The Perfect Purse is Out There

Still haven’t found a summer purse. Can’t carry the black leather tote in the summer because I’ll poach the phone in a black bag. So I’m on the lookout for a summer tote.

But aliens have invaded the brains of purse designers, making them design bags with enough buckles, straps, and whip ends to win the Preakness without a jockey. And never fear breaking your delicate ankle schlepping one of these behemoths. The bags I saw tonight were thicker than the skin of a politician cheating on his wife. Who needs to be carrying a bag with an 8-inch bottom?  Get an LL Bean tote if you need that, but please give me a tote that doesn’t make me look as wide as a street sweeper.

In fact, here are some rules for all you purse designers to sell on Etsy, Ebay and store outlets:

1. Stop using magnets. Please. I know they are cheaper than zippers. They also mess up debit cards, metro passes, hotel room keys and older  iPhones. And no, I don’t want to carry my iPhone in a separate bag. One, good, big bag will do. I looked at 300 bags tonight, and two of them (both priced at more than $300) were magnet free.

2. Use a lining that isn’t black. I don’t want to have to carry a flashlight to find something in the dark recesses of my purse. Use a lighter lining–tan, gray, red. Just not black.

3. If you are going to add a cellphone pocket, please measure a cellphone first. And not just yours. Measure an iPhone, too. The purses I saw tonight are apparently designed for gum-chewers, as  the pockets were neither deep enough nor wide enough to hold my cell phone.

4. All those samples from Restoration Hardware you’ve attached to the outside of the purse can be exchanged for a decent outside pocket. It’s where I’d like to put my keys or cellphone, or my boarding pass or even that tower of precarious bills, change and receipt that the grocery checker  balances on your palm, leaving you to walk out of the store carrying because you need both hands to put it away.

5. If you are going to build a vertical purse, please put a lot of pockets on the walls. Otherwise, everything falls into the dark bottom and bulges. I already have a body that looks like that, please make my purse more practical.

6. Make the strap adjustable. I know the Size 00 you designed it for can get it over her tiny shoulder, but if the strap is so short that I have to apply antiperspirant to the bag  to be able to wear it without ruining it, the strap is too short.

7. Give the top a closure I can use with one hand. No magnets, please. In addition to the problems in Item #1, a magnet shuts the middle, leaving both ends open, inviting the pickpocket riding next to me on the light rail to help himself. A zipper is the best. A zipper that closes from both sides is best of all.

8. Please don’t tuck that extra foot of lining you have leftover into the bag. A lining that fills up the bag and hides half the contents of the bag is no friend to those of us in a hurry to find the checkbook.

9. If you are going to use a double handle, measure carefully. If they aren’t the same size, the longer one will keep flopping off our shoulders.

10. Many women like to carry a magazine or a file folder in their bag. Please don’t make it 1/8 of an inch too short. Make it fit, or make it a lot smaller. Don’t be a tease.

–Bags, from top:  Red, shiny bag: Antonio Melani Small Hobo Bag $199.00 at Dillards; turquoise pleated bag:Prada Tessuto Gaufre Hobo $1,195.00 at Neiman Marcus; taupe multi-pocket bag: Plenty by Tracy Reese Multi Pocket Drawstring Hobo, $335.00 at Nordstrom.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who carries a journal, colored pencils, an iPhone, and a book in her purse. She is convinced that the right purse is out there, with clean lines and no frou-frou.


36 thoughts on “The Perfect Purse is Out There

  1. My favorite purse is a Baggallini cross body–it is large enough to fit my iPad vertically as well as iPhone. It has 3 outside zippers. Less than $70. I quit using my very expensive Coach bag. This one makes everything easy to find.

  2. I use HEDGREN bags: generally from the “Inner City” collection. Nice and light weight, can be thrown in the washing machine and a space for everything.
    I also use HIGH WAY (bought my first bag at MOMA) which are a little heavier and more complex but come in amazing colours with contrasting linings. VERY practical as well for my cellphone, iPod Touch, camera, notebook, wallet, etc. I like efficiency, good design and light weight.

