Thursday, 2 July 2015

The perfect bag

There is of course no such thing as the 'perfect bag'. Even if we assume good-quality materials and construction, one bag alone won't be suitable for all occasions and all types of clothing.

It's pretty obvious. Light, summery colours and patterns look odd when autumn and winter arrive. Robust, dark bags are great with warm coats and cold windy weather, but look cumbersome on a hot August beach. Bags with short handles have to be hand-held or carried on the arm for most of the time, which might be awkward for a long day out when just walking about. Bags with longer handles can be slung on the shoulder, but only there - not good for posture. Cross-body styles are better for the spine and muscles, keep your hands free, and are easy company on a moderate tramp around the countryside, or indeed the city. But they wreck the effect of a nice jacket, and they may be lacking in style. Shopping bags are incredibly versatile, and can carry a lot, but usually have no style to speak of. And because you fill them, they are no fun to tote around for too long.

I'm a bag freak. I don't mean someone one builds up a glorious collection of big-name bags. I mean someone who is forever seeking that 'perfect bag', who can't resist looking at new bags, who certainly owns a few very good bags that have stood the tests of time and usage, but still hankers after replacements that will, surely, be even better.

I'm terribly unfaithful towards my bags, in a way I have never been towards my cars and my cameras. I form a relationship with my cars and my cameras akin to the relationship you have with a beloved human being. I adapt to their ways. I forgive their foibles. I defend their inadequacies. I stick with them for years.

But a bag has my love and loyalty only so long as it looks good and does its job. Rather like my attitude towards mobile phones and other gadgets that are integral with modern life, but stand or fall on their appearance, their technological merits, and how easy they are to use. As soon as they let me down in any way, or begin to look shabby or outmoded, their days are numbered. Thus I am a tart with phones - and a tart with bags.

Ah, you will say, this can't be entirely true. You've hung onto your posh black Prada bag since March 2009. And you clearly have a special regard for that orange bag that has appeared in so many selfies!

Well, yes. But then the Prada bag, though it doesn't often get an outing, is the Essential Smart Bag needed for weddings and funerals, and that possible future occasion when I have to troop off to The Palace to accept my Dameship from the Queen. I must have such a bag.

And as for the orange bag, well, it was originally bought as a present for M---, and although she refused it, it nevertheless has that connection with the love of my life. This gives it a Special History. And I made it my own by personally making a longer strap for it, converting it from a shoulder bag that wouldn't stay put on my shoulders to a cross-body bag that has been my practical and faithful companion for the last three years. It's virtually indispensable as a go-anywhere bag for all occasions, except the most formal.

It may also be no coincidence that both my favourite bags are Italian bags.

And then, a week ago, I see and buy this bright red Karen Millen bag! What a tart!

I've been asking myself why I bought it, when I was loving my orange bag so much. The question is not why did you waste your money, because I really like this new red bag, and I've used nothing else for seven days - which proves something, doesn't it? No, the question is what does this new bag have that the old did not? It's clearly filling a empty niche in my Bag Life. It's giving me something that was lacking before. Now what is that?

Most obviously, it's the bright red colour. This is my first bag that hasn't been black, or some shade of brown. I must have been ready for a bag in a strongly passionate hue. I can't believe this means that I have actually developed a strongly passionate nature, but it must indicate that I don't mind people thinking so. Which in turn suggests, when you ponder it, that - late in the day - I am positively asserting my femininity. I must be ready now to say to people 'I'm here, I want your attention, I want you to look at me and consider what you see.' Which, if true (subconsciously or overtly) must mark an important advance in self-confidence. Well, hooray! About time.

There's no question that the red Karen Millen bag can be seen from a long way off. I might as well be wearing a high-visibility jacket or a bright yellow hard hat. If we were meeting up, and you had to look out for 'a woman with a red bag', then you'd spot me in a crowd three hundred yards away. This bag has great visual impact.

Which might make it thief-proof. I do have misgivings about bags with short handles, that you can put down on the floor or table, bags you tend to take your eyes off. Unlike cross-body bags, they won't always be attached to your body and are clearly snatchable. But it would take a bold thief to pick up a bright red bag and carry it off. It would be like trying to steal a bright red flashing light. It can't be done discreetly. I'm not going to rely on this when out in public, but it's still a reassuring thought.

And there is personal safety to think about. The Karen Millen bag might come to replace my orange bag for evening walks on country roads, red showing up in car headlights especially well. Or if I venture into places where I may need to be found by a rescue helicopter, then red will catch the eye so much better, even in poor light. And even if sucked into the sinking quicksand of Morecambe Bay, I'd be assured of recovery if carrying my new red bag! Or if rescue did not arrive in time, then at least the bag, floating redly above the spot where I breathed my last, would identify the very spot where I was sucked under forever. I'm not so sure, though, about the wisdom of carrying a red bag across a meadow containing a bull...no, perhaps best not.

What else about this new bag? What other thing does it give me that the orange cross-body bag does not, or not so much? Something to do with minimalism, perhaps? Hand-held bags are strictly for essentials. You mustn't load them up, partly because they will quickly pull apart with the weight, and partly because it's a pain to hold them when they are too heavy. So with a bag like this you travel light - and feel unencumbered. A bag like this is still large enough to swallow quite a bit of stuff, from magazines to spare shoes, but it doesn't allow you to bring along too much. This enforces discrimination. You stop carrying things 'just in case'; you carry them because they will actually be needed.

Look at it this way: it's still possible to bring along some safety pins (in case one's wrap-around skirt gets frisky in the breeze), or some bandages (in case those new shoes chafe one's heels), or some paracetamol tablets (in case of a long-hot-day headache), or a little penknife (to open stubbornly-wrapped sandwich packets). Those are not as essential as purse and phone and keys and tissues and lipstick, but arguably sensible to bring along. But so much else that even a child-free woman might pack is not essential, and ought to be left at home, or in the car.

I'm curious to see what this latest bag will teach me about what to expect in a very good handbag. But it won't become my 'only' bag, and I dare say I will edge back to my larger orange cross-body bag later on in the year, when it becomes important to carry extra things, like an umbrella, most of the time. Or whenever I must have both hands free, as when negotiating an icy or muddy path. There is no such thing as a bag for all seasons.

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