Right up until the moment my friends took me shopping at a Coach purse outlet store on Hilton Head Island, it had never occurred to me that a purse could be a fashion statement. Of course, right up until the moment my friends had a small intervention with me about my wardrobe, it had never occurred to me to be concerned about making a fashion statement. Or having a fashion statement. Or doing whatever it is a fashionable person does with her statement.
In my naiveté, a trip to Hilton Head suggested long walks on the beach and making major inroads into consuming most of the fresh seafood on the east coast. While these remained admirable goals, a conquest of the local malls also figured in a large way with my friends. They had already hinted pretty broadly that my clothes, all bought brand-new in the mid-eighties, were unsatisfactory and unlikely to make the trip back north. (First note to readers: when I say my clothes were purchased in the mid-eighties, I refer not to the price range but to the decade. It’s possible my friends had a point.)
Since I was with women whose sense of style I trusted, I was willing to go along to the stores. Usually, shopping for clothes was something I put off until things in my closet had reached a truly disastrous state. By my definition, a disastrous state meant nothing fit, nothing matched, or nothing had survived the double rinse cycle of the washing machine. According to my new consultants, that state had been reached somewhere around 1992 and I might be eligible for FEMA benefits.
It was a fairly predictable outing for three divas and one dipstick. They thought the clothes I liked were too baggy. I thought they clothes they liked looked as though they had been applied by Earl Scheib. Knowing this was going to just bring on more ridicule, I explained my clothes needed to be a little loose because I don’t carry a purse. Everything I tote along —-wallet, Chapstick, and pocket knife—has to fit into a pocket. (Second note to readers: pocket knives are incredibly handy little implements. Mine is of the Swiss Army design. I might not be able to put together an acceptable outfit, but if you are ever on an airplane that goes down in the Pacific and are stuck on a deserted island and need a Phillips head screwdriver, I’m your girl. Unless TSA confiscated it. Plus it has a corkscrew. ‘nough said.)
Carrying essentials in your pockets has the positive consequence of freeing up your hands. It unfortunately has the negative consequence of causing unsightly bulges in your clothing. Since my body habitus already causes unsightly bulges in my clothing, a purse seemed like a logical next step. Logic, it turns out, has very little to do with buying a purse.
My idea of a purse is a very small black bag with a long shoulder strap into which I could place the three amigos…wallet, Chapstick, and knife. My friends’ idea of a purse was a gigantic multi-divided sack-like container with chains and keys and gilded gee-gaws hanging from it. It did not come in black. It came in a loud print fabric trimmed with leather dyed a color not found naturally among bovines. It did have a shoulder strap in the same manner a mail carrier’s bag has a shoulder strap. Come to think of it, their idea of a purse resembled very much a mail carrier’s bag except for the price. The purses under consideration cost more, each, than every stitch of clothing in my house. One cost more than the house.
Being naturally frugal, I could not, of course, buy one of these purses. My immediate goal had narrowed to getting out of the store before I accidentally bumped a purse off a shelf and was forced to purchase the now-damaged goods. The local economy was saved from ruin by my friends who bought two apiece. They spent the better part of the evening rearranging items from their old purses into their new purses. They found unopened letters, forgotten jewelry, spare car keys that a teen-aged son had been accused of losing, Tic Tacs entombed in lint, and much else. I am convinced that if they had kept digging they would have found Jimmy Hoffa stuck to the bottom with some slimy sticky gum left over, just like my clothes, from the eighties.
Now there was a man who needed a pocket knife.
Marla Boone resides in Covington.