July 18, 2019

"In ancient times purses were a male accessory because carrying money was a man’s job; for much of history, women didn’t need bags because they didn’t venture far from home...."

"It wasn’t until the Renaissance that women’s massive skirts allowed them to cache the stuff they needed in large pockets that dangled beneath their clothes.... Around the French Revolution, women’s silhouettes grew slimmer and bulging interior pockets were seen as an impediment to style. Instead, women were encouraged to carry their stuff in a small bag on a string called a 'reticule.'... The Rational Dress Society, founded in the 1890s, arose along with the burgeoning suffrage movement; its adherents argued that female independence could not be achieved in a tight-fitting, pocketless dress. True liberation required loose-fitting clothing that allowed freedom of movement — and pockets for keeping necessities close, including a revolver if necessary. But fashion won, and near the end of the 19th century, when it became permissible for women to travel alone, luggage designers like Louis Vuitton began peddling large handbags for women, positioning their wares as a signal of female independence.... But what’s independent about being so useful, so encumbered, as if every trip to the office were a trek on the Appalachian Trail?... The male purse went out of fashion more than 300 years ago, when tight breeches prompted the invention of the slender wallet.... Freedom from having to carry stuff is power...."

From "Men Know It’s Better to Carry Nothing" by Lisa Miller in The Cut.

I eschewed purse-carrying from the age of about 18 until... when was it? I insisted that clothes have pockets, only carried around a skinny wallet and keys, and considered it a feminist issue. Also a freedom issue. At some point, I decided it was simpler to carry a very small handbag, big enough for a wallet and keys and — ah, yes, the cell phone. It was the cell phone that made me want to get my carry-ables out of my clothing and separately compartmentalized.

These women who carry about large, heavy bags (discussed at some length in the linked article) — I have never understood how they could stand being weighed down like that. The article goes on at some length about the female obligation to take care of everything, such as wiping up spills, as if women are overly responsible, while men skate free.

I remember a particular handbag that I got when I was about 11. It was suede and a lovely shade of orange. I'd love to have it now. But I had no idea what to put in it. I asked my older sister and she went about finding things to fill up the empty space. I remember her getting the idea to throw in a few hair curlers. That seems so absurd to me now.

42 comments:

TomHynes said...

I remember being confused about what a ship's purser did. What guy would want a job title like that?

Fen said...

Around the French Revolution, women’s silhouettes grew slimmer and bulging interior pockets were seen as an impediment to style. Instead, women were encouraged to carry their stuff in a small bag on a string

Can't wait to ask my feminist friend why she is carrying around a bag Teh Patriarchy forced on women so the Male Gaze wouldn't be interrupted.

OTOH, the wife's purse is a black hole I avoid. She once asked me to grab something from it and it was like fishing through 30 pockets to find a needle. Now I just hand it over to her and shake my head. I think it was all a clever ruse to dissuade me from ever looking in her purse. She could be smuggling the hammer she intends to brain me with I would be none the wiser.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

is this like "The Star-Bellied Sneetches" again?

high- heels were also for men. Women wanted them.

Narr said...

A woman's purse is a reflection of her mind. My wife's is a large jumble of mostly indecipherable clutter. Then again, she has to carry a lot of stuff for work too.

Narr
Male gazer

Fen said...

Freedom from having to carry stuff is power....

Dovetailing with previous threads:

When my unit arrived in Somalia we were stunned at what a mess the country was, especially out in the rural areas. Tedium and long hours of boredom led to idle observation - what was the "thing" responsible for all this devolution?

A few days in we spotted it: couples walking to and from their mud hovels to the brick town of Baddera. The male always walked in front of the female. He usually carried a twig of khat, a stimulant the males would get high on starting around 11am. She would be loaded down like a pack mule, heavy basket lashed to her shoulders, usually some kind of ceramic jug balanced on her head.

The males were shiftless, unburdened. Their women might as well have been donkeys.

rhhardin said...

