I’ve been thinking lately about accessories. Whether or not I am guilty of accessory excess. And more broadly, how one can ever ascertain what excessive means, particularly when it comes to handbags.
This musing about accessories started a couple of weeks ago when I was at a friend’s house for our book club luncheon. As we prepared to leave, several of us milled around in my friend’s front hall, pulling on coats and boots. I stood, coat on, boots laced, burgundy Marc Jacobs tote bag slung across my body, and waited for the others. While we waited, my friend Susan admired my tote, patting it fondly. I agreed with her that it is a lovely bag, even though it’s several years old. Then another friend looked at me quizzically and said, “How many purses do you have, anyway?”
“Huh. Good question. Six, maybe. I don’t know exactly,” I replied. Her question had been delivered in a tone which suggested, to me at least, that the answer was obvious. Too many.
I’ve always considered myself to be an accessory minimalist. But it seems this is not an opinion shared by my friends. Much as I know they love me. Or I hope so anyway. I do know they think I am a bit of a shopaholic. That I have closets burgeoning with clothes and shoes and accessories. Which is, of course, not the case at all.
I’m even more careful about my purchase of bags, than I am about clothes. I buy totes, bags, and most accessories, rarely. At least I thought I did. But all this musing has made me think I really should look at how many bags I own, and whether it’s too many.
In other words, am I really an accessory minimalist like I thought I was.
So this morning, in the pursuit of self-knowledge, I hauled out all my bags from the small cupboard where I keep hats and bags and scarves, and from the drawers under the spare room bed where I keep out of season purses and totes stored in soft cloth bags. And I counted six spring and summer bags. Three fall and winter ones. And three sentimental, rarely used, but still can’t part with them, vintage bags. One of which is the black clutch given to me by my grandmother, and given to her by my aunt many, many years ago. I also own one fairly new travel bag from Longchamp, which I only use for travel.
My six spring and summer bags were purchased over several years. The oldest is a cream Michael Kors cross-body bag, bought pre-2000. And the newest is my beloved Eric Javits straw tote purchased last summer. I also have a gold tote from 2012. Two lady-like, structured bags that I love, a black and white Kate Spade from 2014, and a pink Cole Haan from 2004. And a red, cross-body bag from 2018.
I own three fairly new fall and winter bags. All are in heavy rotation. My burgundy Marc Jacobs from 2015 and grey All Saints tote from 2016 were both bought at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. I bought my small, black Mackage cross-body bag in 2016 as well.
My three vintage bags are given cupboard space for purely sentimental reasons. The black clutch because it is a family heirloom. Okay… maybe not an “heirloom,” but a cherished possession passed down to me by my grandmother Sullivan. The brown, faux-croc bag with the faux-Bakelite handle I picked up for $20.00 at the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show a few years ago. I like to pretend that it’s not “faux,” but it probably is. And I don’t care; I love it.
And then there’s a little green suitcase-y bag, below, that I found in a vintage shop back in the early nineties. I think it’s part of an old luggage set. And is probably a vanity case. It has a silky, cloth interior with ruffled elasticated cloth bands to hold bottles and brushes, and even a tiny brass key. But it makes a lovely little structured bag, don’t you think?
I carried this little green bag as my purse for one week back in the early nineties. I remember the bemused expressions of my colleagues when I brought it to work. “Is that an old vanity case?” someone asked. Sigh.
Still, I think it’s sweet, and I love the colour. And the idea of owning something from another age. With this in hand, I might be boarding a train, a uniformed porter following behind with several other matching cases in a towering pile on a wooden handcart, steam rising around us. In fact, in the snow today, and in my long, long coat, I felt a bit like a character from Doctor Zhivago.
But let’s get back to the idea of accessory excess. Or not. For years and years when I worked, I was a true minimalist when it came to bags.
Back then I owned way more clothes than I do now, but for fall and winter, I owned one black bag and one brown bag. If I was wearing my brown boots and camel coat, I’d carry the brown bag and… well.. you get the idea. Except for the odd vintage indulgence, I couldn’t justify owning more bags than two. In summer I mostly carried a straw bag, and sometimes invested in a cream or white purse as well. That pink Cole Haan bag was the exception. I loved it the moment I saw it. And I still do, although I rarely use it.
But, once I retired, things changed. That’s because wherever I go these days, my bag goes with me. I don’t arrive at work and stash my purse in a desk drawer for the day. My bag is always part of my outfit. And as a result, I change it more frequently.
The first winter after retirement, it dawned on me, as I changed back and forth between my two bags, that I was right royally sick to death of both of them. I eventually sold them both. I started over, and began to invest in a new purse every now and then.
So, to answer my friend’s question, I own twelve bags. Except for the pink Cole Haan bag, I use most of the six summer bags several times each season. The Eric Javits straw tote is my default bag. My three fall and winter bags are all used a lot. My three vintage bags, I mostly just admire. For a grand total of twelve. I didn’t count my Longchamp travel bag, which I only use for, well, travel.
Is that excessive? Does that make me guilty of accessory excess? Or can I still be considered a minimalist?
Well, I guess that depends on your perspective. You could justify almost any number if you tried. And if you don’t see the need for anything more than one bag, then two is excessive. But I will say that my bags are all very different from each other. In colour, style, and purpose. I don’t need two black cross-body bags, for instance. Or two straw totes.
But despite owning a dozen purses, I need at least one more. Maybe “need” is too strong a word. I’d like one more bag. A small-ish, cross-body bag for fall and winter that is not black. Something in a warm colour. Maybe chocolate brown, a bronzey-teak, or even a warm burgundy. I’ve been looking at brands which I like. All Saints for one. And I’ve narrowed it down to these four options.
You know when I started writing this, I did wonder how many bags I would haul out from their hiding places. What the final count would be. I told my friend I thought I owned six, but I couldn’t remember. And in that moment, six seemed like a lot. So maybe I was unconsciously minimizing the number. Maybe I was actually a bit embarrassed by how many purses and totes I owned?
But in the end, even though I own twice as many bags as I said that afternoon at book club, I’m quite pleased with the result of my research. I can live with owning twelve bags. Maybe even thirteen soon. Especially when I look at my blog photos over the years and see that I do use each and every one of my bags. Even if only occasionally. Well, except for that little green number. And I’m going to remedy that soon.
The only potential problem with my owning twelve, soon to be thirteen bags, is storage. We have a small house with very limited storage space. I don’t have a huge walk-in closet with a multitude of shelves on which I can proudly stand all my bags. I have a small free-standing Ikea cupboard in our spare bedroom. In it I keep my vintage hats, baskets of scarves, and the bags I am currently using this season. And in the drawers under the bed in that room, I keep my off season bags.
And what I’ve begun to do is to store each bag in the cloth bag in which it comes, then stuff the smaller bags into the larger bags. I end up with my two large totes, stuffed with two other smaller purses. Like Ukrainian nesting dolls, except with bags. This works a treat, and helps keep the bags from collapsing as they can do when they are stored empty. I hate that wrinkled, unloved look that bags can have when they are pulled out of storage.
So, I hereby find myself “not guilty” of accessory excess. I still identify as an accessory minimalist. I don’t think that owning twelve bags, soon to be thirteen, is excessive. Maybe you do. Maybe you buy one bag and use it until you are sick of it, or it wears out, before you buy another. And if that’s how you roll, that’s just fine.
Or… maybe you own six, or even twelve bags? Come on, count them and tell us how many. We’re all friends here. We won’t judge.
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