Purse, Clutch, Hip Bag, Backpack.
As you know, I have never carried a purse. In fact, I don’t own one, nor have I ever. On occasion I find myself going to an event where I need a purse-like device to carry things, but in those instances, I carry a clutch, not a purse. A clutch can fit a cell phone, lipstick, identification and gum. And the people – often women – carrying it, clutch it in their hands. I think that’s why it’s called a clutch. But even though a clutch is a clutch, it still feels like a purse. So, it might be tiny, but it's also always in your hand, which is terribly inconvenient if you ask me.
The last time you and I had to walk a red carpet it was for the High School premiere. In a fit of desperation, as I left for the event, I poured out the contents of a small black travel bag I have that goes inside my backpack. It is a rectangular zippered pouch really and is typically shoved tight with power adapters when I travel. That is what I had on hand that looked the most like a clutch. Multiple people teased me about my bag that evening. But what else was I supposed to do with all the items I needed? Carry a purse? What did you bring your stuff in that night? After I had a couple of drinks, a friend and I hid the tiny bag with my phone, ID, keys, and lipstick behind the now quiet red carpet backdrop, so I didn’t have to carry it around all night.
Ten years ago, I remember going to a bar and meeting friends and I was wearing a backpack. I was teased about it all night and rightfully so. I certainly didn’t need a backpack to carry the few items I had with me, but I also don’t like having a bunch of stuff shoved in my pockets. So, what’s a girl who doesn’t carry a purse supposed to do? Recently, I bought a bum bag — otherwise known as a fanny pack — made of leather. I think it’s pretty cool. It's colourful and has different patterns on different sections. Every time I wear it, I get compliments. It’s from New York. I ordered it online before my last vacation. It is not my first hip bag, bum bag, or fanny pack, just my newest.
I like having a hip bag to travel. I wear it across my body, as opposed to around my hips, and I like the weight and bulk of it over my coat and against my chest. I keep my passport, wallet, phone, gum, hand sanitizer and Air Pods in it. It's nice to have my most essential things easily accessible. I’ve noticed a lot of people, of all genders, wearing them lately. Hip bags seem to cycle in and out of fashion, but many people — me included — think they never go out of style, so I own many, and wear them often. I have one for running that’s got extra pockets for my phone and earbuds and Georgia’s treats. I have one that’s black and zippered that I carry to dinner. I have an army green one and the one we made as merchandise for Hey, I’m Just Like You. They are sensible, which I like to think I am. And mostly, no one teases me when I show up at a bar wearing one. Can you age out of a bum bag? I hope not. Do you own any?
A purse has never felt sensible to me. They often seem too big, too full and in the way. A backpack feels sensible. It goes over your back. It’s out of the way. It can carry a lot. These days most stores won’t even provide you a bag, so it feels necessary to carry a backpack. So, in the city I often do. But what about when I go out to dinner? I end up carrying the hip bag. It’s stealth, it can go under my jacket, it’s so slim. A purse protrudes. It gets put down, which means it can get lost. It’s too deep and too dark and you can never find anything in it.
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Nothing about a purse seems sensible to me. Our mom carried purses when we were young, but now she too carries a backpack or a hip bag. I think this is because she walks a lot. We all do. We are a family of walkers. We walk the sea wall. We walk our dogs. We walk for exercise. We walk to commute to work. You walk Sid in the morning around the park in your neighbourhood. But in our youth, back in Calgary, mom never walked. If you were an adult, you drove. And so our mom carried a purse.
I don’t know when mom stopped carrying a purse, but I haven’t seen her with one since she moved to Vancouver in 2007 and started walking everywhere. But in childhood, purses were hung in the front closet on hangers, piled on the floor of her messy bedroom, and shoved in between the seats of the Aerostar van she drove most of our young life. Inside was a melange of items like loose change and unwrapped gum, tweezers, and her library card. There were tissues and receipts, sometimes a parking ticket or two. And as we hit our teen years it was the best place to look for tampons. Right? If we were at home and I shouted downstairs, mom, do we have tampons?, the first thing she would yell back was, check my purse. I was often digging through one of the leather purses mom carried looking for tampons, but also stealing money. Unlike Bruce, whose pockets were full of change and sometimes loose bills, mom had very little loose cash or coins in her pockets and purses, but I still checked them any chance I got. Just in case.
I think my issues with purses have little to do with usability and much more to do with gender. To me, a purse is no different from a bra; impossibly feminine items that broadcast gender in a way that doesn’t suit me now, nor has it ever. Do you remember the two girls in our junior high who started carrying purses in eighth grade? They were the first. They caked their faces with thick makeup and bright red lipstick, both had permed hair. Each had an older boyfriend and seemed impossibly out of place amongst those of us in their grade. I don’t remember exactly when the purses appeared, but one day there they were, slung over their shoulders in place of the usual backpacks. There were rumours that they were already having sex, which terrified me. I hoped sex wasn’t something I had to do any time soon. They smoked, which intrigued me, but also scared me. I imagine tucked inside their purses were cigarettes and lipstick and nothing else. Maybe tampons? Or condoms?
Recently I’ve seen videos about lesbians and purses on TikTok. There have always been jokes about how there are two kinds of lesbians. The one who carries the purse, and the one who puts her stuff in her partner’s purse. But what if you partner with someone who doesn’t carry a purse either? Last night, Sofia and I went to dinner, and she wore a jacket with tons of big pockets. I watched as she put her wallet and phone inside them. She offered me a pocket, but I decided to shove my stuff in my jacket pockets. I have room in mine, I said. At the restaurant, the host asked if we wanted to hang our jackets. No, we both said at the same time. It’s my purse, I joked, patting my pockets as he led the way to our table. It occurred to me writing this to you, that you are lucky because Stacy carries a purse. Does she let you use her purse to store your things when you go out together?