Joanne Palmer: What’s in a purse?
July 7, 2010
She had the loaded handbag of someone who camps out and seldom goes home, or who imagines life must be full of emergencies.
— Mavis Gallant
As a child, I was amazed my mother could produce a tissue on demand. Whenever one of her three children had a runny nose, a spot of blood or sticky hands, my mother magically produced a tissue out of her purse. Even while driving, sitting in church or eating at a restaurant, my mother would calmly and without a word reach into her purse and pull out a tissue before any one of us was finished with "Achoo!"
Now, I do the same. Even though it's been 13 years since I've carried a diaper bag, I still carry a packet of tissues every day. My purse is less of a purse and more of a miniature suitcase.
Of course, I have the standard items such as cell phone, car keys and wallet. Right now, my purple bag holds three small containers of hand lotion, seven pens, an empty sunglasses case, one container of ibuprofen, a mascara tube, the ubiquitous packet of tissues, my calendar, a pink makeup case, a small notepad, a nail file and a comb. At the very bottom of the bag are three pennies, one nickel and lots of crumpled and torn receipts. These are, no doubt, receipts I'm supposed to file for tax purposes or use to create a household budget. There are grocery coupons, Post-It Notes with phone numbers scribbled on them, shiny watch batteries, hair ties and clips and sometimes a food wrapper. And buttons. A tiny envelope of extra buttons that comes attached to clothes.
These are, more or less, the contents of my purse on an average day. On other days, my purse will be impossible to zip because it will be bulging with the addition of a water bottle, an energy bar and a rolled-up magazine or a newspaper.
My purse functions as a mini museum, archiving things I love but can't bear to throw away even though they should be tossed. Just like a museum, there are revolving exhibits of items such as photos, an unusual pebble, a sentimental set of house keys, restaurant business cards and scraps of magazine articles that seemed fascinating when I read them.
Finally, a fateful day will arrive when the strap breaks or the lining is impossibly ripped, and I have to replace a beloved purse. On that day, I feel like a sports figure who retires a jersey. For that reason, I have a collection of old purses hanging in my closet.
Many women are passionate enough about their purses to commission Parisian artist Nathalie Lecroc to paint a portrait of their favorite bag and its contents. Lecroc has a waiting list, and her goal is to paint 1,001 small watercolors and display the paintings in a book.
"It's incredible what you can say about people after just two or three hours with their bags," she said in an interview with American Vogue. "It's the same kind of insight you get when you sit with somebody at dinner."
According to Lecroc, American handbags almost always contain breath fresheners, often Altoids. French women appear to be obsessed with lucky mascots, and almost all have some kind of trinket or coin to get through the day without mishap.
"They are very superstitious," Lecroc said.
I hate to think what Lecroc would say about the contents of my purse. But I do think Altoids are a good idea, and I may have to toss in something for good luck, too.
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