  3. I’m on a search for the perfect bag for work.
    Step 1. Give it the elbow test: grasp the handle in the left hand and sling it over the left shoulder – if it hits the elbow . . . discard.
    Step 2. Check the weight . . . am I lop-sided? Discard.
    Step 3. Check the lining: black? Discard.
    Step 4. Check for pockets: 1 on the outside, 2 or 3 inside? No? Discard.
    Step 5. Big enough to take my diary, wallet, phone, pencil case, A4 folder? No? Discard.
    Step 6. Still in myhand? Does it have that magic style element that says “BUY ME!” No? Discard.
    Step 7. Still in my hand? Is it leather? No? Discard.
    Step 8. Is it back on the left shoulder? Buy it and to hell with the price as I’ll use it every day for a very long time and it will look better as it ages!

  4. Hi Quinn! I have been following your blog since I heard you on Rebecca E. Parsons’ podcast, and I enjoy reading you every day. I like your writing style, and how you “turn a phrase”.
    Today’s post, “The Perfect Purse Is Out There” put me on the floor laughing, and I had to get up and go to the “john” before I could respond here! I, too, have purse issues, and the strap is my “pet peeve”. I think our experiences are running parallel, because you had me chuckling by the topic sentence, laughing by the first paragraph, and laughing hard by the next; but “putting anti-perspirant on the purse” laid me out! Thanks for starting my day with a good laugh! Kitty McNaughton

    • We are in good company, Kitty! And while I’m at it, no more using seat belt material for a shoulder strap. No woman ever designed that–too broad, cuts into you. I know who designed it–the same guy who designed bras!

      • Why does anyone use that dreaded seatbelt material for a strap?!?? I told another purse designer at Tempe Art Festival that his bags were great except for the seatbelt strap. He keeps trying to talk me into buying a bag and I refuse!

  5. what with the magnets, all the hardware, etc. guaranteed to trigger a TSA patdown. Carolyn, you would be surprised how many women pay $$$ for purses and they look pretty trashy, too. My choice is TJ Maxx..

  6. Sounds like a new designer is about to arrive in the purse industry. Can you please make me a leather one that _exactly_ fits an iPad and has a handle?

  7. Thank You! I really hope this gets into the hands of those designers. And really….$1200 for a purse? I didn’t spend that much on the birth of my first child!

  8. Oh, I’m a purse fanatic and these days I really don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a bag just to be “in fashion”. When I was working full-time and had an image to uphold and wasn’t so sure of myself, I was more concerned with the bag and/or briefcase I carried. Now, I want a functional bag first and foremost.

    I found a designer at the Tempe Festival of the Arts ( and have bought two bags from him that I love. They are big, quilted type purses with two nice pockets on the outside, two smaller pockets inside and one inside zippered pocket. Unfortunately, the interior is black but I’m super organized and have most everything in little bags that I carry inside my purse (easy to take in and out) so the black doesn’t bother me but I understand your point completely. Also, the strap on the largest style, that I carry, isn’t adjustable but it’s plenty long. I cannot deal with short straps!

    Anyway, I have two of these bags in different fabrics and have had one for six years and the other for 4 years. They are holding up beautifully and I’m just waiting to see him again to buy another but they did change the design and I don’t like it quite as much as the style I already have. Oh, the great news, the largest bag is only costs $68.00!

    And no, I don’t make a commission from Danny K bags, LOL

  9. And why is it that the ones that’s how I magazines are always several thousand dollars? WHO pays that much for a purse?!

    • Carolyn – I honestly don’t even want to know who would pay that kind of money for a purse. IF I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t spend it on a purse. Not now, not ever!

    • Wow, thanks for sharing that website Judy. They are similar to the bags I just talked about (in design and color schemes) but Maruca has many more styles it looks like.

  10. Check out the bags at Hobo International. They have the right pockets, the right linings, the right thickness, different strap lengths, and many are magnet free. I haven’t bought anything else for years. Before you press the button, check on E-Bay. Sometimes you can get new bags at huge discounts. Hope you find the right one!

  11. I have been in search of the perfect purse for years! I agree with your criteria completely especially the no black linings!

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