Little Handbag, Big World

Fall fashion may be all about tiny retro handbags, but can a modern woman really survive without all her stuff? Austyn Mayfield downsizes.

Illustration by Kristen Ulve

Illustration by Kristen Ulve

WE’RE HAVING A NOSTALGIC MOMENT — a revisiting of bygone days when women were “ladies,” knees were barely visible, and handbags were “pocketbooks” (and indeed, almost pocket-size). But we’ve changed over the past six decades, and so have our bag-capacity needs. Can we be who we need to be, doing the things we have to do, with bags the size of the ones our grandmothers carried? I decide to find out.

First, to find the bag: Katherine Kwei’s 12-by-10-inch plum “Edna” satchel at Luna Boston would make even Betty Draper giddy. I bring it home and start transferring the goods from my current day bag — a monstrous leather hobo that could smuggle a baby if the need arose. To make the transition, I have to do some serious editing. The essentials (wallet, keys, phone, iPod) go in first. My makeup case won’t fit, which means only lip gloss, eyeliner, mascara, and powder make the cut. I toss in a paperback and just like that, Edna’s at capacity. My laptop, water bottle, cardigan, and change of shoes stay behind as I’m out the door, 18 pounds lighter than usual.

En route to work, I stop for coffee — and pay in a snap, since I don’t have to dig to find my wallet. Score one for the little bag.

But later on the T, I feel pangs of bag envy. Other women have everything they need with them to go from the office to the gym to a date. Their schedules clearly demand at least two bags. Does my small one render me less industrious? I experience a rush of inadequacy.

That ends, however, when it’s time to get off the T. The multibaggers go from looking prepared to awkward as they jostle through the crowd, whereas I exit gracefully, satchel under my elbow, and glide triumphantly onto the street. I’m tempted to do a Mary Tyler Moore-inspired spin.

I don’t, by the way. But thanks to my diminished load, I could.