There seem to be two camps in my life: people who don’t own a purse, and people who sneeringly judge people who don’t own a purse, like somehow toting around a bag makes you a real grownup or something. It’s okay, Sneery Judgers. I thought that too when I played dress-up as a kid. But now we’re all grownups, and most of us have realized that there is no right way to be one, none of us actually know what we’re doing, and judging other people is actually a cover-up for how lost and sad the judgers feel all the time. They’ll try to tell you that it’s just fun for them to put other people down, but don’t be fooled. They secretly feel like they’re constantly screwing it up, just like you and I do. When it comes to adult life, we’re all in one big, sucky boat together, and watching someone try to pretend they’re not in the boat with the rest of us just looks silly, and also a little sad. You’d have more fun if you’d just admit you’re in the boat.
Which camp do I fall into? I used to be the no-purse type, but I just can’t bring myself into Sneery Judger territory, because that’s rude. My coping mechanism for feeling like I’m screwing up adulthood is being nice to people, and helping them do better by sharing ways that I’ve succeeded. So I’m kind of in between camps, in that I do think a purse or bag is a good idea…but I don’t think you’re a child or incompetent if you don’t own one. I just wonder how you carry your stuff around when you’re wearing work clothes, which often don’t come with functional pockets, or if they do, they look really bulgy and strange when you put all your crap in them and are so thin that your keys poke you when you sit down.
My defense of purses has little to do with fashion, and everything to do with utility. A profesh lady needs to be prepared for what the day might throw at her, and that means keeping her money, phone, and keys all together so they’re easy to find. It also means keeping any snacks, medication, medical/personal supplies, and your book or e-reader handy in case you need any of that. Don’t go through life unprepared – that only reinforces that feeling of ‘Oh crap I’m screwing this up.’ If you have things on hand to deal with all those little daily hiccups, you’ll feel a lot more relaxed and confident. Let’s look at some different types of bags that are completely acceptable for the business casual office, and some of the benefits of each one.
- Backpack Purses – The one in that link is the actual purse I actually own right now, but take a look at those other backpack purses too. They hold a near-infinite amount of stuff, and if you’re prone to toting books and water bottles and snacks around with you (hi there), a backpack is a great option. You can put it on both shoulders if you have a long walk to take in order to spare your back, but if you get a stylish one, all that utility and comfort will still look awesome.
- Bucket Bags – These are like the backpack’s slightly-smaller cousin with one strap instead of two. I’m craving one for summer – This One specifically – I know it’s white and will get dirty, but I just love a bright bag to go with bright summer colors so I’ll figure out how to clean it. If you’re a little more minimalist with your stuff-toting, this is a good bag for you, although they do come in different sizes. I’m sure there are some that would hold just as much as a backpack. Bucket bags often have a set of handles and a removable shoulder strap, so you can adjust it to suit how you prefer to carry a bag.
- Tote Bags – See, you thought I’d be posting tiny, impractical bags that don’t hold anything, but screw that, I have a lot of junk to cart around. Tote bags are great, because it’s usually just one giant pocket, much like the backpack, but it gives a more chic and less earthy look. So depending on your mood and personal aesthetic, you can get a different look with the same utility. What’s fun about tote bags is how much color and pattern can go onto them, because of the big, flat sides they have. It lets you have fun with it, but they don’t have to look too busy.
- Satchels – Alright, we’re getting a bit smaller here. This is more what you think of when you think ‘lady’s purse.’ But if you want a smaller bag, whether to keep you from hoarding junk in it or to make it easier to carry and store, this is a good option that still lets you carry a decent amount of stuff. You can also buy more than one bag (I know, I was surprised too), and carry the bigger one when you need more stuff-space, and a smaller one when you don’t. If you’re just meeting people for lunch, tossing your phone/wallet/keys and maybe a tube of chapstick or a tiny umbrella into your satchel is a good way to go. Just remember to put everything back into your work bag before Monday.
So you’ve got some purse options, although that is by no means an exhaustive list – those are just the bags I’ve found to be the most practical options for various office-work scenarios. Now, let me give you some tips for getting the most out of your new purse.
- Travel Smart. Pickpockets are a real problem in most big cities, and if you commute by public transit, you’re at even more risk of someone swiping your wallet. Don’t make it easy for them – make sure you get a bag that zips all the way closed, or that has a flap that goes over the opening and buckles down. And of course, hold your bag on your lap while you’re on the train or bus, both to keep it clean and under your watchful eye, and because people who put their bags in the seat next to them are big giant jerkfaces who should be publicly shamed for being inconsiderate.
- Your Bag Should Suit Your Life. Are you messy and/or clumsy? A white or pastel bag may not be for you. Ditto anything that’s really delicate or has a lot of fringe or dangly details. It may look awesome, but if you look at it and think, ‘man, I might snag this thing in a revolving door,’ opt for something a little less heavily embellished.
- It Should Also Suit Your Style. If you wear all black, all the time, a bright yellow bag could make a cool statement, or it could look out of place. It’s really up to you. The main thing is to stick with a bag in a color that works with your wardrobe, so that you don’t have to own fifteen purses and change them out constantly to match your outfit. There are people who do that, but let’s face it, I’m writing for people who don’t. My black and gray Southwest-patterned backpack goes with pretty much everything I own. It even looks good with a khaki skirt, even though they say browns and blacks don’t mix. If in doubt, take a look at your closet, pick the color that occurs in your clothes most often, and get a bag with that color on it. That way, it always works. And remember: neutrals are always a good bet. Brown, gray, or basic black are hardly ever out of place.
- Feel Free to Make a Statement. If you’re not comfortable with wearing bright colors, but you kinda want to try one out, a purse is a good option. Same with bold or busy patterns. When I found out that Southwestern patterns were back in stores, I went right out and stocked up, because I freaking love them, and that included my backpack. But they’ve also got nautical looks, stripes, and crazy patterns in the purse section. Choose your life, Fledglings – a purse is your time to shine. Weird leggings with galaxies on them could come off wrong at work, but a purse with the same pattern can just seem quirky and neat. And you don’t bring your purse into meetings, so if you’re needing to show your serious side, leave the Pineapple Bag at your desk and you’re good to go. (For reals, though, that pineapple bag is adorable.)
That’s it for this weekend, Fashion Fledglings! Next weekend we’re talking hair, so be sure to catch that one. Work hair is all about utility, comfort, and professionalism, and you can definitely do that in the twenty minutes you give yourself to get ready in the mornings.