Do you need an entourage? or does your purse need an entourage?

So much has been written about developing a personal style, developing a sense of style, identifying one's style, and related burning issues, that I hesitated even to start this post.

And then last night, as still another necessary something tumbled from my handbag, I realized that a whole style-related topic has remained undiscussed. But not for much longer. Here goes.

A woman who looks like she's worried about her makeup or her underpinnings, or like she's in pain or neglected, does not look stylish. How to deal with life's little troubles while away from one's own bathroom/ mirror/ computer and such? You dig into your bag and find a product, a safety pin, some change, some chocolate... .
I recgnize that for everyday life, obviously, I need a bag - wallet, Metrocard, charge cards (in their own wallet, always kept separate from the one with the money and IDs), lipstick, gloss or balm, mirror, comb, hanky, small pack of Kleenex, keys, iPhone, charger. Let's call this the First Bag, and the contents the First Bag's Contents. I have a number of bags of varying capacities and degrees of dressiness or casual-ness. They get to take turns being First Bag. Too often, however, the First Bag needs an Assistant Bag for the overflow and the things that are too big for the First Bag, or are "back-ups" in case I get stuck somewhere and need a change of shoes or a scarf or a wipe or medication or a rainhat - whatever. Plus the Assistant Bag can hold any small packages that accrete during the day so that I can smile with environmental virtue at check-out as I decline the offer of a bag. In real life, that last is a fantasy, I need shopping bags. I ask for a shopping bag if one's not offered. I can't imagine the size an Assistant Bag would have to be to deal with dry cleaning, shoe repair, tailoring, and the like. It would need its own assistant. And I would need a Bag Bearer. This leads to a mention of the temps and contract-workers of the bag world - paper shopping bags. So let me try to limit this discussion to whether or not one's First Bag needs an assistant and what qualities that assistant should have. I refuse to give houseroom to a bag that requires its own entourage, but I can accept that a busy bag needs help on a busy day.
The need for an Assistant Bag is most obvious in the case of events at which one must look good and look put-together for a protracted period of time. Weddings and funerals come immediately to mind, even if one is not in the wedding party or directly connected to the guest of honor. I've been to a few where the wedding party is dismissed as "cute young girls, the one at the left could lose a few pounds," and the sharpest comments are reserved for discussion of the looks and outfits of one's fellow guests. Don't back away in horror, I've sat and listened at the Cousins' Table myself. Nevertheless, who wants to walk into the cocktail hour with a cute satin clutch and a paper shopping bag, no matter how fashionable the store? And don't tell me you'll use a fancy party bag, you'll just look like you waited till the last minute to deal with the gift and when someone peeks and the ostensible gift turns out to be your other shoes and some headache remedy, at least one of you may feel awkward. As for slipping out of one's shoes while waiting to Pay Respects, well...

A proper Assistant Bag can hold your shoes, a change of tights if you like, a larger brush, a hair product or two, the program from the ceremony if you want to hang on to it... you get the picture. And because the Assistant Bag doesn't contain money or ID, you can check it with impunity, assuming that your good shoes are at the bottom in an unmarked shoe bag. Assuming the coat-check is located where you can get to it quickly if need be, that is.

Even a day of tedious errands, shopping/returning, quick lunch, a fast check-in to see if - as Prince Charles famously said to Tim Piggott-Smith -  there's any work going, will no doubt trigger wishes for a Useful Article that couldn't fit into the smart cross-body: the crushable hat, the compact umbrella, the eye drops, the thing you promised Cousin Liz you'd drop off. This is where you stash a Velcro roller or two, in plastic bag, naturally, on a damp and windy day.

Some time ago, I came up with the Heavy While Empty Test. I believe I was considering buying something called the Biennial Satchel. This is the test: if I can't lift, shoulder, and walk around with an empty pocketbook, I put it down and walk away. It won't get lighter with my stuff in it. This is now doubly relevant, because we're dealing with the woman who needs two bags.

Selecting an Assistant Bag.  An assistant bag shouldn't have a lot of hardware, this does not serve the purpose of being the Assistant Bag and adds weight to no purpose.

An Assistant Bag may coordinate in style and color with your outfit, or with its First Bag, but never with both at the same time. It should never, ever match. In fact, the best look for an Assistant Bag is a tailored shape and an independent color. The color should not attract attention. An Assistant Bag should strive to communicate that ordinarily its owner (me)(or you) doesn't have to drag all this stuff around, we have People. But today for some reason, we're short a Peep or two and so we just happened to grab this bag, which is not as devoted as a besotted young man or as ambitious as a younger colleague, but has the advantage of not needing to be fed while out.