That's what baskets on bicycles are for. Stuff always carried just in case.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

...but then there's Felix* The Cat

-ix suffix, but fem. is 'Felicity'

Unknown said...

It's interesting to read SF based on the Nelson-era Royal Navy (for instance Sutherland's Into The Dark [note the linked book is FREE FREE FREE]). A ship's purser apparently tended to be a fairly disreputable fellow.

phantommut said...

Two words: cargo shorts.

Fen said...

Say that 3 times and Althouse will appear.

Beetlejuice!

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

I used to be a Big Purse woman. I never had cause to smack anybody with my purse, but if I had, it would have given them a concussion. I normally had a purse large enough to carry a hard cover book in it, because I read books on my lunch break.

But that was the '80's. The Big Purse went with the big hair, the big belts and the big earrings. I also carried a spare pair of pantyhose, since the dress code at work required women to wear dresses and bare legs were not allowed.

Academia is much more casual.

I've pared down what I tote around with me these days and so now I favor much smaller purses. Still need room for a hairbrush, my wallet, my phone, a pack of Kleenex, a small mirror, and lipstick, plus a few items like nail clippers and a file. Break a nail during the day and you're very happy to have the nail clippers with you.

Browndog said...

I'm thinking the purse, the stroller, the mini-van..

Everything that makes life easier for the fairer sex to carry man's burden was invented by a man.

But, please. You be you.

Openidname said...

Fascinating stuff here about women wearing chatelaines:

https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/the-killer-mobile-device-for-victorian-women

Ann Althouse said...

I was listening to a podcast the other day — it must have been either Scott Adams or Ricky Gervais — and Scott/Ricky was going on about women who don't carry anything and expect the man to put her items in his pockets.

Browndog said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...

I was listening to a podcast the other day — it must have been either Scott Adams or Ricky Gervais — and Scott/Ricky was going on about women who don't carry anything and expect the man to put her items in his pockets.


They still don't have pockets in yoga pants?

Someone will be along shortly to remedy this injustice.

jimbino said...

Men don't skate free: they're the ones to come up with a Swiss-Army knife when it's needed, which is often in my experience. Either that or a corkscrew, knife, file, drill, toothpicks, and tweezers. Somebody needs to come up with one that incorporates a car, garage-door and house-door remote. That'll make a man really useful.

Yancey Ward said...

This reminds me of "The Reverse Peephole" episode of Seinfeld.

tcrosse said...
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Yancey Ward said...
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tcrosse said...

"Meade, could you put my gun in your pocket? My reticule is full."

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

wear a vest.

practical, stylish, and in some cases, bulletproof.

stutefish said...

I'm a man, and I carry a purse. I call it a backpack, though. Basically it's a daypack of all my go-to and contingency stuff. General-purpose battery for my cell phone. Sunglasses. Headphones. Hoodie or windbreaker. A hardcopy book to read if necessary. Etc. It's the bag I carry onto the plane with me. It's the bag with my laptop that accompanies me to and from the office.

I used to use a shoulder bag, but the lopsided weight on one shoulder was too annoying.

But if I'm only going on a short trip - store or watering hole or whatever - then yeah, it's just the four-pocket patdown* and I'm off.

---
*Wallet, keys, phone, knife. Every man knows what I'm talking about.

mockturtle said...

Freedom from having to carry stuff is power

She's right. In my hippie days I didn't carry any sort of handbag and felt very free as a result. Last year my older daughter got me a beautiful small tapestry bag just big enough for my cell phone, a little currency, my driver's license and a credit card. It hangs from the shoulder by a slender black fabric cord. I love it. Less is almost always more.

mockturtle said...

She could be smuggling the hammer she intends to brain me with I would be none the wiser.

Fortunately, she would need only a very small hammer. ;-D

[Just kidding, Fen]

readering said...

Trying to remember what Queen Elizabeth II keeps in her handbag. A lead bar so she can hit Boris Johnson next time she meets him I hope.

