After college, it occurred to me that I should probably buy a purse. In addition to feeling like that’s what adult women did, I realized that my beat-up knapsack wasn’t going to cut it at my new office job. I had no idea what I wanted, so I just bought a bag that looked like what I’d seen the women around me carrying. It was a long-strap duffle, it was real leather, it seemed to work fine, and I stuck with it for ages.
It wasn’t until I became a regular cell phone user that handbag design began to matter to me. Sure, it’s best to have a bag that lets you access your wallet and keys fairly easily, but when you’ve only got four to five rings to extract a live telephone, that ups the ante. In 2005 I owned an unbearably gorgeous, handmade leather messenger bag that weighs about nine pounds completely empty. I loved it passionately, but it was a pain to haul around and I could never unbuckle the buckles in time to reach my ringing phone. So I searched for and located a lovely bag that had two external pockets with magnetic closures. And I carried it every day for about four years. I figured that, for the vast majority of my waking hours, I was NOT visibly carrying my handbag. I was sitting at a computer or talking with a friend or working out at the gym. My bag needed to be attractive and useful, and one attractive, useful bag would suffice.
But at a certain point, it dawned on me that handbags aren’t just utilitarian. (OK, I’d known that from the start, since I wasn’t willing to buy just any bag, but this realization felt different.) I began to see why I might want to own multiple bags and swap them out. I may not have my handbag on me at all times, but when I do, it becomes a secondary style influencer. I’ll look my best if it makes sense with what I’m wearing, and the bag presents an opportunity to add color, personality, texture, and interest to my overall look.
It took me another year to understand that coats, too, were secondary style influencers. I had worn black coats for nearly my entire life because I knew I needed outerwear that wouldn’t clash. But it wasn’t until, oh, 2006 or so that I began to feel like one coat might not suit every outfit. Or, more accurately, that a coat may be a temporary addition to my outfits, but it can make them feel more cohesive, polished, and complete. A beautifully tailored black wool coat will definitely work with 99% of possible outfits, and that is often sufficient. But wearing a bomber with jeans, a faux shearling with funky boho ensembles, and an anorak with trendy garb made me feel more focused somehow. In the heart of winter – when it’s 20 below from dawn till dusk – I wear the same damned down coat every single day. No question. But when the weather is less brutal, I enjoy choosing coats that complement my clothing choices.
And, of course, none of this matters if you don’t like bags or coats, or cannot afford multiples, or have a bear of a time tracking down bags or coats that suit your tastes or figure. Yes, they are marvelous pieces for supplementing your everyday style, but owning them in multiples is entirely optional. (No matter what the fashion mags may imply. Really.) You can certainly find your ideal bag and carry it until it collapses, gasping, into a heap of seams and hardware. And that’s what you should do if you just aren’t a handbag girl. But bags CAN add another level of intentionality to your style, and CAN amp up your looks. You can certainly invest in and wear one lightweight coat and one heavyweight coat, and wear them until they collapse, gasping, into heaps of down and pocket lining. But coats CAN add another level of intentionality to your style, and CAN amp up your looks.