top of page

Tote Life -- A lifelong love affair

Updated: Nov 16

To conclude my love month, I’m paying tribute to the true love of my life, the tote bag.

Three We Bare Bears carrying tote bags.

A few weeks ago, Slone texted me to say she was looking for a new bag. Something in black leather, holds a good amount of stuff, a tote or a satchel. The reason I was her first call, instead of just browsing online, is because she knows that I study bags.

For many years, the predominant cliche about femmes has been our “love of shoes”. Carrie Bradshaw was the pop culture personification of this. On Sex in the City, Carrie blows through her credit card limit on a pair of Dolce and Gabbana. She can’t purchase a condo because she has only invested in Manolos at $400 a pair. That wasn’t me. But I was overdrawn more than once because I couldn’t resist purchasing a bag. Shoes are fine. But trying out a new pair of shoes is nothing like test-driving a new bag. How does it hang on the shoulder, the arm, or across the chest? Do the zippers stick? How much do contents shift over the course of a day? Do all the essentials fit? How easily is the wallet accessible? How quickly can one retrieve lip balm or gum?

I can walk through the shoe department at Macy’s no problem. I cannot say the same thing for the bag department. Last night watching TV, a character was carrying the Yves Saint Laurant top handle, and I couldn’t resist pointing it out to Hubs – “That’s the super expensive bag on my wish list!” When I am having a stressful day, I like to go on websites like Bluefly, The Real Real, and Farfetch and drool over designer handbags that I will never be able to afford.

As Nicki Minaj said, “These Chanel bags are a bad habit.”

From the sightline of the chair where I type this, I spot six black leather bags, two fabric totes, and one duffle for the gym—all of these of substantial size.

It’s not like I can just walk around with a clutch.

It was Rebecca on Ted Lasso who discusses on a date how young women carry clutches, while at the time she is elbow-deep in her huge designer bag looking for her keys, “I'd rather dig for dinosaur bones.” I could relate.

I come from a long line of women who carry around Big Fat Mama purses. That’s what we always called them. About ten years ago or more when super-sized purses became a fashionista staple, no one in my hometown had to make a change. We’ve been hauling around those bags since the 90s. In undergrad, I was the girl at the bar with a knockoff Marc Jacobs tote bag shoved under the table while my squad functioned fine with their key and their ID in their pocket.

I’ve tried to function with a small bag. But in the end, I overload them with stuff to the point where they couldn't close. I ran into my gurl L. from back home one time, and she took one look at my bulging bag and asked, “Didn’t anyone teach you how to carry a purse?”

I wanted to say, “You did!” She was the first person I’d ever seen – long before Rory Gilmore made it a thing – who carried a book in her bag. This way whenever she was stuck someplace, like a moving car, a doctor's office, or in line at the drive-through, she had something to read. I was so impressed that I stood in my bedroom reviewing all the “play purses” my mother allowed my aunt to purchase for me. I asked myself, what bags did I own that would make me look mature and also hold a copy of The Babysitters Club?

Since then, I’ve further developed a nomadic nature when I leave the house. And raising kids didn’t help. For a good ten years of my life, my bags transported diapers, snacks, and toys. I didn’t like the shape of traditional diaper bags, so I bought a Vera Bradley messenger bag in this pink pattern I was in love with. People would ask me, “Why are you carrying a pink diaper bag? You have a boy!” to which I always replied, “But he doesn’t carry the bag. I do.” Why did I have to suddenly walk around with a sad-looking diaper bag in a color I didn’t even like because it carried his stuff? Whatever. I was sacrificing enough. So I carried all his stuff in my bags. Only recently have I stopped pulling out toy cars when what I really wanted was a pen.

In my current bag, I keep a planner, a notebook, a wallet, a water bottle, and a book. That’s at minimum. When I go to work, I also lug around a laptop, a pencil bag, a makeup bag … it’s a lot of damn stuff. When studying a bag at the store, under the supervision of the salesperson, I remove all the stuffing and place my planner and my phone in it to make sure everything fits. I also love viewing those photos or videos on social media of women packing their everyday bags and showing their most essential items.

A friend of mine carries a Longchamp Le Pliage tote. It’s like Hermione’s ever-expanding bag. There were times when I would sit across from her in a study room and watch her pull out multiple books, a full-sized laptop, a large planner, a liter-sized glass water bottle, and a breakfast sandwich from Panera. My bag at the time was a nice leather tote and didn’t hold near as much stuff. And mine definitely wasn’t waterproof. I needed to get that bag.

When I did, I realized why the bag was so magical. It literally holds every damn thing. I purchased one of those foldable felt tote organizers from Amazon which helps the bag stand up straight and provided pockets. When I am not using the bag, I can fold it down to the size of a package of Kleenex. It’s my plane bag and my spring office bag. I’ve had it for three years and the color is still as strong, the seams are still holding up, and the zipper has never stuck.

But even when I have a good bag – a magical bag, in fact – I’m still on the hunt for others. I’m pinning bags online. I’m reading articles about the possibility or impossibility of getting a legit Hermes Birkin bag. I’m playing “I Spy” when I watch TV naming the style or design of what an actress is carrying. I’m on Pinterest falling in love with a bag only to click through and discover that style has been discontinued.

Once my mom asked me why I purchased so many bags.

I said, “Because they always fit.”

Jeans don’t always fit. Bathing suits don’t always fit. Even shoes that look great in the store will rub a painful blister on your toe. But a bag always fits. And if it doesn’t today, it might next week. My Kate Spade quilted, chain strap is too small for everyday use, but was perfect for sightseeing in Chicago. My Coach Kristy pebbled leather bag is great for heading out to appointments but completely useless for heading to work. And some days when I am heading to the park with a journal, a book, and a coffee, the only thing that will work is the magical waterproof bag where I recently found the kids’ old deck of Crazy Eights cards.

Most of the bags on my wishlist are on my Dark Capsule Collection board on Pinterest. Check it out.

Read Books. Wear Boots.



bottom of page