Bob said...

I remember a scene in One Fine Day where Michelle Pfeiffer's character pulls enough stuff out of her purse to make two kid-size superhero costumes. George Clooney says, 'where can I get a bag like that?"

Browndog said...

Has anyone figured out why having your wallet attached to a chain was all the rage in the 70's?

Rabel said...

I always thought women carried purses to hold those unmentionable things that only women need.

bagoh20 said...

The fanny pack is awesome, and I hate you people who decided it was uncool. It's the perfect bag for humans. Me? No, I rarely have the courage of my convictions, and I still want to get laid now and then.

ALP said...

Backpacks are a very popular choice in the PNW, at least among those of us using public transportation. Seems evenly split among men and women.

I have not used a purse in decades due to back issues and a preference for being hands free, which a backpack provides. I cannot tolerate weight on my shoulders for very long, even a small purse. I use a backpack with a *light frame* and a waist strap to keep the weight off my shoulders for weekday commuting. It works so well that I'm able to cram enough shit in there to make it pretty heavy. Navigating stairs in Seattle while wearing it feels like training for real hiking.

For lighter carry I simply use smaller backpacks.

tcrosse said...

My dear wife is an old fashioned country girl, and it's amazing the amount of stuff she can carry around in her bra. My Grandma could carry her knitting in there and still have room for a box of kleenex.

Unknown said...

I was struck whenever I would have to go the the company office in DC how much difference the carless lifestyle makes. At home, I would just plop everything in the car when leaving from work. Without a car, I would have to carry everything around in my laptop bag unless I wanted to go back to the hotel before going to dinner or whatever. It's incredibly annoying and explains pre-laptop "briefcases", of which I never had one (nor needed to).

mockturtle said...

My dear wife is an old fashioned country girl, and it's amazing the amount of stuff she can carry around in her bra.

Wow, I barely have room for my breasts in mine.

Unknown said...

Bragger!

Fen said...

Fortunately, she would need only a very small hammer. ;-D [Just kidding, Fen]

No worries, the Wife says the same thing. Quite often actually.

iowan2 said...

I just bought a messengers satchel.(through the Althouse portal) I needed something for work. I scout fields and need an Ipad, clipboard, garden trowel, tape measure, rule, and some misc stuff.
It shows up tomorrow. Hope it makes my life easier. (but sometimes I just buy stuff and rationalize it.)

reader said...

According to my son, someday, the contents of my purse may be all that stands between us and death by the zombie apocalypse. My purse, cardio, and the double tap.

Narr said...

Actually, I was an early adopter of the man-purse (shoulder-bags, 1980-2015; I had my reasons).

Now if I actually have to carry things beyond the pocketable, I have a collection of ratty-ass giveaway canvas swag-bags from defunct stores and decades of ALA convention-going.

They go well with summer castaway . . .

Narr
And such conversation starters!

MadisonMan said...

I have a man purse that I use when I travel. It holds sunglasses case, passport, wallet, phone, phone charger, keys, change, with a little room to spare that I might fill with a chocolate bar.

It makes it easy to go through TSA Security Theater.

BtC said...

I also never carried a purse, for decades, and now you have me wracking my brain to recall what triggered needing to carry one! I remember it was an enormous pain to remember it all of the time, and I had (still have) the habit of keeping it over my shoulder instead of hanging it on a chair (in a restaurant, for instance), because I've left purses behind too many times. It's just not a natural thing for me, still. Can't tell you how many times I've gone out for an errand and then realized I've forgotten my purse.

Ah, I know: glasses case, for prescription sunglasses. That was my downfall. Now I've had cataract surgery and forgetting my purse is again a issue. (I really don't care if I don't remember my phone - sacrilege, I know.)

MacMacConnell said...

There was a time in not too distant history that a man's suit coat was a man's purse.

RigelDog said...

The you have my husband, who often offers to carry my purse for me when we are out shopping or walking around town. Love that guy!