Babies of the 80s: The One With All The Purses

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english bulldogs dressed and one staring at the other's purseWhen we’re kids, nothing’s cooler than grown-up stuff. And not just the Big grown-up stuff like cars and vacations, but the Little grown-up stuff too, like key rings, shoes with heels that click, and being able to buy your own gum.

Back in olden times (aka the 1980s) when I was just a wee Ruth of 5 living in the suburbs of Chicago, the Little grown-up thing the other girls and I found coolest of all were purses. Our moms had them, our teachers had them, our cool aunts had them; giant, flat Carpet Bags of Mystery. (Hello, 1980s.) And ohhh how we wanted our own! Giant, and flat, and filled to overflowing with Grown-up Lady Stuff, which – as far as we could tell – meant stuffing them with lipstick. And pens. And medicine.

And if you were lucky, a seemingly endless supply of these bad boys.

If you were lucky, there was also an endless supply of these bad boys.

But unless you were blessed with a well-stocked dress-up closet, good purses were hard to come by, so to live our dreams: we scavenged. We threaded shoelaces through holes cut into pencil cases, taped hair ribbons to the corners of crayon boxes… Whatever it took, we made those purses happen, filling them with our big sisters’ cast-off Lip Smackers, colored pencils scrounged from between couch cushions, and Smarties. Rolls upon rolls of Smarties.

Is there a kid anywhere who grew up with Smarties and *didn’t* pretend they were medicine at some point? Surely that was a rite of passage as much as flipping a Big Wheel upside-down and hand-pedaling it to “make ice cream.”

Take 37 and call me in the morning.

“Take 37 and call me in the morning.”

Without a doubt the best part – the BEST part – of having a purse was sharing what was in it. So there we were, a group of girls crowding together after Sunday school, trading lip balms with grit ground into their caps, “writing checks” with colored pencil on the backs of tithe envelopes, and “taking our medicine” by the handful.

“Your doctor piscriped you 7? Well my doctor piscriped me 19. I’m very sick, so I have to take allll of them. Yours too.”

These days I do all I can to avoid carrying a bag of any sort. It’s just one more thing to keep track of, one more thing to potentially lose or have stolen, one more thing to weigh me down should a ’67 Impala ever pull up, window rolled down, voice from within calling out over the thump of AC/DC: “Get in loser. We’re hunting demons.” You’ve gotta be unencumbered, man. You just never know.

Still, I remain fascinated in a way by purses. By their ubiquity. By the similarities in their contents. By the differences in their contents. If I see you have a purse, just assume I’m already wondering what’s in it. In fact, feel free to introduce yourself with your name, and an opened bag. Maybe we can start a trend.

I’m participating in a research study at the local medical college and asked the med student in charge of the project if I could see what was in her purse. And because she’s crazy smart and crazy sweet, she said yes. Natch.

02 Med Student Purse

I don’t know what I was expecting. A MENSA keychain? A value-pack of NoDoz? A laminated copy of the Hippocratic Oath? Outside of the flash drive she was carrying to transport images of my brain, it was all so… so normal. Hand cream, a watch, earbuds, a wallet, sunglasses, some lip balm – with nary a stethoscope in sight.

I saw my mom – a teacher – later that day, so I asked if I could snag a pic of the inside of her purse as well.

01 Teacher Purse

Apparently she’s all about 4H: health, hygiene, and hsaving hmoney. Which is – I mean that’s a good combo for a person helping shape the minds of future pillars of their communities, right? Good on ya, mom.

And because it wouldn’t be fair to share theirs without sharing my own:

03 Actress Purse

Ricola mailed me four free bags of those yellow cough drops. No joke. Four. Bags.

Parking pass, notebook, Kindle, and Moomintroll. I have to say I kind of wish I’d waited ’til I was carting around slightly more interesting contents. So it goes.

Your turn. Have a peek inside your purse/ backpack/ European carryall. What are you carting around?

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21 thoughts on “Babies of the 80s: The One With All The Purses

  1. Oh man, the things I have in my ever rotating purse:

    Water bottle (you can already tell how big my purses are)
    Wallet (the bulky kind, if you’ll be believe it)
    Pack of gum
    Small notepad
    And an extra jacket to fill up the rest.

    Fairly uncomplicated for such a large item attached to my shoulder. As a bonus, I’m the one the eyes in the sky tell the floor workers in department stores to follow. I’m never lonely when I shop.

  2. In my purse i keep a charger, capstick, notebook, several pens and pencils, a classes case, wallet and other odds and ends: upon search my purse most recently i encountered 2 books and lotion. so my question: why do i lug around all this crap!? 🙂

    • Because you are your group of friends’ answer to Jamie Buchman, obvs.