The relationship among First Bag, Assistant Bag and briefcase is, shall we say, fraught. Clearly on any given day at least one will have to stay home. It's like scissors, paper, stone. Briefcase gets to come along unless we're going to the beach or going hiking or riding. And quite possibly the First Bag's Contents will have to be dumped into the Assistant Bag, kind of a field promotion, to get you through a day of active duty. The Briefcase should never be seen in the company of a large First Bag nor in that of a backpack. Going out with an Assistant Bag and a backpack does not suggest anything favorable about one's state of life or organizational ability. A First Bag does not associate with backpacks. Look in the mirror: do you see a woman who has at least some idea of where she's going, or do you see someone who hung on to a capacious diaper bag with lots of pockets and room for snacks long after her children started middle school?

Well, any further discussion of bags and bag hierarchies will lead to the discussion of whether the stylish woman should have a Bag Butler to manage all this for her, and I just mentioned this to Himself, who never gives odds on whether or not I'm serious, and he told me we don't need another person to tip at Christmas.

So - back to style. Again, I've read too many comments about how the truly stylish even get dressed to take out the garbage. Please. Unless you think that government agents are checking out your trash, this is not something to worry about in a Free Country. Get a life.
I never cared what kind of inadvertent impression I was making on an unsuspecting public. If I chose to create an impression (look, look, here comes someone you should hire!), I got it together. Running out for milk - waste of time.

Then I learned these implacable truths:

If you look a wreck, even if you look a wreck in a good cause because you just jumped into a pool to rescue the neighbor's puppy, THAT IS THE DAY you will run into an old boyfriend who has Done Well. If the fates are really feeling malicious, he'll be accompanied by his parents who never liked you anyway and his well-groomed twin children.

If you are looking perfect for no reason other than the sheer selfish pleasure of knowing that you look perfect - bring it on, Fates, I'm ready! - BEWARE! THAT IS THE DAY that an old boyfriend who has Not Done Well will greet you loudly in the presence of others and (a) ask to borrow money, (b) ask to borrow your car, (c) ask if you'd like to give him one last good memory before he enters rehab, (d) all of the foregoing. And all in a loud voice.

So watch out for free-floating style questions and underemployed entourages, and remember to floss.


  1. Thank you for reminding me to start carrying floss in bag. My aging receding gums seem to catch everything, everything. I am a MZ Wallace bag lady. They weigh next to nothing empty, have pockets everywhere, and come with a little cosmetic bag, plus they have a great key fob.

  2. Because I am the queen of matchy-matchy and obsessed with quilted leather (KS, can't afford Chanel), my Assistant Bag matches my Everyday Bag. The latter is small enough to be slipped inside the former.

    Speaking of bag entourages, what about the trend for "bag charms"? I have been known to tie a scarf on my bag handle (after wearing the scarf Jackie-style in the convertible, where is one to put it otherwise?) but I don't think my bag needs extraneous "charms" to show the world which designers I favor.

    1. I think bag charms are another way to put money in the pockets of the Logo People, frankly. And they are far heavier than they should be for their size.

      As to matching, all is forgiven for quilting.

  3. This was a very amusing post. I try to pare the contents of my bag down but just can't pull it off. The 10 lipsticks don't help...

    1. OK, I see your 10 lipsticks and raise you 2 eyeshadow palettes, a pencil and a sponge.

  4. This has made me laugh. I've just returned from a quick trip to another city. I took two bags - the first a large shopper style tote in leather. It weighed a tonne, but accommodated a small makeup bag, cardigan for the freezing plane ride, wallet, keys, hairbrush, ipad, diary, kids sunscreen (had forgotten to take this out, but I take it everywhere with me in Summer), tissues, bandaids and a couple of pens. I think the main culprit was all the small change in my wallet for the added weight. Of course my husband likes to add all his stuff to my bag too. I am the bag carrier in the family. The other bag was the other extreme - a tiny clutch that couldn't fit anything more than some cash, a credit card, a lipstick and that was it. But it sure looked perfect with my outfit for the party. So I guess I fit somewhere between boom and bust in the bag department? I like your idea of the assistant bag, along with the assistant bag carrier.

    1. Family bag carrier - my life changed for the better - well, the lighter - when I started carrying a small bag on trips. No, dear, I don't have room for the map, for the guidebook, for the big envelope of documents, the umbrella - look! small!

  5. Hehe!! I try and use my pockets but a seamstress told me never to use pockets because it ruins clothes. I have a bag collection but ironically I use a bag that was given to me for free as a corporate gift so I inadvertently advertise a hotel group but it is my favourite bag to schlep around... Just the other day I went and ordered the bag insert from Maitai so i can just use that and switch things around without worrying I forgot to move the floss or lip gloss.

    1. I tried bag inserts from Muji, but they were not a success. My current bags don't deserve presents from Maitai.

  6. I have adopted your "heavy while empty" test! Seems obvious, but was not to me, so thanks.

    1. You should see the looks I got when I decided to add Level 2 to the HWE test - this is where you load up a bag you're considering to see how much stuff it can hold, before buying it.


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