Saturday, July 27, 2013

Why is your purse so big?

I started working at the National Museum for Women in the Arts last weekend. It's quiet but fun and excellent for people watching. I like having somewhere that I have to be other than work. I work at the information desk answering questions about the museum, handing out maps and generally being nice to people (smiling is sometimes my favorite). Last weekend my favorite visitor comment came from an older gentleman who told me that he "enjoyed the lack of men on horses" in the museum. Good stuff.

Anyway, as I walking to the museum from the Metro on Sunday I noticed a little girl and her mom crossing G Street walking towards me. The little girl was maybe 4 or 5 and was carrying a stuffed green dinosaur. She also had a pink dinosaur purse (stegosaurus I think). Now I love dinosaurs (who doesn't?) and I love purses so the combination of dinosaur and purse was intriguing. I said nothing but I smiled at the girl and her mom and they smiled back. As I was sitting at the information desk a different little girl (7 or 8 maybe) came into the museum with her parents. She also had a purse but it was not dinosaur shaped (it was just a regular purse). She looked like a little lady with her handbag (that went with her outfit). Seeing both of these little girls got me thinking: what do little girls carry in their purses?

I know what I carry in my purse: everything. One of my friends once made a joke that I could probably carry a raccoon in my purse and no one would notice. He's probably right. I've always carried a large purse. There was a time when I was working in theatres that I had an entire sewing kit in my bag and a flashlight. The sewing kit included velcro, multiple pairs of scissors, tape, eyelashes, eyelash glue. There were also some sequins if I remember correctly. I don't carry a huge sewing kit anymore; I've replaced it with a smaller version shaped like a Russian nesting doll. I usually have the following items in my bag:
  • between five and nine pens of different types - right now I have more because I just got new pens and I can't decide which ones I want to keep in my bag and which ones stay on my desk (yes, I have problems)
  • a notebook
  • lip gloss (at least two kinds - normally a Lip Smacker and a real lip gloss)
  • other makeup (this varies since I don't wear a ton of makeup so it's usually just a compact)
  • gum
  • my computer and its accessories (except on weekends)
  • an iPod
  • a book (or my Kindle)
  • an umbrella
  • my phone
  • tissues
  • a business card holder (which may not have any cards in it).

I've read articles over the years about the phenomenon of women and their over-sized bags. Doctors occasionally appear on morning tv shows to discuss the health hazards of caring too much in your bag (many say that your purse shouldn't be more than 10% of your body weight). Obviously your back will hurt if you carry 20 pounds of stuff around with you every day (especially while commuting on Metro). Other experts (some real, some pretend for tv) like discuss the cultural reasons for large purses. This always makes me feel like women are exhibits in zoos and the expert has decided that if he (or she) can figure out why we need large bags, he'll have figured out the mystery of women. Usually this amounts to discussing the caretaker role that most women fill or the idea that women are nurturers. We feel like we need to be prepared for everything and our bag becomes the way to be prepared. To some extent, I know this describes me. I always feel like I have to be the most responsible person in the room so having everything one could possibly need in my bag supports this need completely. Everyone loves Erin Counselor, right? I like being able to provide nine options for a pen when a person asks - I don't know their life so having pen options is important. And the measuring tape in my sewing kit has actually come in handy on more than one occasion.

But what do little girls carry in their purses? I was trying to think of things that I would have put in a person when I was little. Lip Smackers? Gum? Legos? I always had a book and a stuffed animal but those wouldn't have fit in either of the girls' purses I saw on Sunday. What does a six year old need to carry around? I also can't remember what my first purse looked like. I imagine it was pink or yellow and probably had flowers on it. Or maybe a Care Bear. It definitely was not a dinosaur. I do remember a straw purse my dad brought me from Puerto Rico. There was a matching hat too. I remember really liking that purse/hat combo but I don't remember anything I ever put in it.

Maybe even more interesting to think about is when does the large purse phenomenon start? Neither of the little girls I saw on Sunday were carrying large purses. Does it start when you get older and start having more stuff? Does getting a bigger school bag (like a backpack or satchel) help us transition from dainty dino bag to raccoon hotel sized bags? Do we learn it from our mothers? I certainly didn't. My mom doesn't understand my large purse addiction; she carries normal size purses because she can't find anything in a big purse (although she still seems to lose her keys in the small one). Is this just a part of our nature? The Erin Counselor part of me requires that I carry everything all this stuff? Do some of us just gravitate towards large purses while others can get away with a wristlet? I've tried hard to use smaller purses and it usually goes well for about a day. After a day, I start to feel twitchy and constantly think I'm missing something or that I've left my stuff somewhere. Small purses cause anxiety.

I'm also having a hard time getting the dinosaur purse out of my head. Does a dinosaur purse only work if you're five years old and also rocking a pair of little kid sunglasses and a sassy skirt and attitude? Or maybe you have to be an uber-cool art school chick to make it seem like a natural thing to be carrying. I looked online to see if I could find one but came up with nothing that matched the little girl's purse. I did find the awesome Giles Deacon bag in the photo above and several blog posts about it. The bag was from his 2010 line so I'm guessing I won't be able to find one anytime soon. I'm also going to assume that I wouldn't be able to afford it anyway.

So the challenge becomes do I make my own? All I need is a stuffed dinosaur and my sewing kit (the large one that lives on a shelf in my closet). Am I awesome enough to rock a dinosaur purse? After all, a leading lady makes bold fashion choices and needs her options.Wouldn't a dinosaur purse (homemade no less) be the epitome of a bold fashion choice?

Giles Deacon Dinosaur bag photo from

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