      (I just looked for a video clip of that “Mad About You” purse scene on the train and no luck, so uh – if that JB reference made no sense to you… my apologies? you’re on your own? I…??)

  3. In mine I have my phone, my wallet, a reusable bag for shopping, a pack of tissues, some mint gum, and an umbrella (I live in England so an umbrella is pretty much a necessity). I was actually surprised by how little was in it!

  4. …Well, that depends on which bag you’re looking into.

    Everyday small purse:

    Phone (which is also my wallet)
    Three types of lipgloss
    Insurance verification and registration
    Powder compact (which inevitably falls out and smashes in the street)
    Leatherman Micra
    Metro ticket from Paris

    Work Bag:

    All of the above, and:

    MacBook Pro
    2-3 books
    iPhone charger
    iPod shuffle
    3-5 pens
    3-ring Binder with class syllabi
    Apple/Granola Bar/Snack of some sort

  5. I don’t carry a purse anymore, but I do load up a backpack full of my laptop, cooling pad, toiletries, wallet, and gum/candies whenever I spend the night anywhere.

    • I’m more of a “wallet, phone, car keys” type myself. But yeah – if I’m heading to see friends and think I’ll stay overnight, I’m all about a backpack with my lappy, toiletries, and maybe an extra tee. My motto: Be prepared to conk out on any friend’s couch at any time.

  6. I have:
    A reusable water bottle
    A travel mug
    A small chocolate bar
    Key card
    Pair of clean sox

    I have way too many things!

  7. Mine is boring, since my doctor told me I had to not carry a heavy purse. I have: my Wonder Woman wallet (does that make up for not having a lot of stuff), my phone, my keys, a few random hair ties, sunglasses, a tube of chapstick. I’m not that interesting.

  8. I’m commenting here on behalf of Ruth Dyer who was reading this, put down the computer and went and got her own purse. I will type whatever she says:

    (This is coming out of a tiny purse, apparently the kind Mary Poppins would carry)

    pepper spray
    extra phone battery
    one single check
    (I’m laughing really hard by now)
    customized ear plugs
    black licorice mints
    fingernail clippers
    single cottonelle wipes (there are four of them)
    8 $1 bills and 1 $5 bill
    a table purse hook
    three hair pins
    a hair band
    make that four hair pins
    a post-it note (just one)
    three receipts
    a cough drop
    two candy wrappers
    credit card holder
    two pantyliners
    four assorted bandaids
    two toothpick flossers
    one wet wipe
    one Shout wipe
    one Brush Up (toothpaste packet)
    a keychain
    a bottle opener, screw driver, knife in one

    Her purse is literally five inches by six inches.

    She wants to know what you would say her “four h’s” are.

  9. I use a canvas tote as my “purse” (my current one has a drawing of Teddy Roosevelt and a bear high-fiving), and in it I carry:
    A 16.9 oz Diet Coke, partially full
    An Altoids tin full of a variety of medications, plus tweezers
    Nail clippers
    Wallet (which is actually maybe supposed to be a clutch? It’s sizable) with car, house, and work keys attached and a huge assortment of cards, cash, change, ear plugs, and Other Random Stuff zipped inside
    A book (currently Ready Player One)
    Extra camera battery
    Ear buds
    Phone charger cord
    A granola bar or two, plus probably a fruit leather or two
    Probably a few random rocks rattling around the bottom, because I am forever picking up interesting rocks
    Probably some orange Tictacs
    A cardigan
    And, if I’m going to be walking around outside for more than a couple minutes, a tiny umbrella.

    Surprisingly not that heavy, and I could deal with being unexpectedly stranded somewhere for a day or two. I think that’s what’s known as #winning. 🙂

    • The characters on LOST would’ve had such an easier time on that island if you’d been on that plane. A tote like that? Dang dude you could’a MacGyver’ed your way right past the Dharma Initiative. o.O I hope your travel packing is similarly detailed and awesome.

  10. Great article. In Canada, your Smarties are called Rockets and our Smarties are candy coated chocolates, like M&Ms but better. I also carried Popeye Sticks in my purse. My nanny would freak out when I pretended to smoke them!

    • I had to Google “Popeye Sticks.” Ooooooh you kids and your dancing with danger! 😉

      When I was a kid – and this was back in Chicago still so I don’t know what it was like where I am here in Milwaukee at that time – I used to walk to the corner store with my friend Rachel and we’d buy nickle candy and I remember we bought candy cigarettes once and oh Lordy Lord did we feel like such rebels puffing away at that powdered sugar.

      You ever find yourself in Wisconsin you look me up and we’ll trade purse candy…

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