I’m missing something. Not like glasses or dignity, things easily mislaid. No, it’s something essential, like a helix of DNA that should have come matched with my two X chromosomes. It’s the handbag gene.
I exhibit other double-X-linked traits. For example, I’m exquisitely literate in clothing and shoes. I can identify a handmade buttonhole on the fly at twenty paces. The Tod’s wearer is telegraphing a house in the Hamptons and a loveless marriage to a real-estate developer. The correct pronunciation of “Sorbonne student” is loose, transparent florals worn over a black bra, with emphasis on the eyeliner. See? It’s easy.
But when it comes to handbags, I’m deaf and dumb. Not only am I unable to make a personal statement, I can’t read what others are saying via their reticules. Like intuition, bag-speak is the lingua franca of women. Freud or some other guy with a bit too much time on his hands postulated that women’s wombs are the original tote bag from whence comes our fascination with more visible variations on the theme. Remember Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint, the very definition of femininity, solving perplexing mysteries via the immutable laws of handbag rotation to which no woman was immune? Would they have been caught dead carrying their compacts and tiny, pearl-handled micro-revolvers in a stained tri-color backpack purchased at Cub for four dollars? Unlikely.
Now more than ever, handbags, which often come accessorized with women, loom large in terms of square footage and their imprint on the sartorial landscape. Ergo, my purse disability has become painfully evident and unacceptable. I thereby devised a plan to trigger a handbag sensitivity, like an allergy, through wanton over-exposure.
I started with two-dimensional magazine images of the whole genre—shoulder bags, handbags, totes, clutches, satchels, reticules, what have you. This went surprisingly well. Through intense scrutiny, I was able to discern minute differences between a dispirited briefcase by Chloé for $1,275 and quite a lot of fortified Naugahyde by Target for thirty-nine dollars (clue: the Chloé bag has a leather zipper loop that resembles the key fob of a Hummer; the Target species has a zipper pull that also works as a room key at Motel 6). Repeated exposure made me aware of the importance of hardware—washers, gaskets, buckles—and the recurring bondage theme. For example, Kenneth Cole used Godzilla-weight hardware to wrap, zip, strap, and buckle a purse the size of a Twinkie that would secure a tube of lipstick against nuclear disaster. Irony. I get it. Or I might have, if I had $785. More enigmatic are the many organ-inspired catch-alls. The very shape and color of a healthy kidney, liver, or spleen—what can a bag of this sort possibly say about its woman? Introvert? Cannibal with a credit card?
Obsessive attention to the patterns and rhythms of bags has indeed nurtured a basic facility in understanding the language spoken by handbags. Wicker in the shape of a rural mailbox: Williams College English major does a yoga retreat once a year; bronze paillettes over crocheted hobo: Stops for tanning salons; tank of a handbag, buttressed and buckled: My people will be contacting you. I was encouraged recently when a handbag spoke to me for the very first time. It said, Your Cub-bought backpack has a hole in it and you have left a trail of lip balm and pennies from here to New Jersey.