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There are a number of objections to be made about summer’s arrival, in my opinion (i.e. butt sweat, allergies, sunburns, boob sweat), but chief among them is the absence of outerwear. As soon as it’s consistently over 70 degrees outside, we must say goodbye to winter coats and spring jackets — and, more importantly, the reliable storage space provided by their many friendly pockets. Once again, those of us with too much junk to cram into a sweaty jorts pocket must rely, instead, on purses. Or so I always resigned myself to believing.
Then, this year, I decided: no longer. No longer would I weigh myself down with five pounds of crap I don’t really need to get through the day. No longer would I allow the strap of a crossbody leather bag to form a diagonal stripe of sweat across my torso, awkwardly separating my breasts in the process. No longer would I accept this long-hated item into my daily life simply because of my gender or my need to carry three to 16 lip products on my person everywhere I go. I knew there had to be another way, because somehow men were getting around without purses just fine. (I know what you’re thinking: tote bags! But what is a tote bag if not a flimsier, less-compartmentalized purse? I don’t want to carry those if I can help it, either.) Moreover, I knew I was not alone in my desire for viable purse alternatives. “I dream of walking out of the house carrying nothing, like a man or a child,” says my friend, Jamie.
Part of the problem with purses is the aesthetic pressure. “Purses are a fashion statement,” says Lacy, a real estate manager in Minneapolis. “And I have no sense of fashion. It's just another thing that I don't feel like I do well.” For people who like coordinating every aspect of their outfits, I’m told purses are fun, but in the summer, many women want to dress more for survival and maximum freedom than they do style impact.
Purses are also traditionally coded as feminine items, which makes wearing them uncomfortable for more masculine-presenting women and/or people who identify as gender-neutral. “I have never owned a purse because I don't really like stuff that makes me read as feminine,” says Pilot, a New York-based writer who prefers to wear a backpack instead. Ditto health editor Sally: “My gender presentation goes hand-in-hand with wearing stuff with all kinds of pockets and/or a backpack, so it’s not often that I feel like I can’t carry all my shit.” As out actress Leisha Hailey once told The L Word costume designer Cynthia Summers, “Lesbians don’t wear purses.” Hailey later softened her stance, but the stereotype still holds some water. Sexual and gender identities aside, backpacks are wonderful, especially when you’re schlepping a laptop or other large items. (I especially love Mat & Nat’s vegan selection.) But these, too, leave their own set of sweat marks, and can feel almost as cumbersome as shoulder bags.
Enter the purse-haters’ leading lord and savior: the fanny pack. Recently, my friend and fellow Brooklynite, Marissa, announced she was finally, at the age of 24, ordering her first fanny pack: Everest brand, in a “versatile” maroon, a little over eight dollars. Many fanny packs are big enough to carry a phone, wallet, keys, sunglasses, and maybe even a travel-size sunscreen, yet are small enough to be unobtrusive. Best of all, they’re hands- and arms-free. They’re also kind of cool now, and it’s about time.
For a more compact alternative, comedian Christine Friar suggests this “very shitty wallet you would get for your fourth grader.” I recently replaced my bulky 10-year-old fold-up Marc Jacobs leather wallet with a $10 Herschel wallet slim enough to fit in my back pocket, consolidating only the most needed cards and tucking the rest into my underwear drawer for safekeeping. (Nobody take my 16 Handles rewards card, please.) For errands around the neighborhood, or meeting a friend for drinks or dinner, this method seems to work, so long as I don’t mind the permanent front-pocket lip balm bulge. I have no brilliant ideas for getting around that one. “Sometimes I store shit under the insole in my sneaker if I’m feeling wild,” adds Christine. “But that’s not, like, safe.”
As a last resort, consider getting a boyfriend, a girlfriend, or a baby. Says Lindsey, a sports writer in New York, “During the summer, I usually make my boyfriend carry my debit card.” This is a very popular move among the women I surveyed. Then there is the stroller, a purse alternative I admit I had not considered. “I am in the ‘lucky’ position of almost always pushing a kid in a stroller when I go out, so I stash stuff in the stroller,” says my neighbor, Aliza.
Let us hope that one day the pockets afforded by women’s clothing are as capacious as men’s, but I’m not optimistic that will happen anytime soon — The Man wants our pockets uselessly shallow so we have to keep buying purses and bags. Unless, that is, we collectively decide fanny packs are cool, and buy them instead.