i came late and reluctantly to the handbag. had it been called a "hold-all" when i was a teenaged mall rat, things might have been different, but i associated "purses" with femininity, and femininity didn't square with my identity as hardisty junior high school's tough girl. nor did it complement my undergraduate identity as an ascetic smart girl, and femininity was decidedly antithetical to being a young lesbian in the late 1980s. you think hothead paisan carries a purse? no friggin' way. i strapped on the androgynous messenger bag and later, when i became a professor, carried the black leather bookbag ubiquitous to the profession.
i bought my first purse when i was around 30, and only because it was advertised as a trick bag. it came from the fetish store B&D Emporium and it was just big enough to hold a pair of handcuffs, an evening's supply of condoms, a little bit of makeup and your taxi fare. it cost, i think, $18 and was marketed to drag queens. i didn't ever carry its intended contents; i liked it because the velour leopard-print square was just big enough for my wallet and my lipstick.
the lipstick was the important bit. when newsweek broke the cover on lipstick lesbians back in the '90s, i put my ripped jeans and "i went to jail for rodney king and all i got was this crappy t-shirt" outfit away for good, and set about being myself. over the years, i've bought several handbags to go with my several dozen pairs of shoes.
i favour tiny, tidy purses. i travel light: wallet, keys, cellphone, pen and lipstick. most of my purses could still be slid into a messenger bag if necessary. honestly, i'm still a little scared of grown-up women's purses. the birkin is particularly terrifying. you never know what a straight woman is going to pull out of that thing.