out of alignment. This one was too floppy and would collapse in a heap whenever I put it down. This one was too frothy, and I could only wear the most boring of outfits when I had it with me. I wanted to have a purse I could have with me all the time. I wanted it to be my one bag.

My mother was looking a bit more aggressively, to no avail. “When you get a job, you can buy me a purse,” she told me as we left empty-handed. “A really nice purse.” I nodded aggressively; it felt like the least I could do, and still not enough. I had bought her one before that she used a lot: a big, structured locally made number that stood on its own, of course. She always accessorized it with bragging rights that I got it for her.

She and I have very different ideas of bags. She has a whole closet door covered in purses. When we were discussing cleaning out our closets, I told her she could give most of them away. “Why would I want to give them away?” she said. I mirrored her look of disbelief. Why did anyone need more than one bag?

Then I stumbled upon a Kate Spade secret sale. I looked and looked and looked. I imagined life with each of them, the way you imagine your life with each job application you write, or with good-looking people who catch your eye. Oh, this pastel one would get dirty too quickly… but this brown one could work as a neutral! This one might be too small, but this one would be big enough to carry notebooks and my wallet and maybe a book or two and still be small enough that it wouldn’t feel aggressively empty if I didn’t stuff it with useless items.

I looked at several of them, all over a hundred dollars, before picking one or two. This would be considerably more than I’d ever paid for a purse. The only purses I’ve bought with my own money are the ones listed here, topping out at $60. The only other time I’d paid more than $100 for any type of clothes or accessories were a pair of sandals that were gloriously comfortable and perfect for my huge flat feet. Even then, I had used two Amazon gift cards I’d received for participating in two different science studies. They had lasted two and a half years of me wearing them near every day in Los Angeles and I hadn’t regretted them for a second. Perhaps with my bad back this was a similar situation: I needed a nice purse for my health.

I did what I usually did when I was in the middle of a decision that was somehow both low stakes and high anxiety: I asked my mother.

I couldn’t buy the one I wanted, I told her, because it was $40 more, and she promptly said she would spot me the money. “You should have a nice purse,” she told me when I looked at her in surprise.

After some more hemming and hawing — “But I have to wear it everyday, and it should last two years, and Kate Spade apparently has good customer service, so” — I finally decided to do it. I countered this by paying for some groceries that weekend for the same amount anyway. Why had I cared so much before if I spent it so easily now? It felt fine spending that $40 on food for everyone, but spending altogether $180 on a purse for myself felt gross. It felt … rude, somehow.

When the purse arrived, I felt very different. I hugged it with glee before realizing I had no idea what to put in it. I literally crowdsourced this question on Twitter and looked up past “What’s In Your Bag?” posts. (I have a purse now, Hairpin! I’ll just wait by my phone.) My mainstays are Advil, tissues, a charger, lip balm, pens, and notebooks, with enough space for a book or two.

Most importantly: IT DOES NOT HURT MY BACK. NOT AT ALL. The structure keeps it from pulling me down, and the flat bottom makes it easy to hold on my lap or dig around when it’s slung over my shoulder. Maybe I don’t like my men like I like my purses after all.

The bag came around February 14th. I went into the city with it and on the day of love itself, my mom texted me: “How’s your Valentine doing? :)” Of course, she meant the purse.

Update: This is the purse:

Sulagna Misra is a writer in NYC, a superhero in her head, and a nuisance on Twitter. You can also follow her fandoms on her website.

Photo of Mindy Kaling via PurseBlog

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